Is there anything Mark Twain doesn’t know?

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

~Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

Lauren Grenier, a recent Eastern graduate with a dual degree in History and Political Science, reflects on her three-month volunteer experience working with orphans in Romania.

Understanding the history of Romania is vital in understanding to complex social issues that it is trying to combat. During the Cold War, Romania was imprisoned behind the iron curtain of communism and suffered greatly under the oppressive dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Hoping to create a massive force of “work bees” for communism, Ceausescu outlawed all forms of birth control and even forced women to have children. His assassination on Christmas Day, 1989 is the day Romanians refer to the end of communism in their country. However, this day also signifies the start of a long journey of recovery. In the wake of economic disparity and political uncertainty, state orphanages were overwhelmed with abandoned children and lacked the resources to care for them adequately, resulting in many abandoned children growing up on the streets doing whatever necessary to survive, albeit stealing, selling drugs, and prostituting.

Lauren with some Innocents

Lauren Grenier with some Innocents

Nearly thirty years after the collapse of communism, Romania’s “orphan crisis” has become generational. The system in place often fails to provide those in the care of the state with the life skills necessary for life beyond the orphanage. Often, their eighteenth birthday present is day one on the streets. The chances are high that their children will end up under the care of the state, continuing the orphan cycle. SoarRomania and Beauty From Ashes are two nonprofits that work to assist and empower young women transitioning out of the orphanages and into adult life. SoarRomania empowers young moms by providing them with housing, childcare and emotional support while they attend school or search for employment. Their mission is that empowering young moms who grew up in the state system will produce one less orphan each time. Beauty From Ashes also provides housing and support for girls who would otherwise be on the streets. They teach important life skills such as cooking, healthy relationship boundaries, fiscal responsibility and jewelry making. In addition to these two ministries, I found myself having playdates one afternoon a week with school-aged orphans in a home just outside the city (pictured). This experience greatly increased my knowledge of Eastern European history and culture. I greatly encourage other students to consider spending time abroad to expand their knowledge of the world. Reading will never provide the same knowledge that experience will.