A woman from the North Okanagan will soon leave for Romania to help some of the country’s most neglected children in any way possible.
Jen Kirkland has already traveled to the Eastern European country three times, working with a small non-profit organization called Firm Foundations Romania (FFR). In Brasov, located in the Transylvania region, she volunteers at a children’s hospital, holding and caring for babies who have been abandoned or whose parents cannot afford to stay in the hospital with them.
After trips in 2017 and 2019, she had hoped to make another visit in March 2020, but those plans were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She hadn’t planned to return until the COVID situation was sorted out, but in August 2021 she got an opportunity she couldn’t turn down and spent six weeks in the hospital.
“I was the first international volunteer to come back, I was the only volunteer for part of the time I was there as well, so it was much more convenient,” she said. “I was able to go to the Roma Gypsy village and see what was happening there as well.”
The Gypsy Roma village of Budila is the underclass of Romanian society where poverty is rampant, Kirkland said.
“They’re literally the lowest of the lows on the human totem there, they’re treated terribly,” she said.
Only three people work full time at the FFR, which is only growing as an organization. Recently, FFR purchased land and is developing an after-school program for the children of Budila.
Kirkland plans to make her fourth trip in March 2022, an eight-month excursion during which she will work as a volunteer coordinator and be in the hospital five days a week.
In addition to caring for young children, FFR also offers a program for teenagers who are already out of school, who are getting married and starting a family, “guiding them a bit in life and just teaching them the general things that 14 and 15-year-olds should know, such as hygiene and personal care,” Kirkland said.
“I’ve been coaching ringette for six years, so I’m very used to the teens,” she laughed.
Without volunteers like Kirkland, children in the hospital would not receive the care they need. She tells the story of a five-year-old boy she met in hospital during her previous trips to Romania. He died of cystic fibrosis shortly after arriving in 2021.
“He was just living in the hospital because he was so sick and if there weren’t any volunteers to help him, it was basically doctors and nurses and the four walls around them,” said she declared.
“There’s a lot more given back to us,” she said of the volunteer experience. “It’s a feeling that you’re doing something good, especially for the people who are really being treated so terribly there.”
Depending on FFR’s future needs, Kirkland said she could end up moving to Romania permanently as soon as 2023.
“At this point, I think all the signs are probably pointing to (moving there), it’s been close to my heart for many years,” she said.
Kirkland is seeking financial support for his upcoming return to Romania. Anyone wishing to contribute to the financing of their trip can make a donation to abundant.co/multinationmissionsf/jenkirkland.
Anyone with questions about FFR, Romania, or volunteering can also email Kirkland directly at [email protected]