Student Adventures Around The World

Sommer, Dallas and Romania

Map of Romania

Sommer is a Maguire intern with Humanity United in Giving Internationally, a Richardson, Texas, nonprofit organization that has established orphanages in Romania and India. The Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU awards summer intern stipends to students for public service and research in ethics. The Plano, Texas, native is a sophomore majoring in history.

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July 26, 2006

Gone for a lifetime
   Today I go home. It’s amazing how much longer the flight home seems to be. I’m just ready to sleep in my bed and take a shower with some sort of water pressure. The end of my trip fits yet another Bright Eyes song:

“I haven’t been gone very long
But it feels like a lifetime”

July 24, 2006

Wanted: Grandmothers
   Today we got dirty. I was on the ground and covered in paint. But the playground looks brighter with a fresh coat of paint. I even sponge painted the swing set chairs.
   Tonight we had dinner with the grandmothers of the Bunici program. It is the program HUG sponsors in which we pay women (who are referred to as the grandmothers) to assist in the care giving of the orphans. They are truly beautiful and generous women.

July 22, 2006

A hard day
   It has been a ridiculous day—absolutely exhausting.
   This trip has been about the unexpected. There was no way to be prepared, but up until today I was never really surprised.
   Today hit me hard.
   The day began with the Braila orphanage. I had no idea what to expect. There was no way to prepare for today.
   The children are severely handicapped. They’re all so happy because they have no idea. They’re almost lucky because they have no idea. Problems only become so when you become aware of them. These children will never really know.
   There was hair pulling and handholding. One boy must hold hands with someone at all times. I’m afraid to know what makes him so afraid of letting go. One little boy who cannot walk at all — his legs are completely facing out — became my friend fast. It looks like he’s making the UT longhorn with his fingers all the time. I fed him lunch and we exchanged a lot of smiles.
   We spent a lot of time outside on the playground. The service team plans on repainting the playground. I like the idea of doing something that will last even after we go.

July 21, 2006

A day of firsts
   I’ve been learning a lot this trip. Every time I learn something new, I’m reminded of how little I know. I’m embarrassed and eager.
   Today I rode on my first train. It was a day of travel. We drove from Sinai to Bucharest, and then took a train from Bucharest to Braila.
   Oh and we had an interesting taxi ride. We called for a taxi and it arrive with a kid in the back. It was the taxi driver’s son. Because of the number of people needing to be in the taxi, there was no room for the kid. So the driver takes his kid to the trunk. I freaked out as the driver put his son in the trunk and closed it. Then I saw the kid’s head pop up. The trunk was open to the cab. It was one hell of a taxi ride with an interesting driver and a cute kid.

July 20, 2006

A mountain view
   I’ve been enjoying the mountain trip. Despite the inability to communicate with our tour guide in one language (it takes a combination of Romania, English and French to get the point across) we’ve been able to share a lot. As we were admiring the mountains in Brasov (another city we visited in the mountains), he tells me he skied those mountains leading a troop of soldiers during his time in the army. How bizarre it must have been for him to look at them and remember. We were looking at the same thing but seeing something totally different. For him, the mountains triggered the past. For me, they ignited the future.
   Brasov was very charming. We also visited Sinai, which had a huge palace we took a tour of. Again, it was all very beautiful. Today is our last day in the mountains. Tomorrow we head to Bucharest.

July 19, 2006

Side trip to Dracula’s castle
   Today we began our road trip through the mountains. We set aside a couple of days for sightseeing. First, we saw Castle Bran, or what I like to call Dracula’s castle. Our tour guide did not appreciate my many references to Dracula being a vampire. He assured me that was all fiction. I don’t think he got that I was joking, which made it even funnier.

July 18, 2006

Hospital hopes
   Another day started off beautifully- with the babies at the orphanage. I fed them. We played inside. We played outside. We laughed. We held hands. I absolutely adore these children.
   We also visited the hospital in Alexandria. It’s a bit frightening that a place that implies security, safety, and hope is surviving on so little. But the hospital is trying and it is progressing. The director of the hospital who gave us a tour was genuine in her efforts.
   We decided on a future project for HUG while at the hospital. We are going to build a children’s playroom on the pediatric floor.

July 17, 2006

Joining forces
   Today was the first day that it hit me: my home and family are 15 hours of travel away. It wasn’t a matter of homesickness or longing—just the realization that my life follows me and nothing else.
   We traveled the whole day—one-way streets and fields of sunflowers. We went to Slatina to visit the Department of Child Services. HUG had renovated that building a few years ago with another service team so it was neat to see the different walls they painted. We also visited a group home to understand the concept HUG founded. It’s an apartment building where around 8-10 children live with a caretaker. We met more children and had an amazing time playing.
   We also met with an English organization with which we discussed missions and methods. Their website is It was fascinating to hear his goals and approach, and it was comforting to know people are trying to help everywhere.

July 16, 2006

Peek-a-boo: a universal language
   Today was our first full day at the orphanage. Every child was absolutely beautiful. Every smile of every child was paralyzing—it made my heart ache.
I love how peek-a-boo is universal.
   We found out we could not change their diapers unless they were soaking because of the shortage in diapers. We vowed to buy diapers for our next visit. That’s step one to saving the children of the world: Supply them all with diapers.

July 15, 2006

   Today is Pomona. At around 7 this morning we walked to the church. It was an amazing experience. I had never met the people whose lives we were commemorating, but I felt a part of something. I was sad for the loss and understood the reasoning without having anything explained.

July 14, 2006

Preparing for a feast
   We visited Alexandria and the orphanage we’ll be working with there. The children were beautiful. On one side, there were the orphans—about 15 total. Every one was handicapped, but some less severe than others. The other side of the building housed the “Mothers and Infants” unit. The mothers were either seeking refuge from an abusive spouse or they are too young to know how to take care of their children.
   We are going to work mostly with the orphans. We’ll be restocking the diapers and food, and we also brought lots of toys and clothes. Judy, the team leader and founder of HUG, is going to hold a class for the mothers of the “Mothers and Infants” unit to address childcare.
   Also, on the farm there is a lot going on. The hostess, Florina, is in charge of Pomona. It is a tradition that commemorates the passing of a family member. Florina’s parents passed on a year ago and so she will be hosting a Pomona on Sunday. There will be a huge church ceremony and a feast at her house for about fifty people. We are all helping when we’re not at the orphanage. By the time I get home, I’ll be able to make Romanian cuisine.

July 13, 2006

   Today we spent a lot of time touring Bucharest. The architecture is amazing. The city is full of skeletons of buildings- so many unfinished towers of cement. Apparently they started several projects and left them unfinished when the funds ran out.
   We then traveled to Alexandria to stay with a family-- the Salagaecs. Their farm is about a 20-minute drive from the orphanage we’ll be working with. The farm immediately felt like a home away from home, and the family was so hospitable.
   I’m already starting to pick up the language, which is good because it’s the only way to communicate with the Salagaecs and a lot of the people at the orphanage (including the kids!) So I’m memorizing the most important phrases like “let’s play” and “good job!”

July 12, 2006

Finding roses in Bucharest
   So I made it. I’m not going to lie—it was quite the adventure. But I made it. After all was settled and the entire team arrived, we had dinner and checked into a hotel in Bucharest. Bucharest is a beautiful city. It’s polluted, loud and broken, but it’s beautiful. Another team member and I went for a walk that evening to see the city. There were random neon signs amidst streets lined with outdoor restaurants and shops. In between apartment buildings rose bushes adorn the streets. Literally hundreds of stray dogs wander the streets. The streets were crowded with people just walking around. It was a nice change from home.

July 11, 2006

Taking the plunge
   Today I depart for Romania. The Bright Eyes song “At the Bottom of Everything” seems fitting:

“Into the caverns of tomorrow
With just our flashlights and our love
We must plunge, we must plunge, we must plunge
And we’ll get down there
Way down to the very bottom of everything
And then we’ll see it
We’ll see it”

   It takes me plunging into what I’ve worked for this whole summer to completely understand the cause, the purpose, and the effect of our efforts. It’ll take me plunging into it to really see it.
   I fly from Dallas to Frankfurt, Germany, Frankfurt to Vienna, Austria, and Vienna to Bucharest. The adventure has begun.
   Things I saw on my flights:

  • Snow forming on my window in the middle of summer (it’s pretty cold up in the air)
  • The sunrise while flying seemingly high above the ocean. I saw the sunrise from the sky.
  • While flying over Dublin, I saw the sun set the sky on fire. It was beautiful.

July 10, 2006

I leave for my trip to Romania. Finally, I have the opportunity to see what all my efforts through the summer were supporting. I know what HUG Internationally does. I’ve seen pictures and read pamphlets. I’ve convinced other people to support the cause and have convinced myself of its importance. But I know the moment I reach Romania, the moment I see an orphanage bearing the HUG logo, the moment I get to hold an orphan, it will all make sense. I can’t wait for that moment of indispensable clarity. Moments of clarity are a rare commodity, so I’m very excited.

This is going to be my last real adventure with HUG this summer. In addition to the garage sales, I’ve organized a fundraiser cruise, and I am working on the advertisements and organization of a golf tournament. It’ amazing how many random tasks pop up when working in a non-profit. I could have a to-do list and a plan, and the moment a person was in need of something locally, we dropped everything to access the storage units with all of the donations. I’ve really learned the importance of flexibility and patience. As long as you’re helping somebody, you’re doing your job. I hope I did my job this summer.

I’ve also really learned the importance of generosity. The realization that every non-profit, every effort to really impact the world and help people on a large scale, is reliant on generosity is frightening. It’s frightening because then you have to believe and have faith in humanity’s ability to be generous. I’ve learned to have faith in that ability. I must admit, since my position incorporated fundraising, I became quite skeptical of the concept of generosity. But you learn to believe that if you’re meant to be doing and helping, it will happen.

And I guess tomorrow my turn to be generous begins. I stop asking other people to recognize the need of a child to be hugged, and instead I hug. I cannot wait to hug an orphan.

I went last minute shopping for my trip and bought a lot of things for the kids, including sidewalk chalk, bubbles and play-dough. The bubbles are kind of for the kids AND me. I can’t wait to sit on the concrete and watch them draw—create. I can’t wait to sit and read a story. I can’t wait.

Four people are going on the trip and one is a professional photographer. As soon as I get a copy of all the photos, I will post them right away. I also plan on keeping a journal for the next two weeks (but internet is only accessible through local cafes) and so I’ll most likely post upon my return.

June 2, 2006

I’m going to Romania. I bought my ticket, and I will be joining a service team to Romania from July 11 to the 26. I get to work firsthand with the orphans in Braila and Alexandria.

This is what it’s all for. I’m terribly excited.

June 1, 2006

So my position has kind of gained structure. I guess I could call myself fundraising chair. Around the office they call me “young thing.” Let’s just say I’m the youngest one in the office.

In addition to fundraising, I’m in charge of trying to bring things up to date. For instance, I created an e-mail list the organization can use for advertising its events and keeping its supporters involved.

So we’ve set up several fundraising ideas. One being a good ol’ garage sale. I’m also organizing a cruise that can be used to raise funds, a golf tournament, and some smaller send-out stuff.

I also want to organize the sponsorship program for the children and grandmothers that help the children in both Romania and India. I want to put together pamphlets and letters to keep the sponsors more involved.

It just feels like there is always so much to do! But I’ve been working on it all piece by piece and I feel like good stuff is getting done.

May 25, 2006

Finding the job
     When I first heard of the Maguire Internship, I quickly started to do research on volunteer organizations in the Dallas area that worked with children. HUG was the first organization I found, and when I contacted the president, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

Helping children across the world
     HUG Internationally is a non-profit that works to help children across the world. They have two well-established orphanages in Romania and are currently working on re-establishing an orphanage in India that was damaged by the tsunami. In Romania, they created a bunici program that has been praised by the Romanian government as the best system for the improvements of orphanages in the country. The bunici (Romanian for grandmothers) are trained to take care of the children. HUG also sends service teams about four times a year to assist the orphanages, train new employees and bring supplies.

     Over the summer, I will be managing major fundraising projects for HUG. I will be setting up their annual cruise trip fundraiser and golf tournament. I will also be establishing a sponsorship program for children and grandmas that will give donors an opportunity to be more involved with children most in need. I will be trying to draw media attention to HUG's efforts, and my journalism background from SMU will help me with my efforts.

     In addition, I will be joining a HUG service team for two weeks in July to Romania. I will get to help the orphans first hand and help with the growth of the orphanages in Slatina and Braila.

     I am very excited about my work this summer, especially since I know it is for such a worthy cause.

Summer goals
     Out of this experience, I believe I will be able to assess and reaffirm my values and priorities. In traveling to Romania, I believe my perspective and understanding on the world will be altered. I also hope to gain experience and practice in the journalism field. I plan on writing about my experience with HUG, and I believe this experience will help shape how I approach my future.

May 19, 2006

The minute school got out I jumped into my internship. Because HUG Internationally is a small organization, there is always something for someone to do. The founder was eager to use my interest in journalism, so my first assignment was to write a press release. The story behind the press release was really quite amazing. It was about an adopted Romanian orphan (who HUG helped to adopt) who decided that on her birthday she’d rather her guests bring presents for orphans in Romania than for herself.

I’d say it was a pretty good project for me to ease into my position. I got to know the personal and professional side of the organization. I hope for a good summer.