Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 3, 2005

On mission trip, teacher finds Romanian children starving for attention

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Images portraying starving children around the world are not a new phenomenon, but during a mission trip, Darrell Smith found children in Romania have appetites for something besides food.

“Most of the kids just hungered for attention,” Smith said.

Smith, of Cokato, is a business teacher at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School.

When he found out his church, Riverside Assembly of God in Hutchinson, was organizing a mission trip, he didn’t hesitate to go.

Along with four others, Smith packed his bags and headed off to Oradea in Transylvania to volunteer for an organization called The Foundation. The trip began Aug. 8 and ended Aug. 20.

Children of the street

The Foundation is run by a native Romanian, Sami Mitra, and was established to help “street children” and children of the gypsy population.

“Street children” wander the streets of Romania by themselves during the day, oftentimes with no-where to go, or no one to help them, Smith said.

“As I understand it, in the mornings, parents would just say ‘go,’ and at night, (the children) can come back,” Smith said.

Smith and his group cared for about 60 to 75 of these “street children” each day, ranging in age from 5 to 16 years old.

In the morning, the group taught a Bible study and gave the children a morning snack.

Then, they tried to give them something severely lacking in their daily diets, attention.

“The kids didn’t want anything from us but attention,” Smith said.

The group tried to stress to the children that they were important, even under the circumstances.

“We told them, ‘you may not have money or parents, but you still have God’s love.’ They really seemed to connect with that,” Smith said.

Visiting a children’s hospital

Although the group spent a small amount of time, only about an hour, visiting the area children’s hospital, it is an experience Smith will not soon forget.

“The childrens’ hospital just broke my heart,” Smith said. “There were 11 kids in two rooms, with only two nurses. They weren’t getting near the attention they needed.”

The group spent time with children who had genetic disabilities, including cancer, spina bifida, joint problems, such as knees turned outward; and other disorders.

Smith recalls one little girl who couldn’t move any of her joints. “When you picked her up, she just felt like a stiff board,” he said.

One 15-year-old girl was curled up in a ball, and has spent her whole life that way.

Another little boy was perfectly healthy, but had been abandoned, and the genetic disorder wing was the only place they could find room for him, Smith said.

A closed door opens

While Smith first heard last October his church was planning a trip to Romania, he has been waiting for this chance almost 15 years.

“When they announced in our church they were going to Romania, it was like something finally clicked,” Smith said.

In the early ‘90s, Smith was on a mission trip in Hungary, which was also supposed to go to Romania.

Smith and the others were ready to enter Romania, but when the time came, they weren’t allowed in.

“I was ready to go, but it was like God was saying, ‘you’ll go, but My time, not yours.’ (This trip) was like a huge open door,” Smith said.

Human jungle gym

To wrap up the experience, the group decided to take the children on a trip to Bear Cave.

“Even though it was only an hour and a half away, only one of the 60 kids had been there before,” Smith said. “That just goes to show you, they don’t get to do stuff.”

The group packed a picnic lunch and rented a charter bus. The day was spent eating, playing games, and giving the children more attention.

“It was awesome,” Smith said. “I never thought of myself as a human jungle gym, but they just cling to you.”

Lending a helping hand

Volunteers, like the group Smith travelled with, are important resources to The Foundation.

“The Foundation relies solely on donations and volunteers, which can be tough to get,” Smith said.

During the trip, the group actually stayed in Mitra’s brother’s flat, because he was gone. The flat used to be government housing during communism.

The group also found that they were not the only Americans lending a helping hand. They ran into a youth group from Virginia that was also there on a mission trip.

Smith felt it was important to just be there for the children.

“I really feel some of these children really struggle,” Smith said.


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