One Small Step Of Transformation

Education and introducing Jesus is truly the best way to break cycles of violence and poverty. Rachel K. writes about the small step taken in transforming lives during a student trip to Romania.

A group of boys, maybe 6 to 8 years old, were punching and kicking one of their female classmates, surrounded by a group of spectators. Sitting on the sidewalk painting swings, this kerfuffle caught the corner of my eye. The girl fell to the ground and clung to the cement with her face down as the boys continued to kick her. Fights had been breaking out on the playground and in the streets every day of the week. It is ingrained in the culture and little could be done. But on this final day of work, this was one ‘fight’ I could not ignore.

I placed my paintbrush on the pail, forgetting how careful I’d been not to leave wet paint unattended with many eager little hands mulling about. I threw down my gloves and made my way toward the group, which quickly dispersed. A few of the girls hung around, trying to get their friend up to no avail. Without being able to converse in their language, all I could do was act. After several failed attempts I was finally able to peel her off the ground and onto my lap where she immediately buried her face in my shirt, sobbing.

I felt completely helpless, and in the moment all I could do was show her God’s love by hugging her and praying for her. Eventually recess ended and she was called back inside. I lifted her up, gave her one last hug, and sent her off with as much of a smile as I could muster. I don’t remember seeing this girl before, and if you asked me to identify her in a photo, I wouldn’t be able to, but those few minutes of her life will be imprinted in my life for years to come.

I still do not know what prompted this particular act of violence, but these situations are typical in the Roma (Gypsy) communities. Alcoholism, teen marriages, and fertility-based success levels lead to many consequences that their school is trying to combat.

During our week in Romania it was neat to hear how our students processed what they were seeing. I have never heard a group of high school students say so many times in a week how much they value education and values passed down from their parents.

Education and introducing Jesus is truly the best way to break cycles of violence and poverty. People to People is a small Christian organization working in Romania with marginalized groups, saving families and changing lives. The school in Tinca, Romania, had its beginning in Christmas shoeboxes. One young couple realized that one gift at Christmas would not break cycles or save lives. From this, a church started and eventually it led to a school being added. Now there are 180 students from Kindergarten through grade 4.

Some students only show up at school because it may be the only place they will receive food. Milk and white bread is distributed for breakfast at the start of each day, and simple hot dogs with ketchup are fed to the students at lunch. One day we were there, students were given soap or toothpaste to meet basic hygiene needs.

When we left for our student trip we thought we would be replacing a fence and installing a play structure. In reality, we were digging trenches, hauling concrete, shoveling gravel, removing trees, knocking out walls, and the list goes on. All this while playing with children any time they weren’t in class, or having them work alongside us (safety was a concern and we didn’t have enough tools to go around).

After some of our students expressed discouragement of not feeling like we were making a difference, our Romanian project leader shared the vision of the future improvements for the school and the pieces that had to be in place before those could happen. For example, a good perimeter fence had to be completed around the yard before the play structure was fixed and new components installed so they would not be stolen or vandalized. In their culture it does not help to tell them that this new structure is for their enjoyment and benefit.

We left Romania with the message from our project leader that “nothing is impossible with God” as we reflected on the amount of work we did, the love and hope we saw through the children, and the stories of transformation we heard throughout the week.