Juliana Lodge arrived in Romania in October 2009. She volunteered alongside members of the FFR team for a year, then returned to work in the UK. Juliana has come back to Romania each year to support local projects and is now a trustee of STAR International. Here is a little more about Juliana’s journey and her heart for Romania.
My name is Juliana. I am a Speech & Language Therapist (Pathologist) specialising in Complex Communication Difficulties in children. My journey started in 2009 when I felt the ‘call’ to serve as a volunteer in Romania.
I was fortunate to be placed with Sarah and her team at the Children’s hospital. I cared for babies and children on the wards and in Play Therapy rooms where I got to know many of the children with complex needs. When they left the hospital, I visited them at their care home as often as possible.
For families living on very low incomes in Romania, caring for a child with complex needs is a serious challenge. They often battle social stigma, lack of support and information, fear, and living in very limiting conditions. Many believe their child is better off in care, so many children with special needs grow up in the care system.
Seeking a way to make a lasting difference in my area of specialism, to support these children who had made a nest in my heart, and wanting to make the best use of my professional skills and strengths - I joined several other long-term volunteers who founded STAR International. The team is from the USA and UK, from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life. What unites us is our heart for the youngsters with special needs and those in the care system or living in underserved communities. We support therapy through advocacy and resources, working alongside institution staff and families in the community.
We worked to build rapport with those caring for the children and young adults at the Special Needs Home. Only after listening to them and establishing trust, can we open a dialogue about the challenges, and how to explore solutions together. It is crucial to recognise and acknowledge their achievements, in tough environments, facing multiple challenges. (E.g. being able to celebrate with staff about children’s progress since my visit last year, such as a non-verbal young girl has learnt to blow a kiss! One boy learnt to stand up! These moments light up the day.)
We must also gain a functional relationship with the team, so they can give honest feedback on ideas. (Sometimes, a possible solution in the UK/USA will not work in the local environment.) Respecting local cultures and traditions is vital – our role is to explore options together.
In April 2015, I helped develop the staff’s use of sign language (a communication system for non-verbal children and young adults in the home). Being a part of this was wonderful: laughing with the staff, signing to each other and the children. The staff loved the print-out of the signs (with words in English and Romanian.)
STAR also leads a Community Project, bringing Occupational Therapy and Speech & Language Therapy to several families. Through collaboration, we have seen improvements in children’s communication, mobility and activities of daily living. To read more about this and how we utilize donations, please visit our website: http://www.starinternational.org.uk
or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/STARInternational2012?fref=ts
The best thing I have seen since going to Romania, is the growing network of people working together, each giving in their own way, towards the best outcomes for the future of Romania.