Between April 18th and 25th, 13 students from Melanchthon de Blesewic gymnasium in the Netherlands skipped dream vacations in Spain or Portugal to volunteer in Oradea and its surroundings. They were led by teachers Karin Vermeulen, Jan de Jong, and Bernard Hoving, alongside the local Caritas team. This was a continuation of last year's program where students volunteered in areas supported by Caritas Catolica Oradea Association. The financial fund for travel and activities was collected by the students themselves during a school year, at various charity fairs and school events.

The actual program in Oradea started on Friday, April 19, when Dutch students prepared a hundred sandwiches. These were distributed during the evening to the residents of the homeless shelter in Oradea, who kindly led the kids around the compound. They showed them the sleeping rooms, showers, doctor's emergency room, and gave them a glimpse into their daily lives. From the personal conversation that developed, human life paths emerged that Dutch young people rarely encounter. The meeting ended with a common prayer led by a self-appointed preacher from the homeless shelter community. At the end of the evening, the volunteer team watched the lights of the city from the top of Mushroom Hill (Ciuperca).

"The visit to the homeless shelter remains a special memory for me. It was nice to be able to help these very poor eople with a small gesture. In a good way, it left its mark on my soul. We vowed to come back here with my friends after we graduate" – said Luke, one of the students in the program.

They spent Saturday with the young people of the Child Jesus Home in Sacueni. Dutch volunteers from Caritas played football, frisbee and badminton in mixed teams with local orphans, but there was also possibility to do other types of volunteer work too, such as setting tables and peeling vegetables in the kitchen of the children's home. The atmosphere was hilarious. After the youngsters had finished the sports games, they had lunch together with the orphans. Before parting, the Dutch team promised to visit the small and big residents of the home in Sacueni again next year, and they also donated two water boilers and sandwich makers to the institution.

In order to see not only the social cases, but also the beauties of the countryside, Caritas took the volunteers on a trip to Vadu Crisului on Sunday, April 21. The Dutch youth were fascinated by the beauty of the mountain ranges of the King's Forest, since their own country consists mostly of flat plains, so hiking in the mountains and visiting the Zichy cave was a great adventure for them. Recharged by the sight of the waterfall and the fresh mountain air, the team was able to continue their humanitarian journey over the next week.

The next day, the Dutch distributed durable food packages in the poor areas of the village of Salacea. The young people were delighted to be invited to some of the houses and thus gain insight into the lives of the people living there, especially large families and elderly people living alone. Prior to the action, the foreign team had the opportunity to participate in a meeting with Mr. Béla Horváth, mayor of the comune.

Monday's activity continued in Tasnád, where the Dutch held sessions with children participating in the Caritas afternoon education program. The young people first had a lunch together, during which it was proved that language barriers are not an obstacle to bonding with each other and having fun. After the meal, the long-awaited program could follow: fun and playing, with board games, face painting, washable tattoos and other playful activities, which the Dutch youth enjoyed as much as the small children of the afterschool program. At the end of the activity, foreigners indicated that they would support the purchase of new furniture for the Tasnad department of Caritas.

At the end of Monday, the team also visited an elderly lady in Margitta, beneficiary of the Caritas home care program, whose cataract surgery was supported by the Dutch, and thanks to them she regained her sight at the age of 84 after ten years of blindness. The touching moments of the reunion are forever etched in the hearts of the participants. 

On Tuesday, April 23, students of the Melanchthon de Blesewic school volunteered throughout the morning in the garden of St. Elizabeth's Elderly Home. The Dutch youngsters, led by one of the residents, Mrs. Éva Matyi, carried out the most urgent garden work – pruning trees and bushes, weeding and clearing the thorn bush at the base of the fence near the sports grounds. After the good work, they prepared lunch together and had a picnic in the garden.

Meanwhile, the other half of the team took the residents of St. Elizabeth's Elderly Home for a walk in a nearby park. Before the program, the young people, led by Andrea Nagy, head of the institution and Erzsébet Szilágyi, social worker, could learn the tricks of professional wheelchair handling and try for themselves what it feels like to be forced to rely on the guidance of others while sitting in a wheelchair. After that, with great enthusiasm and equipped with their new knowledge, they escorted the elderly to the park: some wolunteers pushed wheelchairs, others took a resident by the arm. This is how the cheerful team walked all the way to a quieter corner of the Olosig Park, where under the leadership of physiotherapist Judit Orbán, the elderly residents and the young volunteers performed the usual morning exercise together, which was also favored by the good weather.

„I really liked helping the elder people and the kids in the orphanage. I really loved this week. I'll try to come back next year with the others for our exam trip.” – said 16-year-old Lara.

Their joint program with St. Elizabeth Home ended with barbecue and a garden picnic on Tuesday. The Dutch youngsters really enjoyed the fact that they could prepare the team's lunch with their own hands and had the opportunity to taste the authentic Romanian mici meat. The day was also brightened by a special moment – one of the volunteer students was greeted with singing and a nice cake on the occasion of his birthday, sponsored by the Mocca confectionery in Oradea. Later, also as a birthday present, the Dutch team, which included several youth footballers, was able to visit FC Bihor's football stadium.

A visit to large families participating in Caritas Catolica's periodic aid program culminated Tuesday afternoon. The Dutch youngsters brought not only sweets and sports equipment as gifts, but also their own open heart and friendship - as far as the capricious weather allowed it, they went out to play football, badminton in the meadows, or did face painting and indoor activities with the visited children in Episcopia Bihor and Telechiu. The atmosphere was hilarious.

The closing day of volunteer week was all about charity on Wednesday, April 24. In the morning, the young people visited the sick and elderly cared for in Caritas' home care program in Oradea. They sang to them and gave them modest gifts, but more than anything, they also took the time to talk to them and listen to them. Their youthful presence brought light to patients' homes.

„One moment that I remember most is when we went to the home care patients. I especially thought the woman who was paralyzed on the left side was very special. when the group sang a song for her she cried with joy. During the song she often looked at me and I thought the look she gave me was so special that it made me cry too. she was so grateful and happy, but I also saw a bit of sadness and loneliness. I have learned from this that all luxury in the Netherlands (the country I live in) cannot be taken for granted. and that you should be happy with what you have, because there are also people who will never have it.” – said 16-year-old Nathan.

During the afternoon, Dutch students peeled and chopped vegetables for Caritas' Soup Kitchen, and then some students helped distribute hot lunches to beneficiaries, while one of the accompanying adults, music teacher Bernard Hovig, greeted an elderly lady celebrating her name day with an impromptu concert at St. Elizabeth's Home. After lunch, the students presented Caritas with a symbolic cheque, indicating their commitment to support Caritas Kitchen by purchasing a new electric stove, and the staff were presented with a box of chocolates in gratitude for cooking for them throughout the week.

At the end of the day, the members of the Dutch group received a certificate of appreciation from the Caritas management. "The attitude of professors in teaching their pupils social sensitivity is commendable, and it is commendable that young people devote their time to helping others instead of having other entertainment. Their behaviour is exemplary for local youth as well" – stressed József Rajna, Director General in his speech. 

Yannick, 16, shared: „I found the journey extremely impressive, but also beautiful. The most beautiful things that I remember are the visit to the orphanage and the after-school care. These activities prove that language is not a barrier. We didn't speak Romanian or Hungarian and the children there didn't speak English or Dutch, but we were still able to play with them for whole afternoons and we managed to figure it out with gestures and translation by Tamas, our volunteer coordinator. The most intense part of the trip was the last part, when we visited Mrs. Ilona it really broke me because she was so grateful for us. The last families we visited also broke me and my friends, causing us to cry together on the way from family 1 to family 2 because it made such an impact. I am very happy that I was able to do this and also see this part of the world. I hope to be able to return soon with friends and help out for a few weeks.”

„Overall I am very happy that I was able to mean something to the people in Romania and I hope that they and I will not soon forget it.” – added his colleague Nathan.

Within the framework of the "Blesewic – Roemenie" program, another Dutch group is expected to arrive in Oradea next spring, but the young people will not be idle until then. Led by their teachers, they will organize fundraising campaigns throughout the year to provide financial resources for the program, and they will share their experiences to the upcoming generations of schoolers.