Community Partner since 1999.

Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

Ken is one of those people who not only tries to live happily without harming anyone, but actually invests his time helping others. He has helped in his home city of Seattle building houses for low income families, teaching at a school for homeless children, and serving at the Board of his local Girl Scouts association. But Ken hasn’t settled there. He has taken his service to the next level and embraced wonderful life experiences that many people miss on. Ken’s story tells us one more reason why you should volunteer abroad.

It all started in the 60’s for Ken when he and his wife Suzanne tutored children at risk.  They then decided to join the Peace Corps and travel to Ghana. As Ken tells us:

“We felt there was even more need in other parts of the world than in our country. Even the poorest people in our country are in a much better situation than lots of people in other countries.”

After the Peace Corps, Ken and Suzanne continued doing volunteer work in the U.S. as they raised their family. But once the children were old enough, they started volunteering internationally again. Ken tells us one of the reasons:

“We have taken tourist trips to Europe and Africa. But they are not nearly as meaningful or rewarding as doing a combination of tourism and volunteering.”

Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

Suzanne and Ken volunteering in Greece next to their teammates.

During one of his volunteer trips, Ken and Suzanne met a woman who had served with Global Volunteers and recommended it as a reputable organization. Ken and Suzanne followed her advice and went on a service program to Cuba last year. They are currently serving in Greece and have already booked another service program for Romania in September.

So here comes the big question: why you should volunteer abroad?

“I think one of the main benefits of volunteering abroad is that it builds relationships: within the team you make friends; but most importantly, you make friends with the people from the country where you are serving.”

Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

Ken and Suzanne volunteering abroad in Greece.

So for Ken it is not just about the places you see, but also the people you meet, the friends you make, and the fruits of those relationsips:

“It is obvious that we are all interconnected. If we don’t help other countries, if don’t help other people then we are just going to have more international conflict. Volunteering abroad is a way we can participate, make friends, and reduce the chances of conflict.

“When you get to talk and work with the people, they get to know you better, and they get to know Americans and America better.”

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Immediately following the fall of Romania’s Ceaușescu regime, the failure of the communist dogma that population growth would fuel economic growth was evident in tens of thousands of children abandoned to state care. The world was shocked by the images.

Mihaela Cirjontu, then a schoolgirl, was moved to take personal interest in solutions to provide the basics for children who deserved a decent life. She led Global Volunteers in 1989 to a small rural “failure-to-thrive” hospital ward sheltering about 30 babies and toddlers from the surrounding countryside. At that time, the little refuge was the only place in the county that children abandoned immediately after birth could be assured clean diapers and nutritious meals – unlike the institutional “warehouses” of the time. Global Volunteers completed the equation – by providing volunteers to give the babies the individual attention they craved.

Mihaela Cirjontu, Global Volunteers’ Romania Country Manager

Mihaela became Global Volunteers’ Romania Country Director in 1999. At the time, she had already been working with humanitarians inside Romania and the U.S. to further child welfare in her country. Now a high school principal, Mihaela, with her husband Don (and their daughter Dahlia) leads Global Volunteers’ teams in Barlad to continue this legacy of care in her home country. Everyone can help cuddle, stimulate and care for Romanian children!

Take a moment with our photo album:


Care for These Children as a Volunteer

You may never again feel so loved and appreciated after working with these children. No special skills are necessary – hugs mean love in any language! Programs start year-round. Learn more about volunteering in Romania here.

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the greatest service possible

Karen has participated in seven volunteer programs in the last year. We asked Karen how and why she does it. This is her answer, a lesson on how to make the greatest service possible:

If you are anything like me you spend a lot of time thinking about how to be of the greatest service possible while gaining new and varied experiences.

It is the wondering about this topic that led me to be in Romania in the middle of January working with nine of the most delightful children imaginable; four other inspiring volunteers (one of whom has been here four times previously!); and being guided by our wise and friendly hosts Mihaela and Dan Cirjontu.

The children that we are working with range in age from seven months to almost ten years of age and have a variety of conditions that respond remarkably well to love and attention including autism and cerebral palsy. During our very first day there, the change in the condition of the children was stunning.

the greatest service possible

Karen feeding the children at the children’s hospital.

To see a little five-year-old boy with severe cerebral palsy communicating while snuggled close to a volunteer when just a few hours earlier he had been listless and unfocused, is a priceless gift.

To see a tiny three-year-old girl with autism, smiling and laughing with a volunteer that knew just how to engage with her reassures you that love really does conquer all!

And to see the pure joy that was on the face of one of the nurse’s aids when she saw Laura, our volunteer who had been here before, walk in the door made us realize that the work that we are doing here is bringing much more benefit to the staff than simply relieving their work load.

Our team leader, Mihaela had opened the day for us with the story about the starfish:

“A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance. As he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean. As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water. The man asked the boy what he was doing and the boy replied, “I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen.” “But,” said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied “Made a difference to that one.”

During the day, the starfish story kept coming back to me as we each did what we could to bring comfort and joy to each of the children.

And, I knew that we were indeed making a difference to that one.

the greatest service possible

Karen playing with children at the children’s hospital.


Two Romania volunteering scholarships will be offered to applicants for the March 2018 service program. For the fifth year, a Global Volunteers’ patron has pledged to help fund 2- week volunteers serving on winter teams, to nurture and encourage abandoned children at a time of great need. A fund drive is underway to match the initial scholarship pledge, releasing the full scholarship potential.

Applicants and Donors United in Service

Partial scholarships of $1000 are now available. Learn how to apply or to donate:
800-487-1074, chat online or text 651-222-9565.

Criteria for qualified English-speaking scholarship recipients:

  • Must be available to serve for two weeks beginning on March 3, 2018.
  • Applications must be accompanied by a Romania service program registration for March, including a $USD 350 deposit (refundable if you are not selected to receive a scholarship).
  • Balance for the full program fee is due 90 days before your service program. Preference is given to applicants who pay the full program fee at the time the scholarship period opens.
  • Must collaborate with Global Volunteers on social media promotions, including a community presentation following the program.
  • Must be capable and committed to caring for at-risk children in the Barlad, Romania Children’s Hospital.

Contribute to the Romania Scholarship Fund Today!

Every contribution helps us ensure these teams will be sent with the maximum number of compassionate volunteers. Please help us today.

Donate to the Romania Winter Scholarship Fund

Scholarship awards are made to applicants in the order that completed program registrations, including a $350 deposit, are received. The number of scholarships awarded will be determined by the total funds raised.

Volunteer Opportunities for Couples - in Romania

Some of the babies in Barlad Children’s Hospital. Register to help a Global Volunteers team.

Scholarships Ensure Romanian Babies Receive Additional Care in Winter Months

The needs of children in Barlad’s Children’s Hospital are significant. Our volunteers care for abandoned special-needs babies and toddlers all year around, helping to improve their start in life. Volunteer engagement drops during the winter months, but the children’s needs remain stable. The Romania Winter Scholarships help ensure that volunteers are mobilized in December through March to sustain care during these months.

Some of the children you can help:


The Scholarship Origins and Urgent Need:

This extraordinary opportunity is generously provided by the family of a Romania program alumni devoted to the children’s consistent care throughout the year. Learn more about our Romania service program here! 

Questions? Call 800-487-1074 or submit an application using the form:

Request a program catalog here or by calling 800-487-1074.

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Dracula in real life

This is the fourth part to our series on Myths and Legends. Moving to Romania, here we discuss the legend of Dracula and Dracula in real life.

We have all, if not seen, at least heard of movies and novels about Dracula, the blood-sucking monster of Transylvania. This is of course one of the most famous legends taking place in Romania, but it isn’t a Romanian Legend. The blood-sucking monster story is more an Irish creation – by novelist Bram Stoker – than anything. Is Dracula then a fiction character, and we can all sleep well at night? No. Dracula was real, and he was born in Transylvania, but that’s about as close as the Dracula from the movies gets to Dracula in real life.

Dracula in Real Life

Dracula was a real person, more commonly known in medieval Romania as Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia or Vlad the Impaler. I know, the “impaler” is not a nice nickname, and unfortunately Vlad III did like to impale people and was famous for it. But nobody is perfect. In fact, overall, Vlad III was known as a just ruler and is actually a figure of heroism in Romania. He was known to be a harsh ruler, and brutal with his enemies, but just to his people and incredibly brave.

Vlad III ruled in Romania in the 15th century. His father Vlad II, was knighted under the Order of the Dragon, which gave him a new surname: Dracul, as the old Romanian word for dragon was drac. Naturally, his son, Vlad III, was called “son of Dracul” or Drăculea in old Romanian. You get it now. But to make matters worse for Vlad III, in modern Romanian drac means “the devil, ” so Vlad III has been mistakenly believed to be called “son of the devil.”

Dracula in real life

Inside “Dracula’s Castle.” The real life Dracula didn’t live in this castle, but it still is a really cool castle. Romania.

In reality, the Order of the Dragon had nothing to do with the devil, but everything to do with fighting the Ottoman Empire. As you might remember, the crusades were a thing during 15th century Europe, so it was common for European kings to fight against the Turks. Although Vlad III had a small army compared to the Ottomans, he had good tactics, was brutal and brave, so for a long time he was able to repel the Ottoman invasion. But eventually he was overcome by the vastness of the Turk army and killed.

The story of Dracula is a Romanian legend, not of blood-sucking monsters but of bravery and heroism. Whether you think Dracula in real life was better or worse than the Dracula from the movies, that doesn’t take away from the thrill around this legend, in either version. Moreover, this only adds to the richness of the Romanian culture. There is so much Dracula touring you can do in Romania before or after your service program. What are you waiting for?

"Dracula's Castle" in Romania.

Transylvania countryside.


Transylvania is a beautiful historical region in Romania.

How to help orphans

Evan loves volunteering with Global Volunteers: she has done it 20 times. Twelve of those service programs were in Romania, where she has dedicated most of her time to helping children at an orphanage. Evan just finished a service program at PPA, a children’s home in Peru. While she was serving, she talked about her experience and views on how to help orphans…

How to help orphans

The ratio of staff to children at orphanages or children’s home is not good. The children need a lot of attention. But the staff cannot give them enough individual attention. The children don’t get held. And sometimes in places like Romania the children with disabilities stay in their cribs all day because they don’t get help.

How to help orphans

Volunteer Evan caring for children at an orphanage in Romania.

The impact of helping at orphanages and children’s homes

Serving at orphanages or children’s homes is more process oriented than goal oriented. You don’t get to quite see the impact of your service. You don’t know what the impact is because you don’t know or control what happens in the rest of their life. And you are not there with them all time, but it’s the chain of volunteers who keep coming group after group who are there for them.

Usually when you start working with the children they are sitting there next to a toy. Once the children get your attention they start to smile more. They are not just sitting there with the toys, they are playing with them.

“Once a staff member at an orphanage told me: anybody can give them money, but you give them love.”

At the beginning of a visit at an orphanage there was a boy who was autistic, and he was hitting his head. Then a volunteer payed attention to him. By the time the volunteer left the kid was more attentive. I have also volunteered at an orphanage in India. I see that a lot of it is the individual attention you give to the children.

Helping orphans  in Peru

I’m about to work with three siblings at PPA who had not seen each other before we came. Now we gather them and play with them. It was hard for me and Maru (the Team Leader) not to cry when we saw them together. They were so happy to see each other!

How to help oprhans

Evan playing with babies at PPA, in Peru.

How to help oprhans

Evan playing with children at PPA, in Peru.



Check out this video highlighting the stunning city of Bârlad, Romania. Although Bârlad is a small city- about six square miles- with a population of around 55, 000, it’s rich in historical landmarks and attractions.

During your Romania Service Program, you’ll have nights and weekends free to explore the urban sites. In the video above, many attractions can be seen, starting with the tourist center. There is the public garden (featured from (0:6-0:14) , the Vasile Pârvan Museum (which is featured from 1:44-1:57 in the video), the “M. Eminescu” Centre – The Red House Museum (featured from 0:47-0:59), The Marcel Guguianu Museum (featured from 2:00-2:12), as well as other diversions not featured in this video, including a planetarium, an astronomical observatory and many beautiful churches and homes.

Visit our Volunteer in Romania website page to learn more about service opportunities in Bârlad,  or chat with a Volunteer Coordinator below!

Chat online about Barlad,  Romania

Steve Wenzel has a huge heart for the disabled, and often orphaned, children who are hospitalized in Romania. There are no words to describe Steve, who has faithfully served these vulnerable Romanian children on 16 Global Volunteers service programs since 1999, and his mother, Lorraine, who has joined him on 5 of these programs. They just keep on coming back, and the children run into their arms. All the children need is loving arms to hold them, comfort them, play with them, help feed them, read to them, etc. That’s what Steve and Lorraine come to do.

ROM1209A1 Steve Wenzel with one of the babiesSteve writes:

I selected the Romania project in 1999 because it offered the opportunity to serve children who otherwise might not receive the care and attention to which they so need to develop. Since that first service program, I have been returning every year since because I have seen and experienced how the children love interacting with volunteers and, in turn, thrive in their development.

ROM1409A1 Stephen Wenzel walks with boy 1One of my quotes to live by is from Mother Teresa, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” The children love the attention of and care from all volunteers, male and female.

If you have open arms, they’ll run into them without being concerned about who you are. The children look for whoever is available, not necessarily for whoever is most capable.

The children crave the attention of all volunteers. It may be for some though that much of their time in the hospital and the placement center is spent with women caring for them.

Lorraine Wenzel Plaque Photo 5 SVPFor some, especially the older children, spending time with a man might be a different experience and one that will help in their development. The children love being in the care of anyone, female or male, so long as it’s someone giving them attention.

Steve and Lorraine, we think about all of the smiles and comfort you have brought to the faces and into the lives of these dear little ones through the years. Because of our Global Volunteers like you, these children are thriving and making progress. Thank you so much!


Life-changing trip to Romania

Although he didn’t know it at the time, Ken Kieffer made a life-changing decision to become a Romania Global Volunteer over a decade ago. The attachment he felt to the children on his 2005 service program became an “early warning” of what was to come. Over these years, he’s assisted the experienced nursing staff with the children’s daily needs through play, exercise, feeding, and offering love.

The Backstory

After five service programs at the children’s ward of Municipal Hospital “Elena Beldiman” in Barlad, Romania, Ken confronted his own health concerns when preparing for his May, 2013 service program.

“I had ignored chest and left arm pains for over a month. I finally realized I had to do something; there was no way I would be able to climb the stairs to spend time with the kids. The day after I saw my doctor, I had open heart surgery. The surgeon told me and my own children that without the triple bypass I would have had no more than a month to live!” Ken credits his life-changing trip to Romania and the children he served with focusing his attention on his own health in the steps he took to save his life.

Life-changing trip to Romania

“My volunteer service in Romania has now become an integral and very joyful part of my life. The Global Volunteers team in Barlad is kind and deeply inspiring, and the time with the kids and the staff at the Hospital is nothing short of consistently magical, ” Ken explains.

In a remarkable “pay-it-forward” perspective Ken says: “I believe my love and concern for the kids in Barlad, Romania saved my life, and I will spend the rest of my life repaying them–and having great times with them and my Romanian Global Volunteers friends.”

Ken, we’re so very grateful for you continued service and support of the Global Volunteers program in Romania. Thank you for sharing your love and talents!


Experience a Life-changing Trip to Romania

Volunteers as young as 10 years old are welcome in Barlad. If you’re interested in becoming a Global Volunteer in Romania, we’re ready to assist you with project descriptions, travel questions, and registration guidance. Chat online with us!

Chat online about a life-changing trip to Romania

by Cassidy Toner

During the seven days our team has been at the hospital, some things have become very familiar — the sight of Ionut running out of the playroom, exclamations of “acolo” from Ema and Delia, Shrek 2, meows from Alina, and David dumping  out  every container of toys he can find.

However, each day brings something new. Ionut and Ema sharing a bean bag and looking at books. Paul’s determination to move around the room and engage with those around him. Coca shushing the kids while Alina took center stage to sing and dance for her audience. Maria falling asleep in my arms and David putting together the floor puzzle twice. This has been such an amazing experience.  Just look at their little faces!!


Interested in caring for children in Romania with Global Volunteers? Learn more by clicking here.