Order member and volunteer Helena Letman recently travelled to Romania for one month to volunteer at the German Association of the Order of Malta’s annual holiday camp for disabled people. The project provided for 96 people with mental and physical disabilities, many of whom live in an institution all year round, and entailed a summer holiday week of fun-filled activities, from playing games, to football, crafts, dancing or going for walks. Activities they rarely get the chance to experience for the rest of the year.
Each guest is allocated their own volunteer for the week to act as a carer and friend. The Fund spoke to Helena to learn more about the impact of one the Order’s many summer camps.
What were your day-to-day responsibilities?
I was one of the cooks. There were three of us, we cooked breakfast every morning for the whole camp, 70 people! We also made lunch and dinner for the volunteers. We started working at 6.30am most mornings and would finish around 9pm. We had the opportunity to go back to our room, but I felt it was important to get to know the guests and take part in the camp’s activities. I wasn’t just there to chop onions; I loved getting involved.
What were the highlights of your experience?
I loved the day when we had a fancy dinner and the volunteers all dressed up. That afternoon there was a spa day and all the guests got their nails done. Then we go down to dinner and whilst eating, there is a singer for entertainment. After the dinner, everyone gathers around the fire and so many guests who were initially shy get up to dance. Seeing the bond between guests and volunteers is amazing, not one person that night wasn’t holding hands or putting their arms around the guest they looked after. The last day is full of tears when they all must leave each other.
You volunteer every week for Order projects in the UK, and have been to Lourdes. What motivated you to go and volunteer on the national camp in Romania?
Having heard a lot about the Chabrouh camp in Lebanon, I wanted to experience working alongside young volunteers who are organising an Order of Malta national summer camp. I loved being with the young volunteers, looking after them and the guests and having lots of fun of course.
How does working with young people feel different?
They are amazing, and so creative in what they do. One day they made a ‘bingo drum’ because we all decided playing bingo would be fun; it took them only half an hour. They would also put on fantastic theatre performances with no resources. They are great motivators. The guests are much more involved because it is so fun. In addition, they’re also so vigilant and I’m full of admiration for them all, if you give them responsibility, they take it and fly.
Would you recommend other people pursue voluntary experience with an Order summer camp, and if so, why?
Anyone over 18 can come, it is an amazing experience for anyone wanting to come because you are pushed on every level, adapting to the team and the guests, it’s tiring. Spiritually it’s also great, this year’s priest managed to create a wonderful team environment. On every level its fantastic but it’s also taxing, so be prepared!
For more information about volunteering with the Order worldwide visit Order of Malta Vision 2050 | Home | Order of Malta Vision 2050