North Okanagan resident Jen Kirkland (right) at a children’s hospital in Brasov, Romania, where she volunteered helping sick children in September 2021. (Submitted photo)

North Okanagan resident Jen Kirkland (right) at a children’s hospital in Brasov, Romania, where she volunteered helping sick children in September 2021. (Submitted photo)

North Okanagan woman travelling to Romania to help children

Jen Kirkland is dedicated to caring for underprivileged children, no matter how far away they might be

A North Okanagan woman will soon depart to Romania to help some of the country’s most neglected children any way she can.

Jen Kirkland has already visited the Eastern European country three times, working with a small non-profit organization called Firm Foundations Romania (FFR). In Brasov, located in the country’s Transylvania region, she volunteers in a children’s hospital, holding and caring for babies who have been abandoned or whose parents can’t afford to stay in the hospital with them.

After trips in 2017 and 2019, she had hoped to make another visit in March 2020, but those plans were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She hadn’t planned to return until the COVID situation settled down, but in August 2021 she was given an opportunity she couldn’t refuse, and spent six weeks at the hospital.

“I was the first international volunteer back, I was the only volunteer for part of the time I was there as well, so it was a lot more hands-on,” she said. “I was able to go out to the Roma Gypsy village and see what was going on out there as well.”

The Roma Gypsy village of Budila is the underclass of Romanian society where poverty runs rampant, Kirkland said.

“They’re literally the lowest of the low on the human totem pole there, they’re treated terribly,” she said.

Just three people work full-time at FFR, which is only getting bigger as an organization. Recently, FFR purchased land and is developing an after-school program for kids in Budila.

Kirkland plans to make her fourth trip in March 2022, an eight-month excursion during which she’ll work as a volunteer coordinator and will be at the hospital five days a week.

In addition to caring for young children, FFR also has a program for teens who are already out of school, getting married and starting families, “walking them through life a little bit and just teaching them the general stuff that 14 and 15-year-olds should know, like hygiene and self care,” Kirkland said.

“I’ve been a ringette coach for the last six years so I’m very accustomed to teenagers,” she laughed.

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Without volunteers like Kirkland, children at the hospital wouldn’t receive the care they need. She tells the story of a five-year-old boy who she met in hospital during her previous trips to Romania. He passed away of cystic fibrosis shortly after her arrival in 2021.

“He just lived at the hospital because he was so sick and if there weren’t volunteers coming in to help him then it was basically just doctors and nurses and the four walls around them,” she said.

“There’s a lot more given back to us,” she said of the volunteer experience. “It’s a feeling that you’re doing something right, especially for people who are really treated so terribly over there.”

Depending on FFR’s future needs, Kirkland said she might end up moving to Romania permanently as early as 2023.

“At this point I think all signs are probably pointing to (moving there), it’s been on my heart for a lot of years,” she said.

Kirkland is seeking financial support for her upcoming return to Romania. Anyone wanting to help fund her trip can make a donation at abundant.co/multinationmissionsf/jenkirkland.

Kirkland will also be at the Free Grace Vernon Church on Sunday, Feb. 27, at 10:30 a.m., where she’l be discussing the initiative and providing information for folks who would like to follow her path to volunteerism abroad.

Anyone with questions about FFR, Romania or about volunteering can also email Kirkland directly at traveljen22@hotmail.com.

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Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
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