Jen Kirkland has fallen in love with the children of Romania.
The Vernon woman arrived in Brasov, Romania in March, where she volunteers full-time at a children’s hospital. It’s her fourth time visiting the Eastern European country working with a small non-profit organization called Firm Foundations Romania.
At the hospital in Brasov, located in the country’s Transylvania region, Kirkland volunteers holding, changing and caring for babies whose parents can’t afford to stay with them at the hospital long-term.
“I’m loving it,” Kirkland said of the experience. “This was sort of an exploratory trip just to see in the eight months if it was something I could see myself doing for two years or 10 years, and it certainly has been that.”
Kirkland is returning to Vernon in November for a two-month stay at home, and then she’ll be taking off back to Romania in January 2023.
As she is a full-time unpaid volunteer while in Romania, Kirkland relies on donations from friends, family and strangers to support her excursions. Anyone who wishes to help fund her next trip to Romania can make a donation at abundant.co/multinationmissionsf/jenkirkland.
While back in Vernon, Kirkland plans to speak about her experiences at a local church. To inquire about having her speak at a church, home group or event, or to receive her monthly newsletter, email Kirkland at email@example.com.
Beyond her work in the hospital, Kirkland helps underprivileged Romanians in the Roma Gypsie community 25 minutes out of Brasov, where Firm Foundations Romania has built a kids club that has an after-school program where kids can get help with homework and further their education.
Kirkland says education is hard to come by for kids in the Roma community.
“In that community they only go up to Grade 8 and once they finish Grade 8 they either have to go into the big city where I live or they just are finished with school and they get married at age 14,” she said. “The kids that are finishing Grade 8, we’re trying to support them to go into the city so they can get into trade schools and just continue education.”
Kirkland has also spearheaded a teen program, where teens learn how to craft a job resume and other skills like typing and hygiene courses.
Romania shares a border with Ukraine, and Kirkland says many Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war with Russia are turning up on her side of the border. She says her organization supports Ukrainians fighting in their homeland with whatever materials can’t be used in the hospital or the Roma community.
“They had asked for winter coats from us in March shortly after I got here,” she said. “It’s scary (to think) that a lot of them are going to be dying in these coats. It was just sort of a surreal experience.”
Kirkland will begin her fifth stint in Romania on Jan. 8.