Ahwatukee Foothills resident Aaron Richardson knew he was being called to help out in another part of the world. On his first volunteering mission trip, he traveled halfway around the world.
Richardson, 17, recently spent about two weeks in different parts of Romania, working with kids who ranged from toddlers to his own age. He went with a group of 18 other volunteers with Hope 4 Kids, an international organization that provides services such as dental and medical assistance to impoverished people around the world.
"When I first heard about Hope 4 Kids and what they do, I definitely knew I wanted to do it," Richardson said. "The kids were the most loving, happy kids I have ever met."
His time there was spent at an inner-city day center and in gypsy villages while a small contingency of the group provided dental services to the kids. Richardson visited and worked in the villages of Lazareni and Cheresig in northern Romania. The villagers, as Richardson described, lived in make-shift houses of mud and other materials and had to hike more than a mile to the nearest fresh water source.
What shocked Richardson was the amount of prejudice in Romania toward the gypsy population. He said on the bus ride over, the driver was taken aback that a group of Americans would want to lend aid to the gypsies.
"They were a small community of poor people who live in villages and the prejudice toward them is nothing like I have seen before," Richardson said.
But he did see hope in the form of education. Through the organization's founder, Tom Eggum, more than 20 students have been sponsored to attend vocational schools, which translates into jobs abroad.
"They are able to get out of the country to work and the money they make they can send back to there family in Romania," Richardson said. "It shows them that there is hope and you can get out."
Richardson started by sponsoring two gypsy children and on his trip got to meet them.
"I brought them a small gift and we worked on small crafts for a little bit," he said. "We didn't talk much, but I don't think we had to. It was an eye-opening experience to see where the money was going and who it was helping."
Richardson has apparently caught the volunteering bug. The Valley Christian High School student said he hopes to return to Romania within the year. In the meantime, he will continue to sponsor the kids and look forward to his next adventure.
To find out more about Hope 4 Kids, visit www.Hope4KidsInternational.org. There you can find out how to sponsor a child in an impoverished country for $1 per day.
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