Seeing grinding poverty at first-hand is not something many young people would wish to encounter in their work placement, but it did not deter Portadown girl Alana Williamson from signing up for such an experience.
Alana (24) has recently returned from Romania where she spent four weeks as part of her adult nursing degree at Queen’s University Belfast.
The New Charlestown Road girl was one of nine nursing students who opted to go to Timisoara, where she spent a week apiece working in a baby clinic, child protection and the country hospital.
She said, “The hospitals are very run-down and very poor. The nurses don’t have time to attend to the patients’ hygiene so if family don’t do it patients are just left.
“We brought shaving from and shower gel with us. At first, the patients thought we wanted money but an interpreter explained that we were there to help, and they were so grateful.”
She explained that the baby clinic was, essentially, an orphanage, as a lot of the babies there had been abandoned as they were too ill for their parents to care for them.
With only one assistant in charge of 10 or 11 babies, the infants do not get a lot of attention, and are often propped up with blankets to take their own bottles.
Said Alana, “The children do not get out of their cots. They don’t get any stimulation. We fed them and played with them but it was hard to go in just for a week and then leave them. Once they started getting some attention they wanted more and started crying to be picked up.”
The child protection unit, meanwhile, catered for children with learning difficulties who didn’t have any family.
Explained Alana, “Learning disability is still treated with superstition, especially among the gypsy families. It’s very hard to see. The unit doesn’t have the resources they need, so again we bought food and toys and took the children to the park.
“They didn’t know how to interact, We got books out and were trying to read them stories but they had never experienced that before. When you think of the facilities we have for children with learning difficulties here and of our health service - we take so much for granted.”
Although emotionally upsetting, Alana found the placement “very rewarding”.
She added, “We put a lot of our fundraising money together and bought groceries for nine families. There was one family who were about to get evicted.
In the gypsy area, the homes were terrible, like huts.”
Alana, who has begun applying for nursing jobs, plans to start off in general nursing and eventually go into palliative care.
She has thanked everyone who supported her fundraising - she had a coffee morning in Portadown Elim Church of which she is a member, and also ran a quiz sheet.
Alana paid for her own flights, accommodation and food so all the money raised went on buying provisions for the people in Romania.
In spite of the poverty, the former pupil of Killicomaine JHS, Craigavon Senior High and Southern Regional College would go back again. “It was amazing. I didn’t want to come home,”she added.