“AN experience of a lifetime” is how youth worker Sean McMullan described 2017’s Romania Project.

16 staff and young people have recently returned from the town of Baraolt on the second annual Romania trip, as part of the New Lodge Youth Project.

The project, which has won awards for the positive change of the impact of young people’s lives in the New Lodge, involved a range of work to help others, including in an orphanage, a disability centre and in local schools.

Youth worker Sean McMullan, who led this year’s team in Romania, reflected on a life-changing experiencing for the young people involved.

“It was life-changing in different ways for each and every one of them,” he said. “Each person was hit differently by their experiences in Romania. Some of the young people came back completely motivated for school and ready for employment. Every one of them has been back at the youth centre to volunteer and they are all keen to help out in the local community. They all want to give back to young people what they learnt from their trip. This is the second year running and has already grown. It gives the young people a chance to be taken out of their typical environment and become more grateful through experiencing people less fortunate than themselves. It also gives some of them a chance to come out of their own comfort zones to push and challenge themselves.

“One of our projects involved helping a local family of nine – five children and four adults – who were living in a shack and in very poor conditions. We were able to provide enough food for them for the next month, which was really rewarding.”

The New Lodge Youth Project is part of Ashton Community Trust which started back in 2015 and enables young people to get involved in an extensive programme which involved personal development, supporting young people with disabilities at the 174 Trust, volunteering to help Belfast’s homeless and carry out intergenerational work with the local elderly.

Gareth Gilvary, who embarked on the Romania Project for a second successive year, said: “I can’t help but feel completely overwhelmed with so many emotions and thoughts. This year’s programme has been an unforgettable privilege to be part of and getting the opportunity to meet so many devoted and inspirational people who have created special memories filled with laughter and tears. These are moments I will keep with me for a very long time. I noticed something different this time around on my visit to the orphanage and family home which was the kids’ infectious smiles and their laughter. They represent childhood innocence and it’s only natural to ask, how is it that these special innocent and beautiful children were deserted by those who are supposed to love and care for them unconditionally?

“Ultimately my second Romania experience taught me to appreciate those who love me. I am genuinely excited to see what the next stage of the journey brings for all the new young people. For myself, I owe everything to Sean and the rest of the team for not just the opportunity to be involved in this amazing programme but for the trust and belief to grow in my own right.”