Aspen students to help, learn in Romania |

Aspen students to help, learn in Romania

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Tucked into the southeastern corner of Europe, nestled between Hungary and Serbia to the west and the former Soviet republic of Ukraine to the east, the midsize nation of Romania has a population of more than 22 million in a total area of 238,392 square miles.

That’s a little more than twice the size of Colorado, but with five times the population, and this summer Romania will grow by at least 17 thanks to a student service club trip organized by Aspen High School teachers Chris Bonadies and Calen Gibney.

The International Service Club, co-sponsored by Bonadies and Gibney, will go to Tamaseu, a small village in western Romania, in June as part of a joint project with a group of students from Germany.

While there, they will build a playground and a puppet theater stage for a local school and orphanage, teach English to local kids and learn a little bit about a part of the world that has long seemed mysterious and somewhat sinister to most U.S. citizens.

Tamaseu, according to the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, is a rural village with some 7,800 people living within a seven-mile radius of the village itself. Bonadies said the streets of the town mostly are unpaved, if not entirely, and many of the buildings are in poor repair.

Bonadies, who teaches government and world history, said the trip is being coordinated with the family of a German exchange student from Munich who came to Aspen three years ago ” Johannes VonPfister.

The VonPfister family has a rich German heritage. The family’s ancestors include an uncle who was commander of the German forces at Normady on D-Day in World War II and the inventor of a water-resistant wool blend that was used for Nazi uniforms. The family owns a clothing factory in the Romanian town of Tamaseu (pronounced tah-mah-say-you, accent on the third syllable), where the orphanage is located.

The facility in the village is one of a network of institutions dealing with the country’s large population of orphans, which historians say is a result of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s social policies.

Ceausescu, who ruled from 1965 until his ouster and execution in 1989, enacted stringent laws aimed at increasing the population, including prohibition against abortion and birth control, and a requirement that all women have at least five children by the age of 45.

At the same time, the country was suffering from economic mismanagement, poverty and starvation, because while industrialized agriculture produced massive quantities of food, much of it was sold to other countries.

A surplus of children in families with no means to feed and clothe them meant that many ended up in state-run orphanages, of which the Tamaseu facility is one example.

The VonPfister family and others from Munich have formed an aid group, known as KIRU (Bonadies said he was not sure what the name means), which already has helped remodel the orphanage/school. The KIRU group has enlisted the help of 14 students at a local school, the Nymphenburger Gymnasium, and those are the students who will be working with the Aspen group.

“It’s a rural, kind of poor place,” Bonadies said of Tamaseu, noting that the project will help the Aspen youths better understand the hardships people face in other parts of the world.

For one thing, he said, the male students will be sleeping in tents while they are in Tamaseu, though the girls will stay in the school’s dormitories.

“There’s need everywhere,” Bonadies said of the service clubs and their options for projects. “This is just another vehicle for kids to learn about other parts of the world,” and to lend a hand to people who need some help.

Bo Welden, a junior who will be on the trip, said he did not know a lot about Romania prior to signing up with the ISC, but added, “I’m really interested in going over to help out.” He said he has traveled to Italy and France in the past with his family, and that his mother, Debbie Weldon, is going to Kenya on a service project with the family’s church.

A senior who is going to Romania, Annie Buettow, remarked that she is “very passionate about traveling in general, and also about service and helping others. This seemed like a perfect opportunity.”

Aaron Poh, a junior, said he has been learning about the desperation of orphans in Romania, “and that really got me interested in wanting to go over and help.”

Both Buettow and Poh said they have gone on service trips before, she to Juarez, Mexico, and he to the Mexican state of Sonora, where they both picked up some construction skills that will come in handy in building the playground and the puppet theater stage.

Bonadies said the trip costs about $1,700 per student, which is being raised from their families and in work projects around Aspen High School and the community.

The trip will take place over two weeks in mid-June 2008, and will include visits to Munich and to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a German mountain town that became Aspen’s first sister city in 1966.

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