The Three Musketeers

A tale about three young men trying to build up a center for voluntary work in Romania. Find out why Romanians today are hostile towards voluntary work and how this is connected to their communist past.

Being a volunteer is nothing new in Romania. Volunteerism existed before 1989; however, its meaning under communism differed greatly from today’s voluntary work. Working as a volunteer in those times was a supreme duty of the people of Romania.

We were all volunteers, starting with the little ones and ending with the old ones. Whether we liked it or not, we had to work for the benefit of the entire community. In autumn, for instance, middle school pupils were taken out to the field for harvesting potatoes, corn, etc. – and they weren’t paid for these activities because they were all volunteers. The field work that often lasted for weeks completely threw them off their school schedule yet still it had priority.

Thus it might seem that Romania had a great tradition when it came to working as a volunteer. It was a sick kind volunteerism, though, which is the reason that volunteerism today is seen in a bad light. The memories of the communist period are to be blamed for Romanians having a negative reaction when they hear the word "volunteer".

[Once upon a time….]

The following story is a tale of three young people who tried to make their contribution to the development of volunteerism in contemporary Romania. They were called "The three musketeers".

It all started in the summer of 2002 when three young people from Alba Iulia, active members of one of the student organizations, decided to lay the foundations of a volunteer center. In Alba County there are no possibilities to find information about where you can work as a volunteer. Besides being an informational center it was supposed to be a human resource center. This was one of the most important reasons for creating this organization.

The Caritas of Alba Iulia offered to help them and an EU financial program was found that could support the development of such centers for voluntary work. All the conditions seemed to favor the idea of creating this new center and the three young men called it "Impreuna" – "together". For two weeks they were working hard on the application for the grant.  Eventually they managed to meet the dead-line and to send the project to the financial group.

It all seemed to work quite fine; partnerships were signed with the city-hall and Scholar Inspectorate recommendations were given by the most prolific names from the NGO sector in Alba County, names that were well known in the entire country.

Plans and future projects for this center were developed during the discussions of the "three musketeers", who had great hopes in developing this center. But all the hopes and dreams were scattered when the sponsor answered that Caritas Organization was not eligible to receive the fund due to a ?mistake? in the statute. The problem was this: The Caritas of Alba once referred to its own organization in its statues as the "Caritas Romanian-Catholic Bishopric Alba". This slight difference in the name became the legal reason for the sponsors to reject the grant of 20.000 Euros for this project. In spite of the fact that the sponsor had financed the Caritas of Alba several times before.

The bad news struck them like a stroke of thunder; all their hopes and dreams for developing this center were gone. After being discouraged for a whole month, they eventually succeeded in passing this difficult moment and decided that not everything was lost. They kept working as volunteers in different organizations, projects, local as well as national campaigns. Campaigns against drugs, AIDS, smoking, violence against women. Campaigns against mining exploitation from Rosia Montana. Projects concerning children’s homes, Roma children, elders, children from poor families. All because they believed in the idea of volunteer work.

[A happy end after all]

At the end of the year all these activities were nominated at the Annual Volunteer Award ceremony and one of the three musketeers actually managed to win the first place in the category of "Community Involvement".

By their commitments to the Student League of Alba Iulia University (LSUA), an increasing number of students got involved in this organization, willing to be part of different volunteer activities. Thus, there are approximately 35 volunteers at the time being. After a long struggle "the three musketeers" have seen their dream accomplished, having indirectly created a true volunteering center, "together" with students that embrace the same principles. Now they are planning to create an NGO by the name Centrul de Voluntariat "Impreuna" that one day will hopefully be known in the entire country.

This is the story of some young people in a country still in transition, in a country where volunteerism has different connotations than the usual ones, where volunteers are seen as fools wasting their time doing something that gives them no financial satisfaction. This is the story of "the three musketeers-volunteers".

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