UI senior Simone Renault holds six-year-old Alina in her arms and tells her a story. Although the girl smiles as she hears about castles and princesses, her life has been anything but a fairy tale.
Born with fetal alcohol syndrome and abandoned by her parents, Alina lives in a Romanian children's hospital. Fortunately, she receives love and care from volunteers like Renault, who travel to Romania to impact the lives of disadvantaged kids—and to have a transformative experience of their own.
Inspired by a former mentor and by her Iowa Voyagers service trip to Romania in 2005, Linda Baker*, 68BA, founded the Dr. Ken Magid Child Advocacy Scholarship to give UI students like Renault the opportunity to participate in Operation Romania. Iowa Voyagers Director Diane Baker*, 76BA, 87MA, who screens the applicants, says the trip offers students an opportunity to learn about a new culture, help others, and "come back with greater confidence in themselves and what they can do to make a difference in the world."
Along with Renault, pediatric nursing junior Shannon Becker and elementary education and athletic training sophomore Lauren Rosa received this year's scholarships. In addition to caring for the children, the students designed murals at a new physical therapy clinic, taught English at a local elementary school, and helped start a pilot program to inspire local young people to volunteer—a concept that faded from Romania under communism. Says Renault, a biology and international studies major, "I feel that the effects of this program are serving a greater purpose within the community of Barlad, Romania, than we could have ever imagined—more than simply rocking children, changing their diapers, or holding their hand as they totter down the hallway."
The trip hasn't merely changed the lives of grateful young people and hospital workers in Romania; the UI students say the experience has also inspired them to dedicate their careers to serving others. "I hope that I can extend [Linda Baker's] generosity to the next generation," says Renault. "The realization that we are not only working to cheer the lives of children, but also bringing new norms and understandings to the table—while also respecting and absorbing a world so much alike, yet so much different, from our own—resonates deeply with my desire to do good in this world."