The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Real Break takes student trip to Romania

Between sprawling green fields and hills, a dirt road plays home to a short stretch of houses. Near the end of the buildings, children run, climb and swing around in the small, aged playground and in the near distance some sheep graze leisurely. The occasional horse-drawn carriage passes by.

It may look like a small village, but the Pro Vita orphanage has managed to be its own small community. About 70 miles from Bucharest, the orphanage is about a half hour drive from another village. Every few years they welcome students in the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) to experience life with the children.

Junior Thano Prokos, president of DePaul’s OCF chapter, travelled to Romania over spring as a part of their annual Real Break.

The Real Break offers a different trip every week in March, allowing different schools to pick a trip coinciding with their spring break. From Detroit to Guatemala to Alaska and Romania, students can decide which trip to take depending on their spring break.

According to the OCF website, the trip helps students become socially informed through fellowship, education, worship and service.

Most of these kids grow up without a consistent parent figure,” Prokos said. “We went to the local church for evening prayers and 10 minutes into the service, each one of the girls on our trip had a child climb into their arms.”

Sophomore Catherine Tuggle, one of the girls who went, says she enjoyed the children the most.

“They were just so eager to see us,” Tuggle said. “And so eager to have our attention and to play and get to know us in any way.”

The students spent almost all of their time playing with the kids. Sometimes they would just play on the playground, although other times they would want to be chased and then picked up and spun around, a game they called “avion.” Anything from piggyback rides to rolling them along in wheelbarrows, not much was out of the question.

“We saw one of our group members wheeling around three kids in a wheelbarrow,” Prokos said. “So naturally, all the kids we were carrying got off our shoulders and ran to climb in the wheelbarrow.”

Having grown up hearing stories of Greece from his mother and grandmother, Prokos appreciated the similarities Pro Vita offered.

“It made me feel like I was connecting to my roots,” Prokos said. “I guess being in that kind of semi-isolated environment makes you appreciate where you are. You can’t really escape, so you just soak in what’s around you.”

Surprisingly, language caused very little difficulty for the group, despite not knowing Romanian.

“Interacting with the kids was so much about body language,” Tuggle said. “If you give them a hug or a smile, that was all that was needed to form a relationship.”

Although they learned a few basic phrases and some of the children knew some English too, it didn’t affect the relationships they built.

“I learned that a loving gesture says more than words,” Tuggle noted.

The voyage comes at a price that may be a bit hefty for college students on a budget. Set at $2000, many students look to donations and fundraising.

“I sent out letters letting people in my church know that I was hoping to do this,” Tuggle said. “And if they couldn’t give money for me, then prayers or things for the kids, but it was amazing how everybody came through for me.”

Tuggle managed to raise well over the necessary amount and used the extra money on other expenses for the trip and souvenirs for members in her church as a thank you.

Prokos also did a fair share of fundraising though his church. However, the John C. Kulis Charitable Foundation offered to pay half of each student’s trip if they filled out an application.

The eight students, four girls and four boys, stayed four nights at Pro Vita and then two days in Bucharest.

“Leaving the kids was probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I really feel like I gained a lot of little brother and sisters while I was there,” Tuggle said.

The orphanage has over 200 orphans and also helps families in need or children with disabilities. They have their own community, staying in houses along a small dirt road, Prokos says. Pro Vita does not receive any help from the Romanian state.

“It’s run by the Romanian Orthodox church,” Prokos said. “And they make it clear that they won’t turn anyone away.”

Pro Vita can only house 10 visitors at a time, resulting in the small group made up of students from different universities. Prokos was the only student from DePaul to attend.

“I would have liked for more people from DePaul to have experienced the same opportunity that I did,” Prokos said. “Some were working, some were on vacation with their families, another one of our members spent spring break in Ukraine.”

At Tuggle’s university, there isn’t even an OCF chapter. After her freshman year at Missouri State University, she transferred to Southwest Baptist University. She attended OCF meetings there.

“We just chatted weekly about whatever we wanted to,” Tuggle said. “I definitely feel like it’s something that truly benefitted me last year and I looked forward to meetings every week. I feel like it really helped me get through each week.”

Tuggle admits that at her current school it would be difficult to start a new chapter, considering the university’s small size and its Baptist affiliation.

DePaul’s Catholic background has not had any conflict with the group.

“UMin (University Ministry) and DCM (DePaul Christian Ministries) have been unbelievably supportive of us,” Prokos said. “Especially (Reverend) Diane DardêÑÔ_n who basically bends over backwards to make sure we have a voice on campus.”

Rev. DardêÑÔ_n has helped OCF advertise for events and given them chances to participate in other UMin activities, according to Prokos.

“Denying students the opportunity to develop themselves is completely antithetical to the concept of college,” Prokos said. “And I’m so thankful to go to a school that doesn’t feel the need to deny students of experience.”

OCF is currently organizing a prayer service and fundraiser for Ukraine for early May. They meet on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Lincoln Park.

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