Changing the lives of children in need: An American woman's humanitarian work in Romania
Eighteen years have passed since Sarah Vienna started her new life in Romania. Here she co-founded Firm Foundations Romania - a nonprofit organization whose mission is to change disadvantaged children’s lives through love and education. But Sarah is also an international speaker and musician and has even written a song about Brasov, the Romanian city that has become her home away from home.
Sarah Vienna (Berchtold) was born in Boston and raised in Northern California. She is now living in the Romanian city of Brasov, where, as co-founder and president of Firm Foundations Romania, is helping transform the lives of many abandoned and neglected children and vulnerable families.
Sarah grew up in a large family of 8 sisters and has always tried to “make good things happen in other people’s lives so that they can reach their God-given potential,” she told Romania-insider.com. Her other passions include songwriting, traveling, ultimate frisbee, and leading a life pleasing to God.
“I grew up the youngest of seven musical sisters, and then my parents adopted my little sister, who is now 14 years old. My mom taught us everything about music and harmonies. She raised me to be a truth seeker and a strong leader. The first song I ever learned at the age of 3 was “Jesus Loves Me.” I always wanted to sing with my mother and stand out among my sisters as the star! Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, and The Judds were all my musical heroes,” she recalled.
As she grew older, country rock became more of her musical style, and she started writing music about her experiences with people, the nature, and God. Sarah Vienna is now a top singer & songwriter, with her music available on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. She even wrote about her love for Brasov - the Romanian city where she lives now - called “My Home Brasov.” (listen to it here).
It was 2002 when Sarah was introduced to Romania through an organization called Youth With A Mission (YWAM). “It was a 2-month outreach working with street kids at the train stations. I fell in love with the city, the children, the need. Two months turned into 6 months, then 2 years, and now a baffling 18 years! I feel more European than American! This country is my home (even though I still struggle with the language).”
During her humanitarian work in Romania, Sarah and German Stefanie Vogel co-founded a nonprofit - Firm Foundations Romania (FFR) - to help even more babies get the love they need and children turn their lives around. The organization is currently running several social, educational, and donation programs.
“Since 2005, FFR has been running an international volunteer program to assist with changing, feeding, and loving the babies and children who are temporarily left alone in the Brasov State Children’s Hospital. Without our volunteers, about 60 per year, the children would not receive the needed love and comfort that they deserve,” Sarah Vienna explained.
Within the same program, the organization also supplies over 40,000 diapers to the hospital annually, along with providing other needed resources and renovations.
Then, there are FFR’s educational programs reaching out to Roma children in the village of Budila, in Brasov county: the Kid’s Club and the After School. The Kid’s Club Program, for children ages 3 to 6, teaches the foundations of education and the Bible. The little ones then graduate into the After School Program, where “we have over 120 children enrolled between the 1st and 8th grade,” Sarah explained. “The children receive educational assistance, Bible lessons, and encouragement to stay in school, which will ultimately help break the cycle of poverty.”
Another one of Firm Foundations Romania’s programs is the Banana Box Donation focused on offering clothing, hygiene, blankets, and other supplies to families in need. “An organization called “Romanian Roots” and other churches based in the south of Germany send 2 to 3 shipments a year of donated items packed in sturdy banana boxes. We are known all over Brasov as the free “Goodwill” of Romania,” the organization’s co-founder explained.
And the organization’s work doesn’t stop here. The FFR team is now planning to build a Learning Center in the Roma village of Budila. They already purchased a 2,000 sqm plot of land and are currently working with a Romanian architect on a building design to accommodate up to 230 children. The center is estimated to be ready by 2023.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted Firm Foundations Romania; mainly that we are unable to send volunteers into the Brasov children’s hospital to hold the precious babies and children who are in their cribs most of the day. Babies need to be held in order to feel touch, warmth, and love, along with helping to develop their brains and learning. I am deeply saddened that we cannot enter at this time, but praying we will soon be able to,” Sarah Vienna said.
“Otherwise, our After School Program in Budila is running as normal, after having to take off the months during the lockdown. Children are wearing their masks and washing their hands properly. We are grateful our programs are not forced to be online as most of the children we work with do not own laptops or have internet at home. Why would they if they do not even have running water?”
Both companies and individuals can help Firm Foundations Romania continue their work. Those who want to lend a helping hand can offer financial support or sponsor materials, machinery, gardening equipment, or a transport van - all much needed not only for the day-to-day activities but also for the organization’s new project - the Learning Center. All the necessary information is available at Firmfoundationsromania.com.
Irina Marica, [email protected]
(Photos: courtesy of Sarah Vienna)