Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2005 | People

Small Blessings

By NA NA

Like many people, Linda Baker keeps a treasured photo of a beloved child on her fridge door. The little boy with the shy smile and lovely brown eyes isn’t her son or grandson, though. He’s a child she hadn’t even met until three months ago, when she traveled thousands of miles to help bring some happiness into his life.

Baker met Mihietza in May, when she and two other Iowans, Cathy Johnson and UI associate dean of nursing Pat Donahue, 81PhD, traveled to Romania on an Iowa Voyagers tour. They bypassed the usual tourist destinations and headed to a remote region of the country as part of a Global Volunteers expedition to care for orphaned babies and to teach conversational English to high school students.

They stayed in clean but basic accommodation in a rural village. Sightseeing trips to places such as Transylvania only happened on weekends. But every weekday, the Iowa travelers witnessed a miracle.

The orphanage in Tutova is home to about 40 children aged from a few months to a few years. Many of the orphans are ill, suffering from kidney disease, rickets, acid reflux condition, brittle bones, clubfoot, or autism. While the orphanage staff take good care of the children, they have to make do with minimal resources. The children had never sat in a swing, rarely felt sunlight on their skin, or even tasted oatmeal—until the volunteers arrived with suitcases stuffed with toys, clothes, and other vital supplies.

The Iowa travelers fed the babies, changed diapers, and dispensed cuddles. They dressed them in black-and-gold Hawkeye gear and sang lullabies and the Iowa Fight Song. Every time they charmed a rare smile or chuckle from a child, they counted their own blessings.

“I’m 59 years old, and at that age you don’t expect a life-changing experience,” says Baker, 68BA, of Golden, Colorado. “When you get one, as I did in Romania, you feel blessed.”

Baker plans to volunteer again in the future, perhaps in other countries. "There are so many other babies who need help," she says. "But wherever I go, my heart will always be in that little orphanage in Romania."