Apr 07, 2010 Herm Card Uncategorized
By Herm Card
In 2007, Gabrielle Romano’s brother, Shawn, was living in Orlando Florida, planning to go to Africa as part of a church mission. When he told her this in a Christmas-time phone call, she wondered if there was any way she could go along.
“I e-mailed the pastor and he invited me to join them,” she said, “In March 2008 I moved to Orlando and worked as an intern graphic designer for my brother. In July we were off to Africa.”
For Romano, then recently graduated from Onondaga Community College, the experience was life changing.
“I was blown away by the poverty. We spent two weeks visiting orphanages and working with feeding programs in villages in Malawi. We did an AIDS awareness program — they knew that people were sick and dying, but a lot of them didn’t know why.”
It was a totally hands-on experience, affiliated with a Seattle based program known as Children of the Nations (COTN) that works with orphanages in the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Malawi. The experience affected Romano physically as well as spiritually. The well conditioned former OCC basketball player found herself hospitalized in Orlando for two weeks after she returned. To her the illness was irrelevant — more important, “I had been bitten by the Africa bug — I knew I had to go back. My eyes had been opened. I was awake to serving people and making a difference.”
Back to Africa
“I learned that COTN has internships — I started thinking about going back. Around Thanksgiving in 2008 I went back to Orlando. I spent November to June working 2 to 3 jobs and saving money to go back to Africa.
“In June, 2009, I went back for a two month internship in Malawi. I worked in the same villages as before. It was great to go back. The two weeks had just been a glimpse. Two months was a real eye opener. Being in the culture you can really make connections. You begin to understand the relationships and realize that there are no simple answers.”
She taught math and English in the village school. She made home visits to families, helping them with daily tasks and learning about their culture. “We even helped re-roof one family’s mud hut. That has to be done a lot. They have no running water, no electricity — it’s very primitive. The experience was awesome.
“I came back here in August 2009. Now it’s time to go back. I want to make service a habit. I have found an opportunity that I’m absolutely passionate about. This is what moves me.
“I have a chance to co-lead a team for Summit Church. We’ll be living in the village this time — pumping our own water — living the life they do. I’m really looking forward to that. In can be hard to connect with them if you don’t live with them. The more you share, the more you learn.
“This project will relate to the same type of things I did before, serving the village. It’s a spiritual experience for me — showing them love and love of God. We’re there to help them. We’re not taking over, we’re just there to work beside them.”
Strong of spirit, mind, and body
At 23, Romano’s spiritual strength is well grounded, and, not unlike the villagers she serves, her schooling was somewhat nontraditional. Her parents, Donna and Vinnie, concerned over the possible adverse effects of public school education, home schooled her, giving her a solid perspective on what is important. She learned by doing, by experiencing her education. Her home curriculum was tailored to her learning style — “I absolutely loved it.
My mother planned school according to the way we learned. My sister Meaghan loved to read, but I had to be hands on and visual. PE was shooting hoops — we went places and did things that fit what I was learning.”
She fulfilled New York State’s academic requirements for graduation, then earned an associate’s degree in recreation leadership from Onondaga Community College and spent a year there as an assistant basketball coach before embarking on her African adventures.
Romano is hardly idle between trips to Africa. When she is not working as a barista at Freedom of Espresso, she has worked summers with Inner City Ministry organizing recreation, playing guitar for the kids and tutoring with the Greater Love in Christ Church near her family home in Syracuse’s Valley neighborhood. She is also currently volunteering with Mission Church at Huntington School (Youth Alive Club) helping kids with homework and recreation. To fill in the gaps, she is training to run the annual 10-mile Syracuse Mountain Goat Run on May 2.
The cost of volunteering
It is important to note that such missions as Romano undertakes through Orlando’s Summit Church are volunteer oriented — meaning that the volunteers pay their own way. They pay for their own travel, their own housing and their own food. Her trip this year will cost $4500 in out of pocket expenses that she is currently trying to raise.
She is also trying to acquire a video camera to record her efforts, in order to publicize the work being done and the help needed by hers and other African villagers.
She is also seeking donations of supplies needed by the villagers she serves “Health and hygiene are so important. We try to bring them the basics that they lack — things we take for granted.”
Gabrielle Romano is clearly not someone to be taken for granted.
For photos and information about her past efforts and to contribute to the upcoming mission, go to her Web sites: lesfousdafrique.tumblr.com and iamorphaned.com.