Updated: 05/08/2014 10:44 PM
Created: 05/08/2014 4:31 PM WDIO.com
The stories she shares will break your heart, and inspire you.
Ashley Leisen is a 26-year-old nurse from Gilbert, who has spent a good part of her career already in a country that's half a world away.
She volunteers with the group Firm Foundation Romania. During her two trips there, she's cared for dozens of babies who have been abandoned.
"They love you as much as you love them. They appreciate all of the volunteers. Everyone forms bonds. They really do become your kids. No one else is responsible for them, so you kind of have to be," Leisen told us.
Many of the babies' parents can't afford to take care of them, so the children grow up in the Brasov Hospital. "If there are 30 babies there, I may only have 20 minutes a day of one-on-one time with them."
Diapers and other needs are scarce. "The babies get changed three times a day."
The children are from Roma community, also known as the gypsy community. "They are still dealing with so much racism from the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu, who was a dictator for almost 30 years. Under his rule, he tried to build an army of children. When he was toppled, and eventually executed, 170,000 orphans were discovered.
"The children I take care of are the ripple effect of his regime," she explained.
We asked her how she can continue to volunteer, when the stories are sometimes so sad. "I feel like it's my responsibility, and our responsibility, to clean up the mess that's been left behind. These children are like our children and grandchildren. They have the same hopes and dreams."
Volunteers like Ashley need to pay for their own expenses, so her friends and community leaders have organized a fundraiser for her. She's planning on heading back in October, for a full year.
The rally for Ashley is coming up Friday, May 9th, at the Mt. Iron Community Center. There will be food, music, auctions, and a presentation from Ashley.
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