Sunday, July 7, 2013

Play Dates!

This past week Hannah and I, along with a few staff members, took some of our children into the community for special play dates. For some of the children, even the car ride was a first! 

On Tuesday, we took Fluturas, Ramona and Ana to Herastrau, a large park in Bucharest with an abundance of activities. The children enjoyed seeing the lake, feeding the ducks and swans, seeing peacocks, playing in the children's park and drinking juice. Ramona and Ana mastered the teeter totter and loved swinging on the large swing. Fluturas was fascinated with the water and enjoyed feeding the animals "pufuleti". We ended the day with a trip to McDonald's. Fluturas was all about the fries, Ana loved drinking Sora Graciela's soda and Ramona joyfully ate her ice cream! Despite a few challenges, it was a successful day.

Thursday, my dear friend Lili arranged to take me, Hannah, Ema (one of the caregivers) and the three Ioanas to the zoo. Hannah has really bonded with Ioana "mica" (little Ioana). Ioana mare (big Ioana) looked at the lions and tigers with such interest and helped to pull the other 2 children in a wagon. Although she is basically non-verbal, she often exclaims "oh dear".  After exploring the zoo, we took the children to an outdoor restaurant. Hannah was able to get little Ioana to taste the chocolate filling from a croissant. This is huge as Ioana mica eats very few foods. Ioana mare eagerly ate mini croissants and pretzel sticks, foods that are a real treat! The greatest surprise was watching Ioana "the twin" independently reach for mici (a type of Romanian sausage)! She also did amazingly well with drinking flavored water from a sports bottle. 

Tomorrow morning we leave for "camp" with 5 of our children: Alexandru, Ancuta, Laurentiu, Liviu and Luminita. The children have been asking for weeks how many more days until we will leave for "tabora" (camp), so today when I was with them, they squealed with delight when I reminded them we were leaving in the morning! Thanks to the generosity of another foundation that I have partnered with in the past, FARA, we will be staying in a small village house up in the mountains. It will be wonderful for the children to breathe clean air and be able to stay outside all day. Our theme this year is "God keeps His promises" and our activities will be all about Noah's Ark. Please be praying not only for the children, but also for the workers, that Hannah and I would be Salt and Light. 

Joyfully His,
Dawn (and Hannah)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bucharest Update: Don Orione Center June 14-27, 2013

"Dawn Americanca"! Squeals of  delight, followed by hugs, kisses and hearing some of my sweet children say "Dawn, te iubesc" (I love you).  This is how I was welcomed by Laurentiu, Luminita, Alexandru and Liviu on the morning I arrived at the center. The children did not know when I was coming, so it was great fun to arrive in Bucharest early in the morning and surprise them as they were waking up. Although I slept little the night before and had risen at 4:00 a.m. in order to catch my flight from Baia Mare to Bucharest, somehow God filled me with so much energy that I stayed with the children until they went to bed.

Much has changed at Don Orione, especially in the last 3 weeks. One of the worst orphanages in Bucharest is closing, so some of the children and young adults (all with special needs)  have now moved here. The children's unit increased from 19 to 27; however, all of the new children are quite severe. In reality, only 2 are truly children, the other 6 new residents are in their 20's but are very small for their ages. In addition, there is now a "young adult" section, housing 10 higher functioning teenagers/young adults. Both sections are now located on the 3rd floor, so the children are needing to adjust not only to new people, but also to a new place. It has been rather chaotic, but we are thankful for each child and young adult that is here. For the most part, the children are doing well. A few of them are having difficulties with all of the changes, resulting in some regression and aggression. However, this is completely understandable. The workers have shown tremendous patience and grace. 

My first week consisted of spending all day (7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.) helping feed, dress, bathe children, playing with and getting to know the new children, new staff and new place. Many staff changes have occurred. One of my friends, Magda, recently joined the staff and will be overseeing the children's section along with Sora Graciela, a nun from Paraguay. Magda is so gentle and nurturing, but also knows how to set limits, so she will be a great asset. In addition, they have a new kinetotherapist, Ioana. She is so ambitious and has already made some huge changes with the children! Today she even had Liviu pedaling himself on an adapted bike! Laurentiu and Luminita are now walking with canes and I can't keep up with Alexandru when he is walking with his walker. 

Although I was spending all my time with the children, I was also becoming overwhelmed with all the needs. Thankfully, one of the priests, Don Roberto, sat me down and helped me to prioritize. I continue to be with all the children during meals and play time, but I am focusing my time on working with our 5 children with the greatest potential and with our 4 most severe children. Laurentiu, Alexandru, Ancuta and Luminita are working on bathing and dressing skills and Liviu is working on feeding skills and learning how to use his tone to help him brush his teeth independently. I am training the most gentle and compassionate woman named Monica on how to provide stimulation to our 4 children who are bed-ridden and completely dependent. It has been beautiful to observe her as she interacts with Alina, Danut, Maria and Alexandra. Danut and Alexandra have been actively reaching for toys, and Alina and Maria just light up when we touch them and sing to them. 

This week I have been continuing my work with the children. In addition I have been seeing children in the Day Center, working with Lili and her staff. Most of the children who come to the Day Center have a diagnosis of autism. However, they also see children who have other neurological or cognitive impairments. Tomorrow I will be doing a parent training course on developmental stimulation, play and sensory processing. Knowing the needs, I wish I could spend more time helping at the Day Center, but at the same time, I don't want to miss out on any opportunities to be with my kids. God has certainly been faithful to answer my prayers to stretch me!  I am so thankful that although we make the plans, He is the one who directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Tomorrow evening Hannah Owens, a young lady from my church, will be arriving to help out here at the Center for the next month. Next week we will be doing 2 day programs for 6-8 of the children, taking them out on excursions and doing some modified activities. The following week, July 8th-12th, we will be taking 5 children away to do a "camp". Our theme is Noah's Ark and how God keeps His promises. I am so excited to have a Hannah join me! Please continue to pray for us, that we would show His love to the children and staff, that we would light in this place, and above all that He would be glorified!

Joyfully His,

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Baia Mare and Maramures: June 9th-14th, 2013

Last summer 3 girls from Autism Baia Mare Center came to my training on sensory processing in Bucharest and inquired if I could possibly come and do trainings for their center as well. The original plan was to first come to Bucharest and then fly with Lili to Baia Mare. However, due to scheduling needs, I was asked to go to Baia Mare directly from Oradea. Thankfully the train ride was only 3 1/2 hours long and it was on one of their newer trains. Anita, the head psychologist, and her husband, Cristi, met me at the train station late Sunday evening. I loved staying with them and getting to spend time in the evenings with their adorable 2 year old, Eric. 

Instead of doing formal training sessions, I was asked to observe each worker in the Center during their individual therapy sessions and to provide feedback and specific recommendations.  I was truly impressed by the level of service and commitment these women provide. They were also extremely receptive to my feedback and training. We also did several home visits to surrounding villages as some children require in-home therapy. Seeing 20+ children in a matter of 3 1/2 days and then trying to come up with specific recommendations after only 1-2 visits was definitely challenging. Due to tue Center's policies, I am not able to post any pictures of the children. But I have to tell you about one special little boy, Vasilica. He is 2 1/2 years old and had a stroke in utero. On my first day there, I noticed that he only used his right hand during his therapy sessions. After explaining to his therapist the importance of incorporating his left side in all activities, I was then able to demonstrate. Immediately, he tried using his left arm to activate my iPad! The next day, I joyfully watched as his therapist reinforced these same techniques. I was also able to meet with his mom and provided some hands-on training. 


On my last day, I was treated to a half day tour of Maramures, driving from Baia Mare to Sighet. It was a beautiful drive and I was finally able to see a few wooden gates, a wooden church and Elie Weisel's home. The church we visited was built in the 1700s and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am already looking forward to returning to Baia Mare next summer!

Visiting Denisa: June 7th, 2013

Of course no visit to Oradea would be complete without spending some time with Denisa, her brother Adam, and parents, Iuliu and Lucia. Because of my limited availability, Lucia decided to take the children out of school early on Friday so we could spend the day together. Denisa is doing vey well in school. She is a typical pre-teen who loves to write songs about stars and dreams, listen to music and dance. She is also learning to play the guitar. She continues to amaze me, especially when I consider that she was the sickliest child in the orphanage!

Her brother Adam is a gentle soul who also has many talents, including drawing. He was recently diagnosed with Asperger's. This can be devastating news to any parent, but here in Romania it is even harder as disabilities are not accepted and therapies are non-existent. I was thankful that Lucia confided in me and that I was able to offer her hope,  as well as some practical advice. On the very positive side, Adam is now able to hold a pencil correctly and no longer needs to use the pencil grips I brought him in December.

June 3rd-June 9th: Oradea, Romania

On Sunday afternoon Viki's father drove me to Fehergyarmat so I could catch the train to Debrecen, Hungary. I was tired and back in my same old clothes, now for the 5th day. Yet, once I arrived at the train station and saw my friend Adela's husband Dan waiting for me, I immediately felt relieved, knowing I would be "home" in Romania in just an hour. I was a little disappointed Ramona's husband, Cornel, was not there as I had been expecting him. However, upon walking toward the car, Cornel came out to greet me! But the surprise didn't end there. Adela and Ramona jumped up to greet me and then I saw my sweet Romanian niece, Hannah-Ruth, and my nephews, Iosua and Luca. Unfortunately, Abigail could not come as she does not have a passport. I call them my nieces and nephews because their moms have been my Romanian sisters for 14 years now.

I was able to have some quality time with my dear sister in Christ, Lucia, her husband, children, sister and my Romanian parents "mami" and "tati" as I stayed with them for my first 3 nights. I was also blessed to have special time with my dear friend Monika, her daughter Hanna and my friends Dora and Carmen.  Carmen graciously invited me to stay with her family during my remaining time in Oradea. On Thursday afternoon I was able to visit  Fundatia CASA, the Christian ministry I partnered with when I first lived in Oradea, and partake in their prayer time. Thursday night, we chose to have "home church" at Ramona and Cornel's home. We shared a delicious meal, read scripture, prayed and sang old hymns in Romanian. It was especially sweet to sing The Old Rugged Cross as this was my grandfather's favorite hymn.
The Feher Clan: Ramona, Iosua, Hannah, me, Luca, Adela and Abigail

Mami and Tati with Lucia's son Fineas

i Ad 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

May 31st - June 2nd 2013. Szatmarcseke, Hungary: Viki's Wedding

Dear Friends, 

It has been nearly a month since I left home and I am just now managing to update my blog. As always, I appreciate your patience, your faithful prayers and encouragement. I hope you will be encouraged by these stories and pictures. To make it a bit easier, I am going to be do separate posts for each place I have been.

I left home on May 29th with only 1 suitcase, deciding this year to travel light.  It sounded like a great idea, that is until American Airlines lost my luggage! Next year I will surely bring  a carry on :). My luggage was delivered to Romania 4 days later, but this meant I had no change of clothes or proper clothes for Viki and Bela's wedding. Viki was one of my students when I taught English in Budapest 2001-2002 and we have remained very close. After years of praying for her, she accepted the Lord as her Savior and was then baptized a few years ago. So attending her wedding was extra special. After a 6 hour train ride, I arrived in the little village of Szatmarcseke, close to the Ukrainian border. Viki's family's had already gathered some clothes and toiletries for me and some of her friends took me into the closest town to purchase a shirt and a pair of shoes. Not exactly the clothing I would have chosen, but thankfully, everyone in the whole village (it's tiny) knew what happened and were very kind to me. It was definitely a time of testing, but I am so thankful for being able to witness their wedding.