Happy Belated Thanksgiving! From all the pictures I am seeing from the USA and here in Romania, the transition from fall and Thanksgiving to the wonders of Christmas have begun. I love seeing all the Christmas lights and the decorated trees. Such a marvelous time of the year as we wait expectantly to celebrate the birthday of The King. Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. Excitement and anticipation fills me as I look forward to lighting the first candle on my Advent wreath in a few hours, but first I want to write this update and share a glimpse of what the LORD has done during the last few months.
Maramures: Baia Mare, Sighetul Marmatiei and countryside
At the beginning of October I traveled to Baia Mare to take part in a national/international conference on autism, entitled "Accept me as I am-about abilities and disabilities". I was asked to present on sensory challenges of children with diverse disabilities. I loved being able to share my passion with 130+ fellow clinicians from all over Romania. My presentation was well received and as a result, I have been asked to do more trainings in other parts of Romania. It has been awesome to see how God is opening doors to not only share about therapy and treatment strategies, but more importantly, I get to share His heart for these children. I made a commitment to begin each training with Psalm 139, proclaiming boldly that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made".
|The conference poster|
|Networking with some of other presenters|
|City Center in Baia Mare|
After the conference, I did a 2 day training on sensory-based strategies, oral/feeding strategies and fine motor development for the staff at Autism Baia Mare. I spent a week last summer in their clinic, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to come back and reconnect with staff and children. There were around 25 therapists in attendance and they were so eager to learn! We had so much fun playing and problem-solving together. Before I left, they asked me to add my handprint to their special tree~what an honor!
After the training, I spent an additional 3 days in the clinic for supervision and helping implement the newly-acquired strategies. Again, the staff were so eager and excited to try new things~from having the children sit on balls during table work to incorporating different body positions and adding fine motor challenges to their sessions. On one of the days, Anita (one of the psychologists and also my host) and I drove 2 hours to their extension clinic in Sighet. The 3 girls working there truly blessed me. They were like sponges, taking in everything I suggested, but also showing great critical-thinking. It was fun and very exciting to see immediate changes with a few of the children!
The drive from Baia Mare to Sighetul Marmatiei afforded me the opportunity to see a bit more of the enchanting region of Maramures. Of course getting to see a glimpse of fall colors only added to the beauty. Maramures is home to many traditional villages and is known for their wooden churches. Eight of the Wooden Churches of Maramures have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Most of these churches were built in the 1700's. Last year I was able to visit one of these magnificent churches, but this year Anita blessed me and took me to see 4 more (Barsana, Budesti, Surdesti, Plopis). All of the ones we visited were more secluded, which made it even lovelier (we were the only visitors at 3 of the 4 churches). On our journey back to Baia Mare, we also visited the beautiful Barsana Monastery.
Moving Day: My New Apartment
The day after I arrived back in Bucharest/Voluntari, my coworker Elena and I began making calls to look at apartments. After MUCH searching, we finally found a few that were promising. The ads were listed on the site at 9:00 a.m. and we called 30 minutes later only to be informed they were already rented. Discouragement doesn't even begin to describe how I was feeling. I went home (to the nuns house where I was living) to rest. As I laid my head down on the pillow, my phone beeped, indicating a text message. My friend Ines was writing to see if I had found an apartment yet and if not, to let me know she had a friend who was looking for a renter. Elena has made some other appointments to see a few apartments, but we decided to go take a look "just in case". Initially we were both apprehensive due to the neighborhood/surroundings, but once we entered the apartment, I immediately knew I had found my temporary "home". It is a beautiful apartment and I was blessed with a 2 room apartment instead of the anticipated garsoniere (studio apartment). Although it has been challenging to live away from the children, the move was necessary and good. New nuns have arrived (thus the house was no longer available) and I really need to have some boundaries (yes, I know most of my friends have been saying this for years!). One of my favorite features is the close proximity of Parcul Tei (a lovely park) and Piata Obor (one of the best open markets in Bucharest). Another bonus is that is only takes me 40-45 minutes to commute to Don Orione.
|The Kitchen~I have a modern and very good oven!|
|Hallway, with bathroom on the right, bedroom on left|
|Parcul Tei, 10 minute walk away|
|view from my kitchen window|
Only 1 week after moving in, we had our first snow in Bucharest! I was like a little child on Christmas morning, staring out my window, taking pictures, making videos, calling my family on Facetime so they could see the snow too! The next day I went to the Center to visit the children and take a few of them outside to play in the snow. Luminita was the most excited to run (and fall) in the snow, Laurentiu immediately began making snowballs and Alexandru said he can't wait until there is enough snow to build a snowman.
|View from my apartment after just 2 hours|
|First Snow~first time wearing winter clothes|
|Don Orione Center, First Snow|
|Laurentiu and his snowball~ watch out!\|
|Virginica with Alexandru and Ancuta|
|Luminita loved playing in the snow!|
|Liviu wasn't too sure at first, but after awhile, he decided snow|
November: A Month of Many Blessings
Adelina and Rebeca Come to Visit!
When Randy, Adelina and Rebeca visited this summer, they fell in love with the kids here and promised they would return. And they (minus Randy who is back in Florida) kept their promise and came at the beginning of November. Rebeca took a week off from school (she is a senior in high school) in order to come serve. This was a huge sacrifice for both of them, and I really am thankful for their friendship and support. I loved being able to host them in my new apartment and was so blessed by their example of serving. Instead of me writing about their time here, I asked Rebeca to write a summary. This is what she wrote:
This was my second time at Centru Don Orione, and I'm so glad God answered to my prayers, and He provided all that was necessary for me and my friend to go back so soon.
This past week I realized how much God had blessed me through this opportunity to go back to those children who stole my heart from the very first time we met.
This time was different because we had the chance to get to know the children better..to understand their needs and to help them improve their abilities.
When we went there during the summer they were on holiday, so we did all the activities by ourselves. We had more time to play outside and have fun together.. but this time a program was started for each child, so we helped them to accomplish their goal for each day. It was a big challenge for us, but we learned so many things about each child..and also personally I learned once again to be thankful for every blessing God is giving me daily, and the most important of all- my mental and physical health.
We are so used to have everything, and sometimes we think we deserve the best in this world, but so easily we forget that God has made us all equals, so it's only His grace if some of us have more than the others. If we have more, that means we have to share with the ones in need.
It was so amazing for me to work with these children, and watch their progress from day to day, to see how God is able to make their little minds understand everything we ask them to do.
In the afternoons, we sang with them their favorite songs, but we also taught them some new songs. We did a couple of Bible Stories and some crafts. We also fixed a desert together.That activity was their favorite thing to do. We chose a very simple desert so they could make it by themselves. We had chocolate pudding. They simply loved it!
Both of us,my friend Adelina and I, spent a wonderful week and we are so thankful to our friend Dawn, who received us there, to all the ones who supported us, and also to God who made all this possible! (Rebeca Marze)
|Selfie Time! Anca, Lumi, Rebe, Laur and Ade|
|Ade learned to feed Valentin~ a huge accomplishment!|
|Ramona loves music time|
|Ioana M ~ Ade's special friend|
|Lumi enjoying the pudding she made with Ade and Rebe|
|Rebe, Me, Ade and Roxana|
|Selfie Sunday~ taken after Ade voted in the Presidential Elections|
|Rebe playing with Ioana G|
|Rebe helped out in NIna and Monica's class|
|The kids love when Ade tells Bible stories (so do I)|
|Alexandru was really focused during craft time|
|Lumi says "Thanks Ade's sister for my new dress"!|
|Liviu making his hand "sheep"|
|Laurentiu loved his face painting~thanks Ade|
|Ade helping Alex with his homework|
|Anca and Rebe~reunited at last!|
|Ade did a fabulous job helping out in Roxana's class|
|Liviu loved coloring by himself|
|Sweet Kisses~Ade and Luminita|
|Ade makes me a balloon design and teaches me to be "fitze"|
|Laur giving Monica a balloon|
The Learning Continues: Don Orione
Roxana teaches our higher-functioning kids and has done a great job this fall with adding in more fine motor and creative-play activities. The children have made HUGE progress since we began this classroom. They are all sitting at the table and participating in the morning circle activities where they learn about days of the week, months, seasons etc. Liviu can now say all the months of the year in and out of order, Laurentiu is able to recognize and correctly place numbers on the calendar and is learning to read and write, Luminita has learned the colors red and yellow (good for fall activities) and Ioana P can choose the weather and season using pictograms. We also added another child, Bruno, to the morning group. Bruno and his twin brother live with their parents, but the parents needed somewhere to send the boys during the day. When Bruno first came to the center, he was very disruptive and screamed alot. Since placing him in Roxana's class. he has made dramatic changes. He is able to remain seated at the table and is beginning to make choices using pictograms. He is also doing really well making choices on my iPad! Ancuta joins us on Fridays (she goes to kindergarten the other days) and Alexandru comes in whenever he is on break from school.
|Ioana P is now sitting and exploring more toys|
|Roxana teaching the kids about seasons|
|Fridays means special snack time! Lumi and Laur making clatite (crepes)|
|Anca is all smiles when it comes to sweets!|
|Laur loves technology~ maybe he'll be an engineer :)|
|Ancuta is doing better with staying with activities, like drawing|
|Liviu loves to explore the guitar~he misses the music therapists from Italy|
|Laur is learning to write!|
|Liviu is now able to sit at the table using a special chair|
|What's the weather like today?|
|The JOY of communication! Ioana P is now making choices using pictograms|
|What's for dinner? Lumi loves to play in the kitchen|
|Always time for a selfie with Lumi! Photobombed by Ioana|
|Learning all about colors|
|Learning all about shapes|
Nina and Monica work in our second classroom with our more challenging kids: Ioana G, Ioana M, Ramona, Ana and Bruno (1/2 day). They also include our youngest child, Valentin, for the morning activities. All of the children in this classroom are nonverbal and have very limited communication. When we started this class in September, none of the children could stay seated, all had severe behavioral issues and were not following most directions. Nina and Monica are so patient with the children and have been very receptive to my input. I am really in awe with the progress the children have made in just 2 short months, especially when you consider none of our staff are teachers~they are just willing women who see the beauty of each child. Ioana M is throwing objects less and is starting to show signs of imitation, Ramona is now staying awake and recently began initiating play (before she slept all day), Ioana G and Ana are learning to dress themselves and share/pass toys and Valentin is following objects more with his eyes and exploring objects in his hands.
|The children can now sit in a circle and play together|
|Nina helping Valentin explore a musical toy|
|Ramona and Ioana enjoying the sensory room|
|Ioana G~that smile says it all!|
|Ioana M, exploring the xylophone|
|Sweet Ana~ she is so much happier now that she has a schedule|
Altogether we have 25 children who live at Don Orione and then the two brothers (Bruno and Marco) who are with us during the day. 12 of the children spend their days downstairs in our 2 classrooms or at school and the other 14 are upstairs. The children upstairs are all more physically and cognitively involved. Most are wheelchair-bound and are dependent on all their needs. However, it is still our desire to bring them joy and improve their quality of life. During the month of November, we created 2 groups upstairs and reconfigured 2 rooms with mats so that the children could start having scheduled floor time (play time). It has been beautiful to see how some of the caregivers are now interacting with the children. it brings me hope. In addition, the British School of Bucharest comes each Monday for an hour to interact with with kids. In the past, they played with our more abled children, but in November, we split them into 2 groups, with one group spending time with our kids upstairs. Although it was initially hard for the students, we are already seeing big changes. 3 of the students have developed special bonds with our children. I love knowing that Mariuca, Alexandra and Adrian have someone who every week is excited to see them and just be with them for an hour. We would like to purchase some folding mats for each room (I found them at IKEA for 139lei ($40.00 USD) each. We need 6. If you are interested in helping out with this need, please contact me.
|Fluturas and Anamaria playing cars|
|Virginica loving on Stefan|
|Nicoleta loves Rodica (all the kids love her!)|
|Lucica and Aurel sharing some laughter|
|Marian and his "wheels"|
|Kinetotherapist Ioana sharing a tender moment with Mariuca|
Thanksgiving is not celebrated here in Romania, so for me it was a work day. However. due to amazing technology, I was able to Facetime with my family and also catch up with a few friends. Although I missed being with my family, I am truly content to be here in Romania. I had time alone in the evening to really ponder on the meanings of words like thankful and gratitude. As I reflect on all God has done here, especially in these last 2 months, I am filled with gratitude and awe for all He has accomplished. So I guess you can say this Thanksgiving was celebrated in a special (and maybe more meaningful) way.
I think that about closes out this update. I know it was lengthy, but I pray it was an encouragement for you my dear readers. Thank you for your continued support, love and prayers. I am thankful for EACH and EVERY one of you!