Brasov Vacation: August 24-27th
Ioana (our kinetotherapist and my good friend) and I took Alex, Liviu and Laurentiu to beautiful Brasov for 4 days. In the past years, I have taken 5-6 of the children to "tabara" (camp). But this has meant that we needed to not only plan all of the activities, but also do all the cooking, caregiving and cleaning. Last year I returned from camp completely exhausted. I had been praying about how we could make the experience more about the children and less about the things that needed to be done. So after lots of prayer and talking to friends both here in Romania and back home in the U.S., we decided to do something totally different and take the kids to Brasov and stay in a hotel. Great idea right? However, this is Romania. Most places are not handicap accessible, and yet I have one child in a wheelchair and one who uses a walker. Did I mention the city we were going to is a very old city surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains and lined with cobblestone streets? Was I crazy to pick this place? I knew the fresh air and the chance to show the children a glimpse of the beauty of Romania was enticing, but could we really pull this off? After doing weeks of research, I found a modern hotel with handicap accessibility, PLUS it featured and inside pool AND an indoor play area! I can not say enough about Hotel Kronwell and their employees. They warmly welcomed us and went out of their way to ensure that we and the children had everything we needed to be comfortable and happy.
We left Voluntari early Sunday morning and made a quick stop in Sinaia for the children to see Peles Castle. This is an important place historically, as it was built by Romania's first king, King Carol I. It is considered one of the most beautiful castles in Europe.
We then headed to our final destination: Brasov! Our hotel surpassed any expectation we could have imagined. The indoor play area and swimming pool were both big hits with the children and adults too! Alex and Laurentiu were so excited to learn how to play Nintendo games, especially those involving driving a car. Liviu enjoyed the bounce house and ball pit. All 3 boys decided the indoor swimming pool was the best feature of the hotel. It is kept at a therapeutic temperature which allowed for Liviu to experience the joys of swimming without increasing his spasticity too much. For him, the swimming pool was his favorite place because once he was placed in the swim ring, he was very independent moving in the water. Alex and Laurentiu did really great as well. Alex even practiced floating on his back and going under the water!
The children also enjoyed our outings to the old city center. They were able to see several historical places, such as Biserica Neagra (The Black Church) and walk through the narrowest street in Romania (Strada Sforii). Alex did amazing navigating through the streets and walked more than either Ioana or I imagined was possible for him. My sweet Naomi (Nicu and Silvana's daughter) traveled everyday from Sacele to Brasov to help with the children. They all loved having her around, but Laurentiu was especially fond of her. The children enjoyed experiencing eating out in several restaurants, but going for pizza was the biggest hit for all of them. On our last night, my friends Adriana and Pete met us for dinner. The children enjoyed getting to spend time with them and were even treated to banana splits for dessert.
September's New Beginnings: Centru de Activitati
This summer we started to reorganize our gradinita (kindergarten) and renamed it the Centru de Activitati, which means the Activity Center. We decided on the name change because we have several children who are too old for gradinita, yet due to their physical and/or cognitive levels, are unable to attend a traditional school. We wanted them to have the opportunity to also attend school. However, our schedule in the summer was relatively light (1-2 hours/day) and included only 5-6 children. The children at Don Orione are divided into 2 groups. One group contains the younger children, most who have better physical skills, but varying cognitive levels. The other group contains our more involved children. The younger children spend their days downstairs, while the more involved children stay upstairs. There are 11 children that come downstairs, but only the highest functioning kids (5-6) were being involved in structured classroom activities. The other children, all non-verbal, were cared for by a worker who did her best to provide stimulation and love. But without any real structure, it was typically chaotic! After 3 months of planning, purchasing and organizing materials, from September 1st, we now have 2 classrooms. The program runs from 9:00-12:00 and then again from 1:30-3:00. Although there are still many challenges, we have already seen huge growth! The more involved children are learning to sit together for circle time activities (mainly singing, passing objects) and engaging in parallel play. Our kids in the higher level class our now learning colors, numbers and letters, working on fine motor skills through doing crafts, and learning to play games that require turn taking.
Of course the children also spend lots of time outside, especially when the weather is nice (which it has been until this week). Luminita has learned to pedal a bike (with training wheels) and Ana has become independent at climbing up the stairs for the slide.
September 8th: I'm Legal!
After 2+ long months of filling out paperwork, going to the public notary, translating documents, paying fees and then being told to redo paperwork, purchase private insurance etc, I finally received by Permis de Sedere (1 year Visa). It was such a relief to finally get this little card and not to stress about leaving the country. I know God is fully in control, but it was still hard waiting.
September 15th: School Begins
Here in Romania, all schools begin on September 15th. This year we have 2 of our children attending public school. Alex is in first grade. He is in a mainstream classroom this year with 26 other children. Laurentiu is attending an inclusion classroom at the same school. His class has around 8 children, all with special needs. They are both doing really well. Alex will need continued 1:1 support due to his physical limitations, but he has adjusted very nicely. Laurentiu loves going to school and is probably the happiest kid you will ever meet.
In a few hours, I will be traveling to Oradea (10 hours by car) where I will spend the next 5 days. I will be attending an ordination of a priest and then will be doing some work at PLC, the day center I did the training for in July. On October 1st, I will then head to Baia Mare to participate in an international conference on Autism and then do a week of training at another day center. I am really excited for the opportunities God is giving me, but I covet your prayers as I really have not stopped and rested since I arrived on May 31st. My powerpoints are still not completed as I have had a nasty cold this week, so please be praying for an extra dose of physical energy and mental clarity. Also, when I return on October 11th, I will be moving to my own flat (apartment) in the city (Bucharest). This is a huge answer to prayer, but it also involves packing all my things and learning the public transportation system. Please pray for a smooth transition.
On a side note, I also have to tell you I have been so spoiled this last month! I received 3 care packages and numerous cards from several of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have no idea what it means to me when I receive mail. But in addition to me, these actions speak to my coworkers and the children. Several people have expressed awe at the amount of mail I have received and this has given me opportunities to discuss my awesome "community" which is grounded in Christ. I am cognizant of your sacrificial giving and your continued prayers. Please don't stop praying!
Thank you again for your prayers, support, encouragement and love.