Spider webs. Yep. Spider webs. Why spider webs? Because spider webs are pretty much awesome. The thought that something as simple and common and ordinary as a spider web could actually be really impressive probably wouldn’t strike someone who didn’t know much about the subject unless they were accustomed to looking upon life in wonder, but it’s true. And I just happen to think that it is really cool, so you’re pretty much about to hear why Marvel decided to make Spiderman a thing. First off, the tensile strength (amount of stress the object can take before breaking) of the dragline(main-line) silk of a spider web is comparable to high-grade alloy steel and is about half as strong as Kevlar, which you’ve probably heard of because of its use in body armor. Also, due to its very low density, a given weight of spider silk is about five times as strong as the same weight of steel. These silks are also extremely ductile, with some able to stretch up to five times their relaxed length without breaking and the combination of such strength and ductility gives it a toughness which equals that of commercial polyaramid filaments, a.k.a. the benchmarks of modern polymer fiber technology. All brought to you by the itsy bitsy spider which crawled up the water spout.
What’s really funny to me about all of this is that I was never one of those boys who was all about things that are stereotypically considered gross, disgusting, and creepy. I just didn’t really see the appeal or the point, so I left well enough alone. However, there is something worth noting here: maybe it might not seem like a big deal, maybe it might not seem noteworthy or impactful, and in fact may appear very ordinary and simple, but when you take a closer look, when you understand on a deeper level what is going on and why, a change in perspective takes place, and what once might have seemed common becomes extraordinary.
Matter of fact, that is pretty much the story of my life. If you had seen me as a child, you would have thought that I was just some poor Romanian boy with not much hope of a future. However, people invested in me along the way; people were willing to take a closer look at who I was and see in someone common something extraordinary. That’s pretty much why I am here and why I do what I do. This same vision is the foundation of Charis, which is why, today, I feel like you need to hear a little bit more about the people working backstage. So, as you well know, Charis has been around for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t always in the form that you see it today. In its beginnings, it was a farm. Mr. Dani Ciupe and a partner who passed soon after the completion of the project together started this as an orphanage. It was funded by a larger organization for a few years and then was able to stand on its feet and went forward from there. The project, in its original form, took in orphan boys that were thrown under the bus by the system in Romania and tried to raise them in a family structure, with the Ciupe family adopting the boys as a part of their family and raising them as such. Besides the immense benefits of such an environment for a growing child, they were also taught many useful skills growing up on a farm and being put in charge of many tasks around. These ranged from farming, to building, to trade, to cooking, to maintenance, and so on and so forth. All of that, together with the rest of those skills which would be learned just by being part of a family was huge for them, giving them a chance at life where they had none. The Charis Foundation had a farm of several acres, with a large assortment of plants and spices, with many animals (at one time even 250 pigs), and took in about 25 orphans at a time.
That was when crisis hit, and as a spider web stretches and yet holds when the winds change and blow upon its thin but sturdy strands, and as a spider web curves to take a different shape in a different direction, so Charis took a different course. A law was passed in Romania that changed the rules for the adoption and care of orphans. These rules were so prohibitive and costly that the Foundation simply couldn’t afford any longer to take care of the orphans without going deeply into debt and closing their doors. Thus, to finish well what they started, they took the newly imposed costs and raised the children until they all finished the program, but then officially declared that part of the program defunct. Yet that wasn’t the whole of the problem. Romania gained its independence in 1989. Charis began in 1991. However, soon after Charis’s formation and solidification, a new crisis hit Romanian farmers: the supermarket. Not that that would necessarily be a problem in and of itself, especially considering that the supermarkets oftentimes buy local produce, but there is also a sort of mafia involved in these sorts of these things in many places in the world, and it just so happens that the Charis Foundation’s small farm wasn’t in on it. There was no way that they could compete with industrialized farming and the system, so long story short, they also partially shut down the farm, keeping only those parts of the farm that were self-sustaining, or that incurred very small costs. So, their initial plan had taken some hard hits, but they didn’t give up and had also made some very important connections on their way.
Thus, they modified their vision to turn the farm into a recreational center, camp site, wedding spot, and classroom. The granary and storage room was remodeled and converted into rooms for camp-goers and a kitchen. Part of the land was turned into a volleyball and basketball court and a children’s play area. What was previously a greenhouse is being converted into an indoor multi-purpose room and another greenhouse was cut in half and is being turned into a covered parking lot. Part of the indoor space was also used for different adult classes over a period of time and used as a cafeteria. An ingenious idea was using the rustic appeal of the area and the property for weddings and having all of the costs which were paid to the Charis Foundation go to support the different projects that the Foundation now is involved in, which can be found in more detail on their website. These projects are all results of the many connections that they made both in their farm days, but also since, as they morphed into a response team for whatever problems may arise in the community and thus became my connection makers while here in Oradea. I tell you all of this background so that when I tell you in the future of all of the work that I do at the center, whether that be construction, maintenance, or camps and events, you may understand the important role that all of that plays and its place within the bigger picture.
Thus far while at the Center, the team has taken care of certain things already. 1) Plastering. It just so happens that everything on the great continent of Europe is plastered, because that is what you do. Due to the fact that the Charis Center is also on the great continent of Europe, it is plastered. However, it was plastered 20+ years ago, so the plaster wasn’t holding up very well. Thus, we replastered the entire house.
2) Painting + Derusting. Outside of the necessary repaint of the entire house once everything was replastered, we also painted the structure of the greenhouse turned indoor multipurpose area, the structure of the parking lot, and the structure which holds up the grapevines. However, when I say that I painted all of that, it wasn’t just painting for the sake of things looking pretty: it was also a sort of maintenance. Due to the dependence of the Foundation on volunteers and the lack of volunteerism up until about two years ago when a law passed declaring volunteerism legal and recognizable in any and every setting, this is all very much needed because many things have been put on the backburner for a long time because of the lack of volunteers to take care of everything. Thus, the paint that I am using a lot of times is not just normal paint, but a special paint that is made to eat away the rust, thus cleaning the metal and taking care of how the structure looks. 3) Weeding, especially the gardens and sports courts. 4) Preparing siding. This not only means the painting of the siding, but also the sizing and placing of the same.
5) Some of the roof, especially where some shingles have blown off in storms. 6) Caulking and rubber sealant, especially at the windows, because it has a tendency to freeze over the winter and crack. And so on and so forth. There is always a lot of work to do whenever I go to the Charis Center to help out.
Towards the beginning of the trip, I have been going there to the Center to help out a lot more, not just because they need help in getting the place ready for the summer and all of its activities, but also because the connection with the different groups of children was slow in solidifying. When working with people here in Romania, it’s just a simple fact of life that their timing is different than yours and you have to respect that. As they say in Romania, „vai de tine” or ”Woe unto you” if you don’t understand that. But its great and I’m really happy with how things are progressing. I’m getting to build relationships with the children both at Sinmartin and Tileagd, and things are just going really well. By the way, for those who knew something about my project, due to difficulties traveling to Ineu several times a week, the Foundation changed their minds and thought that it would be better to send me to Caminul Felix at Sinmartin, simply due to the fact that it is more accessible and there is also the same large need of help present.
I have also been doing lessons with Daniel, an orphan boy that went through Charis’s program before it went defunct, who is living on the property and is working on building his house there.
Every day that we work, we talk about how to say things in English, from the tools of his trade, to colors and objects, to phrases, to phrasing, and thus strengthen his ability to speak English at the same time that we are working on building and maintaining the structure, both of the building, but also of the relationship, all one little part at the time, just like how a web is built: slowly but surely. And surely, the fitting parallels between the pace of Romanian society and the nature of the relationships that it is built on are rather incredible, but hey, I would much rather be the tortoise than the hare, because of the great good of slow perseverance with people in showing love and how to live. Also, because he won, but that’s more of a side note really, because with people, it’s not about winning or losing in the same sense: it’s about showing love and persevering in it. And in that sense you win if you are the tortoise. In that sense you win if you are the spider. In that sense you win if you are willing to take the time to invest in people, to see the bigger picture in the mundane and the extraordinary in the common. And that’s what I’m here to do. So, though I may be weeding and plastering, or though I may be teaching children in a one-on-one setting, everything is tied to everything else and all of it is necessary for any of it to be possible. A spider web is not really a spider web without all of the strands, and often the way that everything comes together can get complicated and involve a lot of connections, but it is beautiful.
And that’s what’s really extraordinary, the whole, whether we are talking about people or projects or organizations or relationships, whatever it may be, because although the individual qualities are crucial, in the end, how everything works together towards a common purpose shows the value in a way that maybe isn’t obvious unless you take a closer look, a closer look which shows that the common is extraordinary.