Category Archives: Travel

Nuntă! [Wedding!]

The hugs and love I received when I returned from my trip tied my heart even more closely to my girls! I saw on their faces as they watched for my arrival through the workroom window that they had awaited my arrival as much as I had awaited seeing them once again, even though I had only been gone a short week.

Activities never end at the center, and on top of the regular hub and flow of activities, we had the added factor of preparing for Andreea’s wedding!

Andreea is the sweet director of Romanian Orphan Ministries. She is so essential to the life flow of the organization and with her kind servant heart, is well-loved by the girls. They wanted to help her with the wedding in every way possible- so our week of intense work began!

Prior to this week’s activities, the girls working at the Beauty from Ashes Boutique (the card and accessory making job that is offered to them at the center) made all of the hundreds of the wedding invitations. Some of them helped with decorations, cleaning, ironing, ect., while a select group of us tackled the time-sensitive, intense job of floral arrangement creation job.

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We worked from dawn to dusk with these delicacies- hundreds of branches were cut, dozens of roses arranged, and not one of us had nice fingernails at the wedding, but the arrangements turned out beautifully! It amazed me to see the dedication these girls showed when wanting to help their director. One would think that these girls who weren’t given much care and attention in their past would struggle in doing the same for others. And it’s true- this is a daily struggle for them. But this is why I was left in awe at the long hours they put in for their director. Their diligence was amazing, and until things were just right, they didn’t even think about going to sleep. Challenges arose, and they faced them. The life skills that these girls are learning and the maturity and development that I’m seeing in their character makes me so proud of them! For girls who, before, could care less for the person beside them, they sacrificed so much to help someone who had shown them love.

The wedding on Friday brought early rising, numerous car trips, endless rounds of sweat (remember, air conditioning is not a thing most places in Romania, and the weather stayed at a steady 90 degrees) but was one of the happiest that I’ve ever seen for the girls:)

It was super wonderful to see them get all nice and dressed up! As they were growing up in the orphan homes, no one really paid much attention to their hygiene, at least definitely not to the extent that we, from America, would consider is even close to appropriate, or that regular Romanian citizens consider adequate. The center tries to teach them to pay attention to this aspect as well, so seeing them in dresses and made up was really something huge!

Another aspect is that some of them really shy from being feminine. In the setting they grew up in, girls who showed their femininity or groomed themselves were oftentimes preyed upon or even considered prostitute-material, so in order to avoid this, many of them dressed boyishly and avoided being made “beautiful”. We at the center don’t want them to live with this fear, and it’s a big step for some of them change. I tell them that they’re beautiful everyday, but they don’t want to believe me, and some don’t even believe that could ever be a possibility for them. Seeing them look at themselves in the mirror and smile today, pleased that they can look womanly and can look beautiful and can believe me when I tell them that they are lovely, touched my heart:)

So here are some of my beautiful girls!

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Felicitări Andreea and Răzvan!!!! 🙂

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Familie [Family]

I’ve been on a week-long trip for the past couple of days. Being absent from the girls has taught me something that I don’t know if I would have valued the same had I not been gone:

It’s taught me that they are now my family.

Whenever you have a family, those people mean so much to you. Those are the people that you know will love you, no matter what. When I was growing up, I knew that my family would support me and be by my side. Every time I went on vacation, no matter how much I enjoyed the trip, I would still miss them and their daily presence in my life.

These girls have so quickly become part of my family.

When I sit and ponder the fact that they did not have a family growing up, that is so unreal to me. Imagine not having that group of people to wake up on Christmas morning with you. Imagine not having them fight over who gets which school picture because they think you look so great in each one. Imagine not coming home to those open arms that want to hug you at the end of each day. These girls, who are all orphans, don’t have a usual family that most of us have and are so blessed by. But don’t get me wrong-they do have a family.

One of the big things that happens at the Beauty from Ashes center is that the girls become a family. Besides just learning how to perform family roles, they also learn to love one other as a family. Diana’s parents are like the girls’ parents. Diana and Corey are like older siblings to them. Amongst each other, they are like sisters. It is so unbelievable to me to see this connection. Moreover, I am so honored that they have allowed me, welcomed me, and loved me in to their family.

This realization hit me as I was saying good-bye for my trip. As we all didn’t want the hugs to end, I knew that although I’d only be gone for a week, these girls would be on my mind everyday. When I was gone, I kept my eyes out until I found the perfect gifts from them, and then sat outside by a tiny light to write them each a note to attach to their gifts. I can’t wait to give them hugs, see how they’re doing, and give them, my family away from my family, my love.

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Școală [School]

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As schooling is necessary to the girls’ integration into society and the workplace, it’s something that is part of the program at the Beauty from Ashes center.

Each girl from the Beauty from Ashes center goes through a homeschooling type program that covers 3 different subjects: Romanian, Mathematics, and Bible. The different levels each have about 2 students, so each student gets alot of one on one attention and help with their classes.

So.. I’ve been teaching! I was assigned the first level of students, so I have 2 students:

Carmen

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and Roxana!

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In addition, they’ve added English classes to the schooling that all the girls partake in, and I teach both the introductory and advanced levels of this. I’ve had to come up with my own curriculum, trying to encompass and review what they already know, as well as teach them new material, both grammar and vocabulary. I currently have 4 English students... and it’s going great! They have a passion to learn the language because it’s used by the American volunteers that come to work at the center as well as in movies and universally. I’m so glad that I’m able to help them with this and with translation at the center since I speak both Romanian and English.

These girls are so near and dear to my heart- I’m glad that I can show them that I care about them by spending the time teaching their classes and then helping them learn and outside tutoring and homework help around the center. 🙂942379_10201343839064667_1362720996_n

O Săptămână [One Week]

I did not realize how much activity could happen in one small house in just one week!

My first week at the Beauty from Ashes center has shown me just that. The hustle and bustle of life never ends at the center- there is always something new going on, a celebration around the corner, a job to be done, or a visitor. Through a series of pictures, I want to take you through a “regular” day of my life here with the girls: the extras will be in other posts!

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Every morning, bright and early, rain or shine, cold or hot, I hop on a tramvai number 3 to get to the center where the girls carry out the majority of their daily activities. The tramvai is the mode of public transportation that keeps Oradea and countless other European cities flowing, and is the way many people in the city commute to work or school everyday. 

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After taking the tramvai, I have a short walk through Nufărul to get to the Beauty from Ashes center, where I spend the day with the girls.

When I get there in the mornings, the girls are doing various chores, working, cooking, doing schoolwork, or whatever their daily schedule consists of. Organization, structure, and responsibility are vital life skills that the center wants to teach these girls, and by appointing the different household tasks to the girls on a schedule, they learn how they themselves would run a household. Cooking is done on a rotating schedule as well as dishes, and the girls have to go and buy groceries for the dishes that are on the menu that they have created for the week.

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The piață, or market, is where many Romanians go to purchase fresh food items, as well as stores similar to our Wal-Mart and Kroger. Determining what items they need, purchasing the best quality and best priced items, and learning how to cook these items are are skills the girls are picking up on quick, to the pleasure of their peers who have to eat what they cook! By creating a thought-out menu ahead of time, healthy lifestyle choices can also be promoted. The girls learn how to cook a variety of foods containing many necessary nutrients, something they may not have always received. In addition, every Tuesday and Thursday morning, they get a break in their activities if they choose to participate in Zumba, something that’s so fun for us to all do together and get in some exercise as well! The cold, rainy weather that is quite abnormal for late May has limited our outdoor activities thus far, but I’m sure that more of those will appear as the weather begins to improve.

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Some of the other family chores that the girls have to do besides the cooking and cleaning is to help with some of the outdoor things, such as feeding the animals, and at times, also helping with the garden.

The things I have listed above are some of the daily chores that the girls do that would occur in a family setting normally. Besides that, since the girls in the program are all over the age of 18, they are required to hold some kind of job. For many of them, it’s very hard to try and find a job in the city, although some of them do have one (some of the girls work at various factories in town).

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Jobs are also offered at the Beauty for Ashes center for the girls. One of the jobs that they can do is babysitting the children of the employees at the center.

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Another job they might have is to create some of the handmade items that Beauty from Ashes sells, or help with the packaging and preparation of clothing items. The handmade items that they create may be hairpieces (clips and bands), brooches, croqueted hats or scarves, or cards. The girls are taught to work hard and diligently at their tasks, and as at any job, the quality of their work is reviewed and they have deadlines, requirements, ect.

(Items the girls make or prepare can be found at https://www.facebook.com/BeautyFromAshesBoutique?fref=ts for purchase!)

Besides this they also do school! (More details to come in a later post)

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While all this is going on, the employees and volunteers are working alongside the girls all day. Some of them work directly with the girls, teaching them how to cook, coming up with the designs for the cards and flowers, checking the quality of their work, helping with babysitting, ect.. while others just work in the same rooms as the girls, and although their are doing their own separate work on the computer, they have the opportunity for many meaningful conversations that stem from doing life with these girls.

What do I do? A little bit of everything:) I help with babysitting, work, cleaning, cooking, and anything and everything in-between. This week, I’ve also started teaching as part of the homeschooling type program that they do! (more details to come in a later post)

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Getting to know these girls and spend all day with them is something I wake up and look forward to every day! The tiredness and challenges exist, but getting to do life with the girls and love them make the challenges so worth overcoming and brings me so much joy 🙂

Acasă [Home]

When even lost luggage, constant rain, and weather much colder than you packed for can’t get your spirits down, you know you’re where you’re supposed to be.

Oradea, Romania: Beauty for Ashes Center– yep, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

My first day back in the motherland was filled with logistics- trying to find lost luggage, getting a Romo phone number, getting a tramvai (tram) pass, and other such things that must be done.

But, today, my first REAL day, was absolutely wonderful:)

I was greeted early in the morning by the sunshiny faces of the girls at the ROM Beauty from Ashes center, making me forget all about the wet, nasty weather outside, and so ready to get started! I didn’t know how the girls would take my coming- accepting? rejecting? adjusting? welcoming? It’s hard to have someone new to step into your daily routine of things. But I can honestly say that Day 1 was great! The girls were so warm and welcoming. I worked with them all day, just helping them with whatever jobs or activities they were doing, trying to get a feel for what a day in their lives is like at the center before I get plugged in to whatever my niche shall be. We joked, told stories, sang, worked side by side, and kept wishing we had each other’s accents. There was so much going on at once, but everyone had a job and knew exactly what they were doing- some getting wedding stuff ready since the director of the center is getting married in a couple of weeks, some working on the products that they sell, others organizing clothes, others cooking, others at work, others at school, others babysitting... but they all were like a family. And I think that’s what impressed me the most.

For any given group of people, it’s hard to say that they’ve reached the point of acting like a family. ESPECIALLY for a group of orphan girls, who haven’t ever had a family or much love and care. To mix these girls with Romanians, Americans, volunteers, social workers, friends, and say that this big jumble acts like a family is a miracle- yet they do:)

I can’t wait to do life even more with these girls, and see how much I’ll learn from them while I try to teach them and share some of what I know and some of my life with them.

And what you’ve all been waiting for... PICTURES!

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The Beauty from Ashes House of Romanian Orphan Ministries where the girls work, most of them live, and everyone that is involved performs their daily activities.

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Handmade decorations in the living area.

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Sweet little Rebecca.

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Emma, one of the workers.

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Jetta, another worker, and the mother of Rebecca.

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Eva hard at work!

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Carmen, the newest and youngest member, babysitting.

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One of the things the girls do is croquet these flowers along with various other styles to create headbands or brooches that are sold. The girls also make cards, wedding invitations, and other such things at the center as part of their working program.

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One of Nadia’s completed hair clip sets!

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Taking a break!

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Cosmina the kitten- one of the newest pets of the family.

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The family of girls and workers at Beauty from Ashes. What a wonderful first day:)

 

Bine ați venit! [Welcome!]

I can’t believe it’s almost here.

Countdown!

 

In a little over 5 days, I will be traveling half-way across the world to devote my summer to a cause that is so much greater than I. Romania is a country that I look upon as the Motherland-the beautiful eastern European country where I was born. It was home to me for a short 5 years before I moved here, to America. Sadly, it has never been a true home for its many orphans that roam the streets, gutters, and alleyways. They are undervalued, under-appreciated, and the forgotten citizens of the country.

This summer, I will be working with some of these forgotten orphans, who may be currently viewed as nuisances, but can become gems. Specifically, I will be working with older orphan girls, mostly all over the age of 18, who have “aged out” of the orphan system, meaning they have been kicked out due to their age. Their transition to life in the real world is not a smooth or successful one in most cases. Beauty from Ashes is a program that teaches work ethic, punctuality, job skills, simple hygiene and common manners are not well-taught in the orphanages to these girls, which are all vital skills to surviving in today’s world. More importantly however, it provides them with a family. Love is the last thing these orphans are ever shown, and it is the first thing I want to show them. The rest will go from there.

Thank you for joining me on this journey that I’m sure will be as much, if not more, of a blessing to me as it will to those girls I will be helping.

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Here is a better picture of what orphans in Romania are facing, written by those who work faithfully with these orphans day in and day out:

Orphans in Romania

Orphans are looked down upon and are not helped like disadvantaged people are helped in America. They grow up in orphanages without role models or mentors. They are psychologically, emotionally, and physically abused. They are taught little about life skills and then, when they finish school (where they have learned very little), most of the time around eighteen years of age, they are forced to leave the orphanages.

At this point the government offers them very little help. Unless someone steps in and helps them, many become outcasts of society. Almost none are capable of making it on their own. Having been taught nothing about money, a work ethic, how to find a job or a place to live, paying bills, manners or even simple hygiene, many cannot fend for themselves and become jobless and homeless on the streets with other orphans. They beg and steal for food, become addicted to drugs and, worst of all, are lured into the underground world of prostitution and human trafficking.

The children who are prostitutes in Romania could almost be considered fortunate in comparison with the many that are made sex slaves and taken to other countries where they are never heard from again! The problem with the international sex-slave trade and human trafficking has been well documented and many exposes and books have detailed the horrible atrocities surrounding modern-day slavery.

Orphan youth are turned out onto the streets with few life skills. Joblessness, homelessness, drug abuse, prostitution, jail, and becoming victims of human trafficking are just a few of the results.

Romanian Orphan Ministries assists these youths in the transition from institutionalized life to becoming a productive member of society.

Our strategy is holistic, encompassing spiritual, social, physical, and educational facets.

We currently work very closely with around 20 orphans. We seek to have a big impact on a few lives rather than a little impact on many. We spend much time building relationships with them so that we can make a difference in their lives.

Our biggest project is our Beauty from Ashes Center for Orphan Girls.

The Beauty from Ashes Center for Orphan Girls is a ministry of Romanian Orphan Ministries in Oradea, Romania. Teenage/young adult orphans who have “graduated out” of the orphanage system are taken into a family environment and begin the process of transitioning from institutionalized orphanage life to a normal, well-adjusted, productive life in Romanian society.

Since the teaching of a work ethic, punctuality, job skills, simple hygiene and common manners are not well-taught in the orphanages, a long up-hill struggle is required for an orphan to achieve the goals of this Center.

The Beauty from Ashes Boutique is one part of this program. Here the young women spend eight hours a day creating beautiful hand-made craft items which we then sell in Romania, Europe and North America. The proceeds from these sales are used to fund the Center. The girls are paid a fair wage,thereby breaking the cycle of dependency on others and the “hand-out” mentality that is so prevalent among orphans.

This is of utmost importance because homelessness, drugs, a life of crime, prostitution and human traffickers await these naive young people upon their exit from the orphanage system.

But programs and activities aside, we personally believe that the one thing that overrides all others is love. We show them love and acceptance, treating them and considering them as part of our own family.

Romanian Orphan Ministries Website

http://www.romanianorphanministries.com

Romanian Orphan Ministries Facebook Page (updated weekly):

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Romanian-Orphan-Ministries-Inc/102857034126

Beauty from Ashes Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/BeautyFromAshesBoutique

 

Spring Break

Spring

Spring is HERE! That may not look like much, but I’ve never been so excited to see a tree budding and blooming. I took this picture today from my living room window, as a celebration of the first day above 65 degrees since October! I figure it was worth remembering.

Admittedly, I’m already getting back into a work schedule again, since I started teaching again last week, and my language course at KIT starts next week, but before I get back into my routine I thought I’d share some of my experiences during my Spring Break. The IGS had vacation from March 18th until April 3rd, so I had a good solid three weeks of vacation. I spent the first week in Karlsruhe participating in KIT’s O-Phase, pretty much an orientation week for new international students. Even though I had already taken a language course at KIT last semester, I decided to go anyway just so I could meet some more people and also to get some more information about the specifics of registering and preparing for classes. I’m interested in that because, since my new living situation provides me with more opportunities to be on campus, I’m going to try taking one class in German this semester. I won’t be getting any credit for it, taking any exams or writing any papers, but I will be trying to do the work and attend lectures regularly, and use the class as another opportunity to practice my German in a more topically-specific, unique situation. Anyway, I learned a few important things during O-Phase, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that biggest focus of the week was partying. It felt nice to cut loose again, and I had a lot of fun and met a ton of great people.

Immediately following O-Phase week, I decided that I wanted to travel around for the rest of my Spring Break. Though I initially tried to find a few people to travel with, at least for part of the time, I ended up doing the whole trip on my own. I left in a hurry on the morning of March 25th, and took a train to Munich. At that point, I had a train to Salzburg from Munich and a hostel to stay at in both places, but no further solid plans. It was equal parts exciting and stressful to be heading out without a plan, though I ended up easily deciding on a travel route and finding some good, cheap hostels to stay at. The route I ended up taking was as follows:

From To How long?
Karlsruhe Munich 3 Nights
Munich Salzburg 2 Nights
Salzburg Venice 1 Night
Venice Florence 2 Nights
Florence Rome 3 Nights
Rome Baden-Baden

And yes, I did make an excel sheet to organize the trip. Never did I expect to use skills acquired at my old job to help organize a trip through Germany, Austria, and Italy!

I saw so much and did so much in each city that it would take ages to give them a full description, so hopefully you’ll be sated by a few sentences about each city:

Munich

Rathaus in Munich

I had high hopes for Munich, but upon reflection, I think it was my least favorite place during the trip. That said, I still had a really good time, which should really indicated just how much I loved all the other places. Munich is a very modern city, and though it has a few touristy things like Oktoberfest (which of course wasn’t going on in Mid-March) and the Hofbraeuhaus, there isn’t all that much to see. It also snowed the entire 4 days, so that made walking around outside for 6 hour stretches considerably less fun than in, say, Florence (more on that wonderful city later). I think Munich is worth 2 or 3 days, unless you’re visiting during one of the beer festivals.

Salzburg

Salzburg

Just across the Bavarian border to the east in Austria, Salzburg is famous for being Mozart’s birthplace. There are several museums, concert halls, statues, town squares, and even a chocolate called the Mozartkugel, all of which pay tribute to the famous composer. I enjoyed the city of Salzburg much more than Munich, and I can only imagine how beautiful it must be walking along the banks of the Salzach river during spring. Even though it wasn’t quite spring-weather, I still really enjoyed exploring the town, and I almost wish I’d had more time there.

Venice

St. Mark's Cathedral

 

I will admit upfront that my experience of Venice was both too short and ill-fated. I only stayed one night on the island, and I got soaking wet when I arrived, and was cold and uncomfortable for most of the visit. I don’t feel like I can judge this city fairly, so I’ll withhold any criticism. If I could have done this trip again, I probably would have left Venice out, simply because I didn’t have the money to stay in a nice place for 2 days, and because 24 hours was not enough time. Still, it was fun to get lost in the labyrinth-like streets and ride on the rivers connecting the islands.

Florence

Florence at Night

This is my favorite city in Europe, and quite possibly the world. I was there for two nights but would have gladly stayed until the end of the summer. I really can’t put my finger on exactly what about the city I loved so much, but I loved it so much I felt intoxicated just walking around the streets. Everything had such a unique look and mood, and it was all so beautiful. Then of course, there’s all the excellent statues and paintings in the various museums and squares around town. The Uffizi Museum is probably one of my favorite museums that I’ve ever visited, as it was big enough to hold a truly amazing and vast collection of sculptures and paintings, but still small enough that you could enjoy and digest everything you saw in one trip. The weather was also amazing, and I had gelato two days in a row. No shame.

Rome

Inside St. Peter's

This was my last stop on my trip, and though I really enjoyed the time I spent here, I think I was just getting a bit tired by the last two days. I had been walking 6 hours a day for the last 9 days, and my cash started running low so I stopped eating out, which meant I wasn’t eating enormous Italian meals to replace all the calories I was burning. It seems stupid now in reflection, but you don’t always do everything perfect the first time. Despite my travel-weariness, I managed to see the Colosseum  the Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican Museum, which was surprisingly excellent. I had expected more of the same Christian art that I’d grown weary of, but the Vatican Museum had a surprisingly diverse collection with some real gems, not least of all The School of Athens (I didn’t even know it was there until I walked into the room where it was!)

After Rome I flew back to an airport near Karlsruhe on my first RyanAir flight (which actually went perfectly fine because I sucked it up and paid for one checked bag ahead of time), and crashed for a weekend. It was a long and exhausting trip, but an awesome experience. I now know not only that I can do solo traveling, but that it can actually be a wonderfully free and enjoyable experience.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I may post a few more pictures here later, but I’ve already uploaded a lot of the best ones to my Facebook, so you can check them out there.

Until later,

Derek