Photo by Tony Cece

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Yesterday I witnessed a colleague share a grounding technique with a severely traumatized victim of domestic violence at Smiles Foundation's safe house. The technique reduces symptoms of trauma by connecting the person to the here and now through all five senses. As our client practiced this technique of self-care, her intrusive thoughts and anxiety symptoms clearly lessened. We encouraged her to continue taking time to calm her soul to facilitate her healing. 
To take time out for our own self-care is a critical part of our counseling work here as well. Today we took time to rest, play, and process so that we will be better equipped for our work over the next several days. God blessed us with a variety of activities to enjoy. Some of us spent time experiencing the city of Oradea, about 5km from where we stay in Cihei. Others chose to travel a distance to visit the Medieval Castle Corvin in Transylvania. Another group spent a relaxing day at the nearby Baile Felix resort, featuring hot thermal water fed pools and spa. While still others took the opportunity to drive through the countryside to the foothills of the Apuseni Mountains for a tour of the magnificent Pestera Ursilor (Bear Caves).
I asked my colleagues for images, sounds, feelings, scents, and tastes that grounded them to the here and now of the day. Here is some of what they experienced:

  •          the textured landscape of the countryside, marked by patches of fruit tress, vegetable gardens,           sunflower fields, hand-reaped fields of hay, and rows of corn

  •      the varied styles of Oradean architecture from the flowery Art Nouveau to cement Brutalist;                 reminiscent of the array of political and cultural forces in Romania over the centuries.

  •        church bells chiming the Romanian national anthem at 1:00, beckoning Romanians to pause from         their work with hand over heart.

  •       the backdrop of Romanian chatter everywhere we go.

  •       the rough texture of the crumbling stone brick courtyard of a Medieval castle, briefly connecting life      across seven centuries.

  •       the soothing thermal water massaging and melting stress 

  •      the samples of honey from different flowers, offered via toothpick by a Romanian grandmother at the   open market.

As the sun sets and the evening air stills, the smoke of the wood burning water heater at the Foundation lingers in the air. This smoky smell has become symbolic of the onset of nighttime rest...another blessing of God to replenish us for the work ahead.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A theme emerged from the day about the power and importance of relationships. Many team
members were recognizing how our client’s stories influence us as much as our therapeutic
interventions serve clients. Hearing stories of resiliency and determination bring encouragement.
Hearing survival stories and seeing poverty creates a new perspective about how to help our
clients. Some interactions generate internal transformation in the client and move us to tears.
Our clients change us with their vulnerability and growth. We share a common humanity that
includes sharing in each others’ suffering and joy. God is at work in Romania. God is so good to
use what we offer to serve others and bring Him glory.

Today Lem’s group went into the gypsy camp, Rapa. Rapa is 45 minutes away from the city in
a desolate location. Five families live in the community. One team member worked with a man
whose wife was in another country to engage in prostitution. This woman was originally forced
into prostitution by her father and continues in the life regardless of the fact that her husband
would like her to come home. Her husband expressed anger at her actions and explained that
it is hard to trust her. He also expressed his love for her and desire for a genuine, committed
relationship. It seems that relational problems are universal issues and that the longing for a deep
connection with others is also a universal desire.

Dr. Harris’s group found people struggling with similar issues at the domestic violence shelter.
Two team members worked with a woman whose husband would regularly abuse her. This
woman possessed the majority of symptoms found in survivors of domestic violence; she would
not make eye contact, did not show any facial expression, and spoke quietly. After working with
the trauma counselors, this woman was laughing and smiling. Such stories affirm how we can
give death or life to others through our interactions.

Dr. Arveson’s group spent the day at the container village for the homeless. The team met with
individuals, families, and couples. One team spent a few hours working with a couple. The
woman experienced many incidents of abuse in her past, influencing her capabilities in the
present. Yet her partner loved her unconditionally. He understood that without intervention,
trauma interferes with a person’s mental and emotional state. This acceptance helps the woman
cope with things beyond herself. It also reflects the love of God for her. The team members were
able to affirm the positive coping strategies this couple were using as well as teach relaxation and
stress reduction techniques.

Finally, Dr. Keyes lead a team at Cuiesd, a gypsy camp. They worked with a rape survivor and a number of serious domestic violence cases. The team met one man who has had three different surgeries and is unable to work. Despite hardship, this man is living for God. He invests his time and energy in caring for his children. He wants to model a different lifestyle for his children; one that would please God instead of confirming to culture. As such, the family is very industrious and hospitable. In fact many of the poor practice hospitality and are generous with their limited resources. They choose to give instead of merely receive. They choose to live by faith instead of blaming God. We are humbled and challenged to do the same.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thursday, June 26

Today started with breakfast as usual then it was time to head out to our assigned destination. It became quite apparent that in the midst of such tragedy, poverty, and hopelessness it is easy to become overwhelmed. Our group has found hope in the smallest of reassurances. One group from our team worked with a homeless man who told his life story. At the end, the team members thanked him for talking with him and he stopped them and said “thank you for listening to my story. No one has ever asked me to tell that before”. This small statement created a huge impact on our team. Our presence here is so much more vital and important than we ever could have imagined. This simple fact was a gust of rejuvenation. The breakdown of the day, by each group, is below. We thank you for your continued prayer and support!

Dr. Arveson’s: Dr. Arveson’s group went to Salard, a very poor Hungarian/Gypsy community, today. They split the people into two groups: children and adults. The group with the adults saw a lot of jealousy amongst the community creating a lot of tension. In addition to the tension, they also saw aggression through both verbal and physical means. Since several of the people they worked with were very stressed the group utilized deep breathing tapping interventions to help de-stress. Overall, the group felt like they had positive encounters and were very encouraged.

The other half of Dr. Arveson’s group worked with the children. The children here in Salard were very aggressive, both verbally and physically, and vigilant. The children wore chains around their neck to use as a weapon to defend themselves from dogs, bullies, or attackers. It appeared to the group that the children’s behavior was a cycle that was passed down from parent to child continually.  The group members were able to clearly see there is a huge immediate need for clothing, food, and shelter amongst these families. Although this was a tough population, the group felt like they had a successful encounter with the children and enjoyed their time with them.

Lem’s: Lem’s group visited Tileagd and met with children age 3-13. The group split into two groups: one group took the younger children, while the other group took the older children. Both groups had classroom activities to do with the children but were able to utilize techniques such as Stone Therapy in order to effectively work with the children individually. The main theme for the group was teamwork. The group facilitated a game with the children in which teamwork was crucial to winning. After the game, the group recapped with the children and saw the children really had a retained the information they learned about teamwork.

Dr. Harris-Keyes’: Dr. Harris-Keyes’ group went out to work with various homeless population not living in a homeless shelter but instead living on the streets. Before they arrived at the homeless street spots, they were taken to the store and each group member was given around 8 US dollars to spend at the grocery store: their objective was to spend all $8 to provide food for a family for a week. The food needed to be filling, easy to store, and very inexpensive. The team had a great opportunity to see how difficult it can be for a very low income or no income family to survive. The average income of some families here is around 100 US dollars. After the grocery store, the group took the food to the homeless families and also conducted individual counseling with them. The needs amongst these people varied widely, as did their stories. There were ex-convicts, a woman with HIV who was not allowed admittance in any shelter, as well as people who refused to ask for help since they saw it as begging and they would not beg. The group saw a wide spectrum of emotions present. Some were very depressed and even suicidal while others were smiling, positive, and found every opportunity to point out the blessings in their life.

Dr. Keyes’: Dr. Keyes’ group spent the morning at the Smiles compound conducting individual counseling with a few members of the Smiles staff. After, the group headed out for three family visits in the community. While meeting with the first family, the group broke into two groups. The first group took the mother to do individual counseling while the second group took the two children outside. Both groups had a great time and positive experience in both settings. The second family visit consisted of a husband and wife; the wife was suffering from mental illness. This encounter was very intense, volatile, and complicated. The group felt somewhat uncomfortable yet also like they were able to learn a lot from this experience. The third family visit consisted of a couple with a 2-year-old baby. The husband suffered from Schizophrenia while the wife suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. This encounter was also quite tough but the group again felt like they were able to learn and experience something that will be very beneficial.

Overall, it has been a great day and we are looking forward to what tomorrow holds! Until then! J

Wednesday, June 25

At this point three days into our trip for some of us, the mentality of entering the field with a clinical perspective is settling in. A big realization that we are all encountering is that clinical mental health counseling has many facets. The power of therapy has broken down barriers through simplistic forms such as blowing bubbles, flying paper airplanes, or playing with puppets. Together as a team we have learned from the elderly, adolescents, children, police officers, and the culture. The elderly have given us a sense of how fragile life is and to love now. The adolescents have given us a new appreciation to our education and the possibilities that can open. The children have reminded us the importance of being a child and to leave the cares of the adults to the adults. The police officers, enlightened us to the vast differences of their rankings, their lack of being valued or appreciated, and the differences in the law system. Learning about the culture is on a daily basis, for example, how families open up to you once there is a sense of trust, and the roles that children play in families can potentially in certain situations mean taking the role of an adult. The lasting impact we have made through each of these populations has been through the efforts of group counseling, individual counseling, supervision, and even play therapy with various techniques intermingled. The Smiles organization has definitely set the foundation for love, care, and equipping the Romanians and Gypsies. Today’s evening had a lovely close with the Smiles foundation leading in worship, a time of devotional, and a presentation of how Smiles has reached out to the needy throughout various times.  

Each group did the following:
Dr. Arveson’s Team:
Went to a school in a local town, Tileagd. Since the beginning our team learning experience has been to be fluid and this team did just that. They went with the anticipation and preparation for a presentation and quickly found that was not the need for this group. Instead they were broken into two groups and given the task to entertain and teach the children for about 3 hours each. The team pulled together their experience and creativity by using puppets, rocks, and reading stories to the children; including reading stories in Romanian.

Lem’s Team:
Went to the Smile’s nursing home where they implemented one on one counseling and even supervision. One of their encounters included an individual who presented suicidal ideation and even expressed the intention to kill her husband. At this age the elderly are aware of their fragility and how live is but a vapor here today and gone tomorrow. Certain individuals were captivated by their instant connection that was built and the affection that quickly grew by simply being in their presence for a day. As one elderly stated to one of the members, “Don’t go, don’t leave me.” That is a true reflection of a bond that was formed.

Dr. Harris Team:
Adventured on family visits that included minor obstacles such as getting stuck in a ditch and then having to get pulled out by a truck. Once they overcame this minor setback they went into homes some of which were provided by Smiles. Some of the issues that families were struggling with included grief and loss, finances, and paying back loans. Psychological interventions were provided at the domestic violence home. While some members were addressing the needs of the adults others were engaging the children in play by using bubbles, puppets, and paper airplanes.

Dr. Keyes team:

Directly connected with the police officers in Oradea through presentations done by Dr. Keyes, Josue, and Beth on negotiating and communication skills. We also broke into groups which involved some role playing and group discussion with relative examples to the Romania culture. While we were attempting to use our examples of situations in which proper negotiating would be valuable we quickly found out that our examples in America were not applicable in Romania. Through this we learned different ways of how to meet them where they are at. We were broken into three different groups and each group had a different outcome, for one compassion fatigue was a major component, for others, their specific role or rank was detrimental to the learning experience. Throughout all of this we were able to piece things together to effectively equip them as well as learn from them. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

“The Resurrection of Jesus is...a symbol of hope...I don't see how you can show love...without being in solidarity with the victims of this world.” 

Today we set out into the Oradea community for the first time as a whole group. Accompanied by Smiles Foundation staff and interpreters (graduate students of psychology at University of Oradea), we split into four teams. 
One team visited a youth center where we had the opportunity to show love by listening to teens, playing games with kids, and hanging out with children of all ages who rarely have the opportunity to play because of the constant demand that cooking, cleaning and child care typically place on their young lives. 
Another two teams visited families who are supported by Smiles Foundation. These under resourced families face an array of financial, emotional, physical, and social difficulties that preoccupy their time and energy. They graciously invited us into their homes and shared their lives for a brief time. 
The last team went to an innovative community for the homeless. Smiles Foundation converted several metal shipping containers as shelter for homeless men, women and families. We provided group and individual counseling for the beneficiaries at the homeless container village who face homelessness for a variety of reasons.  
In all our interactions, we are keenly aware of the impact that chronic trauma has on people's lives. We take opportunity to show love through our solidarity with them and pray that God's presence brings hope.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Monday, June 23

Our little fellowship of nine in Romania had a full day of training with the SMILES staff. We were introduced to the director of various projects to get a brief overview of their work and challenges. SMILES has created meaningful relationships that show God’s love by caring for children, families, elderly, and the homeless population within the community. They have a full work-load, requiring emotional and physical energy. As such, a presentation on the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue and self-care were timely. The Regent team shared key points on these topics and invited discussion to help the SMILES staff consider how the information applied to themselves. We also taught deep breathing and visualization techniques to reduce stress in the care giver and/or in clients. Interaction in small groups allowed us to better understand some aspects of Romanian culture and helped build a partnership between SMILES and the trauma team. The feedback seems as though the presentation was useful to staff and offered helpful ideas to maintain self-care. Another highlight of the day was welcoming another 8 team members to the site before dinner! The final 10 are coming on 2 flights and will be in during the late night/early morning hours. As a wise professor once said, “Blessed are the flexible for they will never be bent out of shape.” God has blessed us indeed with a positive attitude, team bonding, and His presence in our circumstances.

Romania Deployment Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22, 2014

One Team: A Tale of Two Journeys

This has been one very long day, and it is still before dinner on Sunday! 9 team members from the DC-Metro region met up at Dulles by 2:30pm on Saturday. The remaining 18 team members were driving up together by bus from Virginia Beach. By arrival time in DC, Dr. Keyes called to say that not only had the bus from Regent been delayed in picking them up, but they encountered backups at the tunnel and on Rte. 64. We were told to wait/go/wait, etc. Finally, one hour before boarding it was clear that they were not going to make the flight and we were told to go ahead; they would let us know of their plans when we landed in Vienna! Since it was likely they would have to book another flight, adding in another 9 people would make it that much more complicated. Fortunately, our travel to Vienna and then on to Budapest went very smoothly. We were met in Budapest by our driver who took us on another 3 hr. drive to SMILES-right over the Romania border. It turns out that the bus from Virginia Beach arrived as our plane was taking off! There were no flights to Vienna from Dulles on Sunday so the group spent the Saturday night at a hotel and then drove to NY to get a plane. The remainder of the team will not be getting in until Monday afternoon. In the meantime, team members in Romania have a full day scheduled doing trainings with the SMILES staff! We also have no materials. Most of the people in our little cohort are quite capable. After dinner we got together and worked out an agenda for a day training on Compassion Fatigue. We pooled together our notes, determined who would present what portion, and created a PowerPoint. The verse of this trip is already shaping up to be, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:4-7

Below is the report from the 18 team members who missed the plane at Dulles!

On Saturday morning, our start towards our journey to Romania, began with the majority of our group meeting at Regent. Everyone was excited, all packed, and on time. Except the bus. After waiting for about an hour, the bus came and we loaded up to head to DC. Our journey to Romania really begins! Until we hit traffic. So much traffic that our group missed our first flight out of DC to Vienna, Austria. Dr. Keyes and our travel agent were on the phone continuously trying so hard to secure seats for all 18 of us on a new flight while still somehow securing seats for all of us on our connecting flight. Unfortunately, the DC airport did not have any more flights until Monday for us. Our trip to Romania has hit a bump. While Dr. Keyes is speaking with our travel agent desperately searching for an earlier flight, he is also having to communicate with our other group of 9 who met at the DC airport with Dr. Arveson and made their flight. Did I mention a few bumps? We found out through Dr. Keyes and our travel agent that there was a flight to Vienna out of New York the following night that we may be able to secure seats. Once our seats were confirmed, Dr. Keyes booked a hotel for all of us for the night with the intentions of leaving for NYC in the morning.

Morning came and we loaded up in a new bus to head to New York. The drive was a little bumpy and traffic caused a lot of stopping and going; but, not only did we make it the airport, we got a glimpse of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty! When life gives you lemons, you go to New York right? J Once we got to the airport, we thought our journey to Romania was really beginning! I mentioned a few bumps right? Well, it was quickly evident that miscommunication amidst the airline resulted in all 18 of our seats disappearing to other passengers. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more until the airline finally told us we had to wait until a certain time, about 50 minutes before the flight takes off, before they could confirm our seats- provided 18 people no showed. After the allotted waiting time, we were informed that there were only 17 no shows- one less than what we needed. Bump! Dr. Keyes arranged to allow the 17 of us to head out with Dr. Harris-Keyes while he worked again with travel agent to ensure he met us at our next stop. Once our tickets were printed, we rushed off to our flight, got on right before takeoff and our journey to Romania really began!

After an 8 hour flight to Vienna, we were split up into three groups to fly to Budapest. After a long, long day of travelling we all finally made it Budapest and were transported by the Smiles Foundation to Cihei, Romania. Upon arrival, everyone with Smiles was so welcoming and accommodating. It was great to finally meet up with our other group who arrived safely on our original travel plan. We were exhausted so after dinner and debriefing, it was time for bed.

It was interesting to see how our group handling all of the bumps along our journey. 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks whatever happens.” In the midst of chaos (or bumps) being joyful, praying continually, and giving thanks can be so hard. However, our group rose to the occasion and was able to endure the bumps with joyfulness, prayer, and a thankful heart. We are thankful for all the prayers and support. Now, our journey in Romania begins!