Photo by Tony Cece

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

Our final day at the Smiles Foundation has come and gone. The group met together for our last debriefing in Romania joined by Smiles' staff, interns, and the other group from Northern Ireland working with the Foundation. We met to discuss not only the activities of the day per usual but also to process together the past two weeks in Romania. While most were missing our families back in the States, we had the privilege of spending our Independence Day with a Foundation that has dedicated the past 24 years to bringing its own independence to the people of Romania.

Today, our team divided into three groups. Dr. Keyes’ group returned to the penitentiary. Dr. Harris-Keyes and Dr. Arveson returned to Gepiu, the community center primarily used for adolescents and elderly. Lem’s group stayed at the Smiles’ Complex to work with 5 high school students from the Roma Gypsy community.

At the penitentiary, Betsy, Amanda, Beth, and Dr. Keyes gave a presentation on suicide prevention to an audience of social workers, prison administrators, and prison employees. After presentations, process groups led by Regent team members focused on the staff’s experiences with suicidal inmates; this included the warning signs of suicide and ways to intervene effectively. Ultimately, the team’s goal was to raise awareness of the warning signs of suicide, to reduce the number of suicides, and improve intervention protocol.

At Gepiu, Dr. Harris-Keyes' and Dr. Arveson’s group divided into two teams and provided individual counseling services to six individuals ranging from ages 15 to 80. Clients presented with a variety of mental health and psychosocial issues. Common themes within the elderly clients were sadness and loneliness; therefore, the team used Reminiscence Therapy to help clients focus on the good memories of their lives despite unwanted circumstances. Dr. Arveson’s group traveled to the local village and met with a severely disabled 19-year-old woman and her caretaker grandmother. Abandoned by her mother, the young woman could barely move or speak. Despite this, the group was able to see God’s love displayed through the commitment and love of a grandmother for her granddaughter. Dr. Harris-Keyes’ group used the Modified Sand Tray technique with two clients. The first client was a 15-year-old adolescent boy who had experienced great loss and as a result, displayed attachment issues. The second client was a 21-year-old young woman who came from an abusive home life and struggled with self-esteem issues. Along with using Modify Sand Tray to discuss the traumatic events within these two families, the team also taught the young woman breathing techniques, how to find a safe place, and thought stopping and blocking to help her cope with anxiety and negative thought patterns. Afterwards, the team met with two social workers to discuss particular cases, providing feedback and input on how Smiles can better serve these two populations.

Finally, Christi, Alexis, Christian, Mark, Jordan, and Lem presented on self-esteem to a group of 5 Roma Gypsy high school students. These high school students will be the first Roma Gypsies students to graduate from high school. The first student is just one year away. They have the odds, not to mention the Romanian and Roma Gypsy cultures against them. These students come from the Roma Gypsy culture that encourages them to ignore school, stresses their Gypsy background, and constantly conveys negativity. For example, these kids are told that since they are Gypsy, they will never amount to anything, they are stupid, they will not succeed, and they will never be accepted. Therefore, the presentation focused on self-esteem from God’s eyes and man’s. The team stressed how God sees us and how we see us, having positive thoughts, and utilizing our own self-esteem to help us cope and accomplish our goals and dreams. The team led processing groups and conducted individual sessions. The team was able to hear from the students about the incredibly unsupportive community they were born into, the struggles they have, the way their community affects them, their dreams and aspirations, and how they are going to accomplish them. The team believes in these students and will most definitely keep them in their prayers.

Tomorrow, we leave the Smiles’ Complex, traveling to Budapest and Vienna for a time of rest and relaxation. We do not, however, leave the Smiles Foundation unchanged. We leave the Complex changed by the faces, names, and stories. We leave the Complex changed by the love, dedication, and devotion of the staff to the people of Romania. Finally, we will leave knowing one thing for certain: smiles are cross-cultural. Smiles need no translators, no explanations. They tear down walls and bridge gaps. The people of Romania have brought to us more smiles than we could have ever imagined, and we are confident that more smiles are yet to be discovered. Freedom is coming to the people of Romania, specifically the Roma Gypsy people. It will take time and effort. Nevertheless, the Smiles Foundation has a clear vision, and it all starts with a Smile.

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