Friday, September 16, 2011

Day Three- Discovering Haiti

Sunday morning greeted us with the same rooster that had woken me up each morning since our arrival. I asked our host 'mom' if we could have rooster for dinner, but this was apparently not heeded. We got dressed and joined the children at the orphanage for their Sunday morning service. They had already begun by the time we arrived. It was such an awesome experience to see them praying fervently, singing beautifully, and preaching powerfully.
The younger children performed a song, then the older boys, followed by the older girls. Check it out... so awesome...

We also sang a few songs in English so as to contribute to the service. Two team members shared their testimonies while Dan translated. Monica shared how God has healed her, and Kristin shared how God has moved her and called her to a life much larger than her own.

After service, we quickly hopped into our caged truck for an hour + ride up the mountain side with the Baptist Mission being our destination for souvenir shopping and lunch. However, when we reached the top, the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. Since virtually everything in Haiti happens outdoors, everything was closed. We turned around and traveled the hour back down the mountain with the cold and wet rain pouring in through the sides of the truck. We reminisced about the trip and chatted freely with one another until we reached a part of Port-Au-Prince we had not before seen.
The affects of the earthquake were everywhere. The palace was still sitting broken. Adults and children were running through the streets looking for a dry place to stay. Tents were set up everywhere- 600,000 people are still living like this because they have no home.

(Tent pictures taken by Julie Davis)

I spent the afternoon talking with Katia and learning about some of the children's stories... so heartbreaking. Kerby's mom dumped him in the toilet when he was 2 days old. Junior's dad is dead and his mom is mentally unstable. Children have seen their parents murdered and beheaded. This is the world they live in.
We were able to see the children one last time Sunday evening. They had a small presentation for us, where they sang good-bye to each team member in Creole. We bought them all ice cream- some of them had never had ice cream. Here is Jhonley's first experience with ice cream :)

What could be a better image with which to leave you?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Day Two- Extending a Hand

Dan, the President of Faith Mission International and one of our team members, had been made aware of a specific orphanage in Port-Au-Prince. We spent the morning visiting with them and learning about their predicament.
The man who ran the orphanage was a pastor, and he had accumulated 30 children before the earthquake in 2010. The earthquake destroyed their facilities, so they were living out of tents and buildings provided by US AID. The tents slept 6 to 7 children each, and they had one main building for eating, schooling, worshiping... everything.
The irony of all of this was their location. A wealthy relative was allowing the pastor to keep the orphans on his property... in the back yard. The house was large, even for American standards. I wouldn't be surprised if it had 10 bedrooms. The man lives in the US so the house is usually unoccupied. Unfortunately, this man has now decided that he no longer wants the orphans on his property and has told them they must leave ASAP. This pastor doesn't know what to do; they have no where to go.
Righteous anger fills me when I think about the large, empty house that could be sheltering children who have lost so much, but instead they are asked to leave the back yard.

We brought the kids sandwiches and juice, as we didn't know how much they had and wanted to bless them. We sang songs for them like "This is the Day" and "Hallelujah/Praise Ye the Lord." They also sang for us, but I can't tell you the names of those songs! We then took some instruments and passed them out and played with them. They followed directions for loud and soft, but were having so much fun they really didn't want to play slowly!
It was great to be able to be a part of building trust between the American mission teams and the Haitian people. Music is so powerful!

We went back to Gift of God orphanage after lunch and Jonas had brought his guitar! I was able to play and sing "Lean on Me" and the children sang along as they have been learning this song. We also sang "This Little Light of Mine" and simply did worship with drums and shakers. Eventually, we put the instruments away and one sweet little girl just had so much music in her so continued to drum on the bench. I don't think 5 year olds have rhythm like this in America...

Later that evening, I was told the story of Smith and Katia, the couple who housed us and run the orphanage. They were young when they met, fell in love, and got married. Katia was the only Christian in her family, so she was shunned. She never felt loved until God gave her Smith.
Smith and Katia have one son, who goes to school in Tampa, FL. Katia shared with me that she has had 6 miscarriages, but then she said "But God gave me 50 babies!" referring to the orphans. What an amazing woman.
Smith and Katia were kidnapped and held for ransom at one point. Their abductors believed they had connections to American money. When Smith and Katia were thrown into their holding cell, Katia's heart stopped. They pulled her back out and took her to the hospital. Smith didn't know if she was dead or alive. Assuming he was going to die, Smith spent his time witnessing to his captors; one of whom accepted Christ, and the other whom was killed shortly after. Meanwhile, Katia is at the hospital, and a friend that happened to be a nurse working their smuggled her out and helped her escape. Somehow Smith's family paid the ransom for his freedom, and the two were reunited.
Stuff like this only happens in movies, right? How can two people I know that love the Lord and serve him daily deal with this? How blessed are we that we don't often experience horrors like this.

August 26th, Meeting the Children

Despite the hurricane weather, the Haiti team made it into the country safe and on time with the exception of two members from Nashville who flew in Friday morning. We organized our donations and instruments, and slept well Thursday night.
Everyone was excited on Friday morning to pile into the back of a caged truck and drive the short three blocks from the mission house to the orphanage. When we pulled into the yard, 50 children began yelling, screaming, and running towards the vehicle in which we were caged. They were so excited that the team had arrived. They hugged each member as we climbed out of the truck. After passing out name tags and trying out our French Creole, we set to work on various stations for the kids. Myself and Monica, of course, did music, while other team members did sports, crafts, English, bird house building, etc. Monica and I had discussed and agreed that we wanted to see the teenagers first, so we met the 13-15 year olds. Dan, one of the leaders, agreed that this would be most beneficial for them.
Let me tell you, giving Haitians rhythm instruments is like giving a fish water. They needed no direction or guidance. We didn't have to say anything in Creole or English. They just went to 'play.'

The adult was our translator, Jonas. He was also a musician. We played together for a while, allowing the music to be our conversation. We did improvisation with drums and other rhythm instruments just to get to know each other. We were able to drum our names, favorite foods, favorite colors, and favorite animals. The teenagers were very focused and were able to follow physical cues from the therapists.
We implemented a musical game that allowed each child to talk about their feelings. A ball was tossed around to music, and when the music stopped, the child with the ball removed a piece of tape from the ball. This tape had a feeling on it. We talked about what made them feel that way (happy, sad, proud, shy, thankful, etc) and then played that feeling with the instruments. At one point, we all went around the circle and said what we were thankful for. One boy said he was thankful when other people send him money to take care of him (he has a sponsor). One girl said she was thankful for nothing... it broke my heart.
The second group we got was the 8 to 12 year olds. They were loud, energetic, rambunctious... It was fun. It was much less focused, but it was so enjoyable. They were able to cooperate musically with one another in their playing, and they followed musical directions. They did a lot of exploring and turn taking. I enjoyed playing with them immensely.

What a morning! What a joy these children bring to the lives of those attempting to share joy with them. We left for lunch and we were then blessed with an amazing opportunity to visit the land that was just purchased a few days before by Global Orphan Hope to build a new orphanage. They are taking three construction teams down in the next three months, and hope to have everything up and running by June of 2012. Both Mike and Sue, the leaders of this project, have children with special needs, so they have a heart and a desire to care for the children of Haiti with special needs. What a blessing to be able to meet them!

We returned to Gift of God Orphanage and spent the afternoon with free interactions. Monica did one-on-one singing and I (Amy) played with the kids, drew with sidewalk chalk, interacted with an English lesson, and loved on children. Monica showed the children photos of her family, and by the end of the day, most children had one. Monica, Wade, and their two children are on the bedroom walls of a Haitian Orphanage.

We parted around 5pm, as that is when visiting hours end at the orphanage, and went back to the mission house for dinner and a time of reflection. God is so good!

Friday, July 1, 2011

BRIGHT is heading to Haiti!!

As many of you know, we had advertised that we were planning a trip to Beijing, China in September of 2011.  The trip was going to be partnered with All God's Children International and would have been a two week long trip.  As volunteers, it is difficult to commit to that much time off from a paid position.  It was difficult to find individuals to participate.  In addtion, the cost per individual plus airfare was more than we could do.  I contacted my contact at All God's Children and asked what other options were available that were a shorter.  This is when she shared the opportunity to go to Haiti.  We opted to take the opportunity.

All God's Children will be taking a team of 12 individuals, including three from BRIGHT Children.  The team from BRIGHT includes two Music Therapists and another member who will be assisting with construction and serving where necessary with the orphanage and orphans.  The Music Therapists will be providing interactive Music Therapy groups for all the children in the orphanage on two different days.  In addition, they will present a training for the orphanage staff on how to incorporate musical interventions into daily activities for the children.  BRIGHT will also assist in construction for new Hannah's Hope to prepare for more children to be served.  We will also be donating instruments that the orphanage staff can utilized based on the training provided.

The FMI Orphanage has 49 children, 19 girls and 30 boys, ranging in age from 4 to18.  Most children are between the ages of 6 and 12.  75% of the children at the orphanage were orphaned as a result of the tragedies from the earthquake.  The children are facing very different needs from our last trip.  While we don't have full details of the specific needs, we anticipate serious issues of loss, trauma, and malnourishment prior to arrival at the orphanage.  We have heard that there are some individuals with Autism and developmental delays.

The trip will be August 25 through 29.  BRIGHT will be a part of a group of 12 who will meet in Miami and fly to Port-au-Prince.  The All God's Children individuals will be helping clean, prepare meals, teach English, play sports, and do crafts and activities with the children.

We need to raise funds to cover the expenses to send three team members and leave instruments in Haiti. To fully cover the expenses of this trip, we need to raise at least $6,000.00.  Please consider making a donation.  We have just received our designation letter and are now officially a 501(c)3 organization.  If you opt to make a donation, check with your employers regarding matching gifts.  We have a chip-in on this blog and a paypal button on our website at  Another way you can contribute to BRIGHT and have fun in the process is to attend our Family Fun Fair on July 23.  Details to come very soon.

Here is a 60 Minutes segment on Haiti:  The Lost Children of Haiti

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Orphanage “Nezabravka” and Samaritan's Women's Shelter

March 21 was a full day of work and fun.

Our day began with a morning visit to Orphanage "Nezabravka"in Stara Zagora.  We met with the orphanage director and she shared some of the things that her children do and are involved in.  This is an orphanage that is more involved in the community and offer many more things to their children.  This is also a facility for children ages 4 to 7.  This orphanage is working with some biological parents to provide education and training to properly raise their children and regain custody.  We asked how many children had special needs and the director identified one child with Autism, who found out later was lucky to still be there at this facility at the age of 10.  The director said that they used to have a child with hydrocephalus but they sent it away with a shooing type motion with her hand.  As we observed there some other children with hearing impairments and vision impairments.  While the children did not display special needs in the way of genetic disorders or developmental disabilities, these children do have special needs.  They have experienced loss, separation, the must share attention with many other children, they do not have a father or mother, they have experienced abuse, and much more.  The needs are deeper and not defined. In addition, the director stated that these children would, however, only be adopted internationally.  When asked why, she said that many of these children were children of Gypsies and they had darker skin and were not accepted by society.  This just made me cringe especially as these children are healthy and children who are only being prevented a family because of the color of their skin.  I would have loved to have tucked these children into my bags and taken them home and shown them the love they deserve.

During our morning visit, we did music with the four and five year olds, and the one child with Autism, who were not yet attending school.  We provided many interactive activities where the children learned some new activities, were able to play with the instruments that we had brought, and interact with us.  We provided the children to be children and play, dance, play instruments, and sing.  They had a blast!  The language was not the barrier that it was when working in the Women's Shelter.  The children made attempts to sing along with us even with the English songs.  Their favorite was "Matilda the Gorilla", much as it is here with children of the same age.  We were allowed to take pictures but were asked to limit the face shots of children.

                                                      Matilda the Gorilla with motions
Matilda the Gorilla with motions

After our group with these children, we went and met with the directors and psychologist of Samaritan's Women's Shelter.  They were curious on what Music Therapy was and how it could be utilized with women and children at the shelter.  This was the day before our visit to the actual shelter.  We shared some ideas on how Music Therapy techniques could be incorporated into the therapy that they provided. The staff was very excited about what we brought to the table and wanted to arrange a training with their foster care program.  Unfortunately, this trip did not lend itself to this as the time was too short.  The director pleaded with us to organize another trip and to spend more time and provide training in the future to their staff and find ways to get Music Therapy regularly for those in both the women's shelter and the foster care program.

After a brief lunch, and locating another string for the guitar we were borrowing, we returned to Orphanage “Nezabravka” for a visit with the six and seven year olds.  We were greeted by the children with a little performance.  A few children sang a song while the national music teacher played accompaniment.  A few girls provided a dance that showcased some of the gymnastics they had learned, and a girl played a duet on a national instrument that resembled a violin but with approximately twelve strings. We, again, did a variety of singing, movement, and instrument playing activities.  The children had a blast and enjoyed participating in our activities as much as entertaining us with their familiar activities.  The children in this group especially enjoyed the gathering drum.  One could see the personalities of the children displayed in the way each played the drum, whether quiet and reserved, playful, or assertive and strong fisted playing.

                                                                  Good old action shot.
The bows and costumes seen here were from the mini performance that we received from the children.
Since my birthday was this day, I had learned that Bulgarian's celebrate birthdays a little bit differently.  The birthday individual shares gifts or sweets with those he/she comes in contact with during the day.  We decided to share in this culture with the children in the afternoon.  We brought a box a chocolates and shared them with the children.  Each child greeted me with a saying that wished me health and happiness as I gave them a chocolate.  This was obviously a special treat as the chocolates disappeared quickly in hopes that maybe there would be a second piece.  The orphanage director then presented me with a present that was pieces of artwork that the children had painted and typically sold at a craft fair.  The pieces included a hand-made card, a painted bowl and jar, and a hand-blown egg that had also been painted.  These are treasures that I will hold dear forever.  It reminds me of these faces that so desire a family of their own.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

March 22, Visiting the Safe House

Tuesday morning began with a visit to a safe house for women and children affected by domestic abuse. We had been told on Monday that the children in the house were there because they were either witnesses of abuse (but not recipients) or were pulled from their homes because they were being sold in to prostitution. It was fairly easy to decipher which children were which, based on ages and developmental levels.

The morning began with a music group with the ladies in the house. They ranged in ages from a young mom of an infant to a woman who had to be in her 80's (at least). We implemented a variety of experiences, including a drum circle, lyric analysis, expressing feelings through instrument playing, progressive muscle relaxation, and creating a musical rainstorm. The women were receptive to us and later told the resident psychiatrist that they enjoyed the time and would like opportunities to do it again.
Allow me to pause at this point and say that while music might be called the 'universal language,' Bulgarian is not. I am so thankful for Marge, our translator in Stara Zagora, because she made events like this possible for us. She was instrumental (no pun intended) in the success of these sessions; we couldn't have done it without her!
I enjoyed getting to interact with the ladies in the house, and hear a bit about their journeys through discussion. The older woman (the one in her 80's) was certainly the leader of the group. Unfortunately, this is surprising to us Americans because of the mindset we have of older adults. I must remind myself that other cultures still revere the elderly and adhere to their wisdom. This woman even told us that she was a believer and had a strong faith in the Lord. It always amazes me how one can set out with the intention of serving the Lord by blessing others and be so blessed in return.
Bessie and I were also able to spend a small amount of time one-on-one with the young mother and her infant son. We talked with her and did some music with the baby before he got really hungry and demanded lunch for himself.
We left the safe house to grab some lunch before the children returned from school. Our translator set up a lunch with the pastor from her church in Stara Zagora- the church who lent us their apartment to sleep in while there. He was friendly and interested in what it was we were doing. It might be interesting to know that people are attached to their cell phones in other countries as well; it's not just an American epidemic! He was a very busy and much needed man.

We returned to the house after lunch to meet with the children who had returned home from school. What a great group. There were three girls and two boys, and one boy was there with his sister. All the children had a bond with one another, and agreed that they had become their own little family while living at the safe house. We repeated some of the same experiences with the children as we did with the adults, like a drum circle, lyric analysis and making a musical rainstorm. We spent a good deal of time working with the instruments in a drum circle setting and allowed each child to conduct. They assigned instruments to each member of the group, and then played their own instrument in whatever style they wished and the group had to follow suit. This gave each child the opportunity to be in control. Understand that in the situation they come from, they often feel helpless and powerless. We discussed with each member how it felt to lead and have others do as they pleased. All of them liked it.
We spent some time speaking with the facility psychiatrist afterwards and answering questions she had. She told us a little bit about each child and how the women had a positive response to their morning music session. Everyone was happy to know that the instruments were staying at the facility and could be used when desired/needed.

Because I am fairly new to the field, I don't have a wide spectrum of experience yet regarding various populations. I had not worked with individuals affected by abuse prior to this. As you can imagine, walking in to a situation like this can be daunting. Couple this with the fact that you can't speak with them directly because of a language barrier and it becomes down right scary. Obviously I survived and was able to contribute to the work God was doing there. He's so faithful!
It broke my heart to look at the faces of young girls who were separated from their families because the people who were supposed to love them the most decided to sell them in to prostitution. Even now writing this, the righteous anger is growing. But I must remember that their Heavenly Father loves them more than anyone here ever could, and he hasn't abandoned them. In fact, he's given them a safe place to heal and grow.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Visit to Orphanage "Sveti Ivan Rilski"

On Saturday morning a group of 11 of us visited the orphanage.  There were three people from Down Syndrome Education International, four from Connecting the Rainbow, Amy and I from BRIGHT, and two moms with children with Down Syndrome from Sofia.  We had been told that there were some allegations against the orphanage and that they may be stand offish.  Who wouldn't be with 11 people visiting your facility even if you didn't have any allegations.

We spent some time talking with the standing director, the orphanage psychologist, and another official person from the orphanage.  They told us about their orphanage and answered questions of what some of the needs of the children were.  This particular orphanage is both a daycare and an orphanage.  Many of the baby houses are being closed due to lack of money so many orphanages opt to also be a daycare.  We heard how many doctors were under the philosophy that it is better to terminate than to have children with disabilities.  88% of pregnancies that indicate any issues with the prenatal testing are terminated.  Their prenatal testing is not as accurate as ours so there are probably many pregnancies that are terminated that may have been typical children due to many false positives.  People don't want children with Down Syndrome but don't know anything about it and wouldn't even be able to identify a child that had it when presented with a group of children.  So many are operating on lack of knowledge and lack of acceptance of anything different.  It breaks my heart the children who are not given a chance because of a disability or the # of chromosomes.  Children are children and should be loved as that, period.

We were told that there were 100 children at the orphanage.  We were offered a tour to see the children.  However, we only saw maybe 30 and some of those were a very quick glance.  There were rooms that we were not allowed into as these were isolation rooms as the children were returning from the hospital or just new to the orphanage.  We were told we could not take pictures.

The experience of the tour will always be in my memory.  I wanted to gather all these children up and just give them hugs and tell them that someone loved them.  Almost a month later, and I can still see the children's faces in my head and feel that tap on my shoulder from those that just want some attention and love!

The first room we went to was one of the daycare rooms.  There were three girls in this room, it appeared one was receiving some type of therapy.  The other two were just sitting in chairs.  One was in a wheelchair and we were told that she was four years old.  She looked to be the size of a four year old.  Has anyone ever seen a four year old with at least four, if not, eight permanent teeth?  This child would hold our hands and smile with any bit of attention whether through talking or touch.  The other child in the other chair was definitely overwhelmed by new people and attention and would scream when anyone came near her.  However, she did calm when I sang "Itsy Bitsy Spider" very quietly and helped her do the motions.  The third little girl was a spitfire.  She was given a break from the therapy that she was receiving to interact with those of us in the room.  She thoroughly enjoyed hugs and talking with us even if we just nodded and smiled.  While we giving her hugs and talking with her, the person giving us the tour said "she can walk".  As if to say, put her down and then she took the girl to the parallel bars and had her show us how well she walked.  The orphanage worker, I believe the psychologist, told the girl, "If you walk to me I will give you a kiss."  The girl began blowing kisses and walked as quickly as she could to the adult.  However, she didn't receive the kiss that she was promised.  We continued to hug and interact with her.  At one point, one of us put her down and the girl went over to the orphanage worker and asked for a hug.  The girl was immediately put on time out, this just about killed me.

We then moved on to a group of four rooms that were all connected by half walls with windows from waist to ceiling.  The first three rooms had two or three children, many of whom were infants that were just laying around looking at the ceiling.  The fourth room had about nine small cribs lining the four walls.  This room had children who were a bit older up to four or five, I would guess.  Children with hydrocephalus, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other medical conditions.  There was a play mat where two children were out playing, one of these his family was in the final adoption stages through Reece's Rainbow.  The care provider for this room just sat in the corner with no affect.  It was evident that many of these children did not move from their crib.  There was a boy with hydrocephalus towards the entrance to the room but every time the care provider walked past him, she turned her back to him as if purposefully not to look at him as she may get what he has.  These children reached out of their cribs to get attention and were as darling as could be and were thriving on the attention with giggles and smiles.  As soon as the tour guide saw this, it was time for us to move on.

We had tried to schedule a music time with the children but this was not an option as it was visiting time for some children and then it was lunch time.  We did donate instruments to the orphanage.  After the tour, we returned to talk again with the staff and told them about our donation.  The psychologist's eyes got very big when she saw the gathering drum and other instruments.  She said that many people make donations but typically of stuffed animals.  The stuffed animals have no purpose and do not teach the children anything.  She was excited that this was something that they could utilize.  Let's pray that they do, the children need some interaction and something to brighten their days.

After we exited the orphanage and were deciding what we were going to do for the afternoon while standing outside the orphanage, we heard them playing the drum in the office where we had been.  I guess they were excited about the drum.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sunday 3/20/11 World Down Syndrome Day One Day Early

Apologies for the delays in posts and the fact that they are not in order.  We are back to the schedule of daily life and free time to blog is limited.  Posts will come as time allows.

We got the privilege to participate in a conference organized by the Association of Parents of Children with Down Syndrome.  The conference was titled "How To Develop the Hidden Potential of Children with Down Syndrome".  The motto for the conference was "One Extra Chromosome Unites Us".
 The conference was a great success.  Total attendees was over 200.  In attendance were parents with children with Down Syndrome, therapists, care providers, teachers, doctors, and orphanage workers from all over Bulgaria.  Presenters included a Developmental Pediatrician, Researcher, and Speech Therapist from Down Syndrome Education International (, parents from the US that have biological and adopted children with Down Syndrome, and BRIGHT Children International.  We presented on Music Therapy and the various ways that Music Therapy can be used to address many skills for children of all ages and abilities.  Unfortunately, due to things starting a late, a common thing in Bulgaria, and the volume of information that everyone wanted to share, our time was shortened to an hour.  We would have liked to have more time and talk more in detail about how parents can utilize music in daily activities.

This was during one of our musical examples during our presentation.  We had the parents and professionals up and moving around as well.

While the other presenters were presenting.  We spent time doing music and interactive activities with the children with Down Syndrome that had come with their parents to the conference.  The children enjoyed their time.  As usual, the favorites included the guitar, big gathering drum and the parachutes.  One of the children, who has some Autistic tendencies in addition to Down Syndrome, when first introduced to the drum would only play it by taking other people's hands but by the end of the time he was initiating playing completely on his own.  There were many children highly responsive to the music and displayed great cause and effect and sense of rhythm.

The conference was a great success.  Families were empowered with knowledge and ideas on how to assist their children in reaching their potential.  Professionals were given ideas and hear research on what is working for children with Down Syndrome.  May this be a season of change for Bulgaria.  Mindsets need to change and hearts be opened to what a child can bring to the table regardless of chromosome count, color of skin, medical condition, or special need.  I know I am blessed to be able to work and learn from these children on a daily basis.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Friday. We have arrived!

After three flights for me and five flights for Bessie, we finally landed on Bulgarian soil. We collected our six fairly large, very heavy boxes of instruments to donate, and met Steve and Brigitte. Steve is an American missionary from Minnesota, and Brigitte is a mom of four, two with Downs Syndrome, from Iowa. We drove through a section of Sofia, Bulgaria that was distinctly 'communist.' Large cement apartment buildings that are dilapidated stand 15 stories tall. One building reminded me of a pez dispenser- that's how multi-colored the building was. Apartments are typically owned and not rented, so owners have the option of adding insulation to their apartment and then painting the exterior whatever color they choose.
Once Bessie and I took showers for the first time in what seemed like A VERY LONG TIME, I feel asleep, so I don't know what Bessie did.
Before we left for dinner, we began to divide the plethora of instruments so as to create gift bags for the conference attendees.

Dinner was at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant called "Vecelo Selo" (that's transliterated) meaning happy village. The food was delicious and plentiful! The entertainment was entertaining (see video on previous blog post). I enjoyed the evening immensely, but Valentina (my favorite Bulgarian) suggested that we leave the restaurant before 10pm because that's when the entertainment starts dancing on the tables.

Bessie and I packed 60 gift bags when we returned to the hotel and went to bed well past 1:00 AM.

The Top Ten Things I Learned in Bulgaria

10. Europe does not change their clocks at the same time as the USA, so it was only a 6 hour difference from EST and not 7... whoops...

9. Sunny Beach is not actually a sunny beach.

8. What a cockroach looks like- GROSS

7. Yes is no and no is yes. Bulgarians bobble their head from side to side when agreeing or saying yes, and nod their heads firmly when communicating 'no.' Very confusing...

6. If that's not bad enough, a B is a V, a P is an R, an X is an H, and an H is an N.

5. When at a traditional Bulgarian Restaurant, leave by 10pm, unless you want people to dance on your table.

4. The music played in public places is all American pop music, which was great for me, except when you're singing in the taxi and the cab driver turns down the radio, you are listening to "La Bumba" in an Irish Pub, or you hear Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" in March.

3. I am a very good driver. For those of you who would like to refute that statement, bite your tongue. I will take you Bulgaria and we'll see if you survive to change your mind.

2. If someone offers you a beverage- take it. If you don't (I don't know who would do such a thing) you might possibly end up with three beverages in front of you instead of zero. JUST TAKE THE DRINK.

and 1. Gathering drums are a hit with kids no matter where you are in the world :)

Friday, March 25, 2011

What We Learned About Bulgaria

Cities look very different than anything in the states.  The roads are very small and the driving is absolutely crazy.  People will pass you by creating their own lane--into oncoming traffice or up on the sidewalk, if one is going the wrong way, they just make a U turn wherever, and the parking is wherever one feels like parking.  Some people purchase a parking spot outside their residence or business and they install a lock system that prevents others from parking in that spot.  They then pull up, stop in the middle of the street, unlock the locks, and park.  It is very difficult to find things and get directions, as even the locals do not know the names of the roads.  Some of the roads cannot be distinguished from sidewalks.  While driving around, you may see a horse-drawn carriage in the midst of the traffic.

Most people live in owned apartments in buildings four to six stories high constructed in the Communist era.  These buildings are made of cement and have no insulation.  Owners of individual apartments will pay to add insulation to their apartment and this is evident by the addition of three to six inches to the exterior of the building for their particular space.  When they do this, the also will paint their section a different color including purple, pink, green, and blue.  It has recently been determined that adding the insulation and painting the outside is not allowed.  The buildings are old on the outside but often times when you walk into the individual apartments they reflect nothing of the outside appearance and are beautiful and well maintained.

In the states you typically know the location of good and bad neighborhoods but here you can have a mansion right next door to a dilapidated home.  Down the road from nice housing, you may find a gypsy camp.  We saw a gypsy camp where they had set up small shacks that consisted of a board and canvas covering.  There would be a hole cut out of the middle of the canvas to serve as a chimney.  They live out there when it is the dead of winter and middle of summer.  There is no blockage from the elements as there are no trees around. 

Bulgarian’s are not in a hurry to do anything, except for maybe drive.  The light will turn green and before one can put his/her foot on the gas someone two cars back, will be honking or will just pass in a non-existent lane.  Part of this is how they have set up the traffic lights because they hang directly above where the first car must stop, making it impossible to see when the signal changes.  They also have a countdown to the light change.  We even observed the nonchalant attitude at the drive thru at the McDonalds.  There were seven people in the car and we placed our order at the first window.  After placing the order, which took a while, they asked if we would like to get a frequent buyer card and complete the form.  The form was completed while still at the first window.

In Bulgaria, some gestures and non-verbal communication is different.  Rather than nodding their head “yes”, they bobble their head from side to side.  They nod their head for a “no”.  This was a difficult adjustment.  Children that we have worked with have been very confused when we nod our head but say “yes” or “good”.  While on the other hand, when we correct our nod to a bobble with adults, they laugh.

Bulgarians love their coffee.  There are vending machines on street corners with many different types of coffee drinks for purchase.  They also like to offer coffee or tea to their guests upon arrival.  In one day, we were offered coffee at three separate meetings in a time span of 4 hours.  If you don’t accept their offer for coffee, like Amy, you may just end up with three drinks in front of you. 

Showers also do not have shower curtains.  Imagine our surprise when we looked in the bathrooms at our hotel and apartment where there was not a curtain.  No matter how hard we tried, water was everywhere.  We did manage to keep the toilet paper dry.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Let the Journey Begin

This journey seemed like it was so far off when I first got in contact with Andrea Faris from Reece’s Rainbow in July.  Now the journey is upon us and we are on our way for the first trip of, hopefully, many for BRIGHT Children International.  God has opened doors and brought together many connections to make this trip happen.  First of all, there was the fundraising that had to be done.  God provided many generous people that donated time, items, money, and participated in our inaugural.  The result to date of fundraising is $11, 337.00.  Thank you to all of you that made this a reality! With such success, all event expenses, non-profit set up expenses, and our first trip with instruments to donate were fully funded.  The inaugural fundraiser was a memorable evening with beautiful music, a wonderful setting, and great people all with the heart to support a new venture.  

We are now embarking on the first adventure for BRIGHT.  The bags are packed and movement eastward has started.  Packed in our baggage are 5 gathering drums, 60 kid’s wave drums, 250 egg shakers, 125 rhythm stick pairs, 115 single jingle bells, a 5 hand drum set, 100 CDs with Bulgarian children’s music, a small djembe, 150 printouts of our PowerPoint presentation, and a rhythm CD.  17 boxes arrived to BRIGHT’s office three weeks ago and were consolidated down to 6.  There was thought of shipping these ahead, but costs were prohibitive and it was substantially less expensive to just check the bags as extra luggage and it also provided reassurance that the packages would actually arrive to our destination.  Here are some pictures of the packing process.

Thursday afternoon, Amy and Bessie will depart from Detroit and via stops through Newark and Munich will arrive into Sofia, Bulargia Friday at 12:00pm.  At the airport, Tanja Pankratz a missionary with SEND will greet us.  Tanja has been instrumental in organizing the Down Syndrome parent group in Sofia and planning the conference being held on Sunday.  Friday afternoon will be spent getting settled and preparing for the schedule for Saturday.  It will also involve meeting with those members of the Connecting The Rainbow team with whom we have partnered.  Amy and Bessie will unpack the boxes and group the instruments to be distributed to 51 families with children with Down Syndrome, orphanages, schools, and a safe house. 

The details for Saturday have yet to be announced.  However, this Saturday happens to be a day where everyone must go to work.  It is to make up for a holiday that was given during the week in the past month or two.  Due to this orphanage directors will have to be in the orphanage on a Saturday, opening the doors for us to visit.  We are anticipating visiting at least one orphanage and providing interactive music to the children and donating instruments that will remain at the orphanage with ideas on how to utilize these with the children.  Connecting The Rainbow will also be providing art and other activities and donations.  In the evening, there will be a gathering of families with children with Down Syndrome and the Downs Ed group.  This will be a time for families to interact with other families, those from Downs Ed and Connecting The Rainbow, and us.

Sunday is a big day.  There is a daylong conference from 9am to 5pm with four presentations by professionals who work with children with Down Syndrome.  BRIGHT will provide a presentation regarding Music Therapy and providing examples of ideas on how families, teachers, and therapists can incorporate music to assist their children to develop skills and be successful.  BRIGHT will also be providing an interactive music group for those children at the conference and consultations with families as time allows.  When the plans first started for this trip, there were going to be 30 families and a handful of professional where going to be in attendance.  As of Sunday, there are 51 families, 30 therapists, and 30 “others”—teachers, doctors, etc.  The number is expected to grow.  One thing we have learned is that Bulgarians do not plan ahead and do things last minute.

Over the course of the last few months, Bessie has been in contact with another missionary who works in Stara Zagora, two and a half hours from Sofia.  When Bessie first shared about the trip to Margie, she offered to work a way to work with groups in that area if the right doors opened.  Margie began talking with an orphanage and a women’s shelter/safe house with whom she works; both groups welcomed the opportunity.  Sunday, after the conference, we will head to Stara Zagora. 

Monday will be a day spent at the Nezabravka orphanage.  We will have the opportunity to work with the younger children up to six years and meet with a teacher at the orphanage.  We will possibly have the opportunity to visit Samaritan’s Women’s Shelter.  In the later afternoon, we will return to the Nezabravka orphanage to work with the older, school-age children.  We will also have a dinner meeting with teachers and others who are interested in learning more about Music Therapy.

Tuesday will have another opportunity to visit the Samaritan’s Women’s shelter and work with the children doing some therapeutic music interventions.  We will also have a chance to talk with the psychologist of the shelter to share about Music Therapy and who it could be beneficial to those at the shelter.  We will have the chance to do activities with the donated instruments.  After these visits, we will head back to Sofia to allow us to get ready for our return to the states bright and early Wednesday morning.

Somewhere in the midst of the busy schedule there are two more missionaries that we would like to at least meet and talk with.  We will see what time allows.

We are hoping to provide pictures and blog entries as things happen.  In the meantime, here are some ways that you can be praying for us.  First of all safe travels, there are many connections, details, and miles to cover.  Secondly, a smooth transition to the time zone with little jet lag.  We hit the ground running and will be very busy.  Thirdly, that the orphanages and facilities we visit will be open to what we have to share and accept the donations and actually use them with all children in their care.  Lastly, that we will help empower the parents who are raising their children without supports. 

Thank you for your prayers and support and following our journey.  Keep following along and see what happens.