Category Archives: Travel

Kao Jai.

Two months ago I began my journey of starting something that matters with a long, tedious trek up switchback mountain roads and down muddy paths to a small, privately owned coffee farm. At that point, I honestly didn’t know what sparked this fire inside of me, but I knew that it was something that I needed to follow even if it was done blindly. The dictionary defines the word understand as an individual’s ability to be sympathetically or knowledgeably aware of the character or nature of something. In this context, understanding someone or something means that an individual must take on, or experience, the thing or person’s life as their own.

Understanding in a world with such a significant language barrier has opened my eyes to how precious communication truly is. Back home, stories and experiences are publicly displayed on social media giving people the opportunity to live vicariously through others. I have never doubted that a tweet is worth 140 characters or a picture a thousand words, but experiencing something firsthand is priceless.

This opportunity of living in an area where I am unable to speak the language has come as a blessing in disguise. During my visit to the coffee farm, the mother of the family graciously invited me to sit and eat lunch under a small, bamboo shack that was constructed to protect the family members from the weather. Words were not exchanged, yet it was evident that each person sharing that meal together was sympathetically aware of the character and nature of one another. Honestly, not being able to speak with one another made this moment truly unforgettable.

Kao Jai Coffee

Kao Jai Coffee

No matter how successful Kao Jai Coffee may or may not be, living a life that is aware, curious, and sympathetic helps me better understand not only others, but myself as well. Sharing helps show others, but never forget that experiencing leads to understanding.

For more info check out: www.kaojaicoffee.com

Spunănd “La Revedere” [Saying "Until Next Time"]

Departures are so hard. Having to say goodbye to someone that you’ve spent every day with for almost 3 months is not easy. Now multiply that by the number of girls I spent everyday with...

We had such a beautiful last week together! I got to spend a lot of personal time with the girls working alongside them, visiting the city with them, and specifically making time to talk and just be with each of them before I left.

We made jam and cracked nuts [the Romanian way]...1075778_10201649135736893_1111101987_n 1010839_10201649136416910_791346690_n

...took care of our chickens and bunnies...

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...played music and sang our hearts out...

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... took a trip to Ciuperca to see the entire city and just talk and enjoy the hike...

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... invaded a sunflower field, just for fun..

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...I surprised them with a sleepover and American-style pancakes for breakfast the next morning...

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... As they surprised me with my favorite meal as well as some heartfelt wonderful gifts!! (hopefully I will have pictures of them to post later!)

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I will miss their smiling faces, big hugs, and amazing hearts immensely. I can’t believe how quickly the summer flew by! They tell me to stay and come back, and I’m praying that I’ll have the opportunity to do that in the future. Until then, I can’t wait to keep seeing them grow in maturity and as adults- they have so much potential in them and I want them to use it! They know that their Mami loves them, and sends a huge hug to all her girls... until we meet again.

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Oportunități [Opportunities]

First of all, we finished off the retreat splendidly last week!

Besides the intense bowling and Mexican night..

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We also underwent the grand and slightly dangerous experience of go-cart racing, several rounds of bilingual games at the park, many fun and humorous hours at the strand (pool), and slept in an indoor fort that the volunteers created.

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(See, I even got to do some of the medical work that I love!)1002935_10151866356349881_1902443266_n 1006231_10151870817194881_607549131_n  1043911_10201593615268916_1406370605_n 1010058_10201593618629000_1890187187_n

It’s amazing to see how much the girls appreciate a retreat and break after they worked for it and earned it! It’s hard to teach them that balance oftentimes. In the orphan homes, they got accustomed to having their needs provided for without having to work for it. Now that they’re entering the real world, they want to continue having that- this is the reason why many girls leave the Beauty from Ashes program or don’t complete it. If they’re not willing to work, be responsible, and follow rules, then life  will hit them in the head they will have to step up to their role or end up on the streets. Those who realize this have had much success in the program and were also able to appreciate this retreat to the fullest!

However, it’s also hit me really hard this past week how limited our girls are due to injustice. Unfortunately, even our girls who have worked so hard to get integrated into society and have a better, brighter future are judged by their skin color and background. Employers take one look at them and don’t give them a second thought. Being in America since the age of 5, I got used to the concept of the “Land of Opportunities” and am now being reminded how harsh and unjust life is for those who don’t have these opportunities. These things fire me up, and I do everything in my power to prepare this girls for their interviews and encourage them.

One of our girls who’s been in the program the longest and is a college graduate interviewed for a position in her domain as a nurse! I so highly anticipate the day when she will take her rightful place that she’s earned in the medical field through nursing!

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Along these same lines, I was given the neatest opportunity this week: I got to share a little about my views on the previously listed injustices as well as about Romanian Orphan Ministries and my life in an interview for Digi24 Oradea, a TV show here in Romania! Whenever I was asked to do this, I had no idea what to expect, but I interviewed today and the airing is tomorrow at 7:00pm Romania Time (11:00am Central Time, 12:00pm Eastern Time) both on TV and they’re website,

http://www.digi24.ro/Stiri/Regional/Digi24+Oradea/

under the live tab. Through the questions that he asked me during the duration of the interview, I shared a bit of my views and pointed out injustice as an issue. I also got to tell the television world about ROM and what they do, and how I got here. My girls were so sweet when finding out about my interview: they all rushed to help with make-up, finding a taxi, and getting ready. It’s so awesome seeing what they’ve learned throughout their time at the center on how to be a good friend!

(Interview ready)

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As the older girls build character, the younger girls that are at the center daily have started wanting to be like them, and have picked up some good traits actually! When it’s been my turn to work with the little girls these past couple of days, they always want to do things that I do with the older girls: school, cleaning, feeding the animals, singing... ect- it’s so sweet! When the older girls start participating in teaching them how to do these these things that they do, the little girls love it, and it teaches them good measures of patience and how to deal with children as well. This will definitely come in as a help for the girls who have started training others at their jobs at the center/boutique.

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As the week progressed, we celebrated the big boss (Corey’s) birthday, and had to say goodbye to two of our volunteers that are headed back to the States. Saying goodbye reminded me that I only have a week left before I have to undergo the same thing! (UNBELIEVABLE)

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Mămicuța Noastră [Our Mommy]

Every week brings something new: this one has brought me the honor of being called Mămicuța (Mommy), a title bestowed upon me this week by my girls. While those who usually stay with the girls are away, the responsibility has been given to me, as well as another volunteer, to watch over the girls and stay with them 24/7. I’ve been living the life and experiencing what it means to run such an organization and dedicate your entire life to it. And truly, it takes dedication and sacrifice- from the moment you wake up until your head hits the pillow at night, your free second is usually never yours.

Working with such girls not only brings the responsibilities that caring for seven full grown daughters would, but also requires an extra measure of attention that these girls need, the attention that they were never given at the orphan homes. From making food, to laundry, to any and every daily activity, you’ve gotta be there, working alongside them. Teaching them the family life must balanced with instruction in independence and responsibility. One of my girls, for example, had to find a new job today. Teaching her to grab a newspaper and call individuals or companies (opposed to wandering about aimlessly, hoping a job will somehow arise), and then make a plan of where she would go and in what order was a task. On top of that, she received a lesson on personal appearance in professional settings, such as the job interview. It’s the daily things like this that make life here such an incomparable experience, and honestly make me love it.

Since those usually in charge are on vacation for a couple of days, we decided to plan a small kind of retreat for the girls at the center- a few days for them to relax and enjoy activities they normally wouldn’t have the time to do during work and school.

We’ve taken the girls on day activities, like the movies and bowling, and still have other things, like go-carting and the pool planned!

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We try to get them to experience new things, like Mexican food, or learning how to play guitar during free time.

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They also get to enjoy the good ‘ole things we Romanians love, like our nightly volleyball games.

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And on top of it, we’re enjoying the time with our new visitor, Patricia Niculas from Atlanta, Georgia who is half Romania/ half American to top off the fun!

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It’s an honor to be called Mămicuța by these girls- to be accepted and loved by them on such a level, and to be able to show them so much love and care. Making the most of my time here is my big goal as my time is running out, and I know I’lll miss my girls immensely when the day comes that I have to say goodbye.

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Momente [Moments]

Moments come and pass so quickly. There are good ones, challenging ones.. and not a spare one at the Beauty from Ashes center:)

As usual, this week has been “hoppin,” and it’s not over yet as we are in the midst of preparations for our 4th of July celebration! (advantages of having an American boss)

This week has been full of volunteers... and cooking!

Our first set of volunteers arrived Monday. After a tour and elaboration on the Beauty from Ashes house and center, we took them out to enjoy the city for the day! We went to the piaţă (frest market) to buy food, ice cream, and a massive watermelon, and then took them to the cetate (old fortress of the city) for a relaxing afternoon of picnicking and playing fun Romanian games as the volunteers began to build friendships with the girls. It’s so unique how people of two completely different cultures, traditions, and languages can connect over similar pasts, love for the same kind of food, or a special talent (or lack thereof) of throwing a stick :)

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Another set of volunteers arrived that day as well and began helping us in the following days on a painting project. Painting, just as any activity, is a great opportunity for the girls to learn how to work with others, or how to serve those who have come to help them. Our team of volunteers and girls is doing splendidly.. but this may also be because their food is amazing :)

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Volunteers and hardworking girls must be fed.. so my kitchen team got to work, day after day...

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... enjoying occasional wedding ceremonies on the street as breaks!1000103_10201503726181745_1295584646_n

We’re also glad that our month-long volunteer, Heather, arrived today, and her first Romanian meal was home cooked deliciousness by my team- ardei umpluți! Yes, in Romania, we like our food- so we make it good.

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Besides the usual work that I do at the center, I’ve joined the team of English teachers at Emanuel University for their summer school program. The mornings that I can, I go teach young children, thus far mostly 9 through 11 year olds.

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^^ the flowers the kids made me and taught me how to make as an exchange for the English lesson ;)

Each day has brought such joy! Trials too.. I can’t lie and say that they haven’t caused a heavy cloud, for everyone carries the burden in this organization that is a family. However, the girls learn so much through every situation, and between singing and dishwater fights, their character grows more day by day-I’m proud of them!

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Încercări [Trials]

Another week has passed- it’s unbelievable how quickly time flies! With all the good that happens, some bad also insists on accompanying as well, and this busy week brought both good and bad. But we have to stay strong, and trust that things will all work out for the good.

This week started off with a trip to the small town of Buzias with one of the girls. In Romania, when students finish 8th grade, they have to pass a proficiency exam that allows their transition into high school based on two subjects- Romanian and Mathematics. This exam isn’t very easy, and I, along with several others, had been helping her prepare for it. So we returned to the town where she had finished her middle school years so that she could take this exam (we are awaiting final results!).

Below is a picture of the entrance to the high school where she took her exam

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As soon as I returned to Oradea, the next two days greeted me with the hustle and bustle of getting everything set up for the yard sale the organization was having. Along with clothes donation and items that the girls have handmade (such as headbands, earrings, ect.), we also sold baked goodies. The goodies were quite tempting... but the yard sale was a great joint interaction between everyone. This combined effort between volunteers, workers, and the girls teaches the girls how to be diligent, helpful, and attentive hosts.

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With all of the fun, events, and success that comes, there are also trials that come. With any organization that does work of this nature, there are daily, smaller challenges, and also massive, devastating hardships that attack, and that must all be overcome.

This week, I experienced the removal of a girl from the program as a consequence for her actions. When we accept someone at Beauty from Ashes, we don’t accept them as just another girl that we work with. No. We accept them as part of our family, showing them acceptance, sacrificing for them, and giving them the best that we can. The desire and heart of Corey and Diana who started this organization, as well as of all those working here, is to support the girls in creating a better life and loving them, so that Beauty can truly be created from Ashes.

But what I experienced this week, the betrayal, the lies, the thievery.. are some of the hardest things to experience from someone that you trusted and gave everything you could to help. I think we oftentimes forget the hardships that come from dedicating one’s time or life as in the case of Corey and Diana, to helping these girls. As much love and time that you invest into a person, that’s how much hurt you can receive in return if they decide to turn back to their old ways. But we don’t focus on this, and even though hurt happens, it’ll all pass if we can help other girls. We stay strong-we keep loving, caring, and praying everyday, trusting that everything is for a reason.

No matter what trials, I look forward to seeing my girls everyday. Whatever may happen... it’s worth it to me if a couple find new hope in the horizon for their lives and set off on a better road, slowly creating Beauty from Ashes.

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 :)