Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Trip of a Lifetime

Reporting stateside...Hope you had the opportunity to see our Skype Shot on WFMY-TV2, The Good Morning Show at 5:45 AM this morning. If you missed it, you can go to and click on The Trip of a Lifetime to see the video. The comments bar will take you to photos of the trip and additional commentary. Thanks to Rosemary Plybon for making this happen!

Lorna Devkota, representing the Dustin's GreenHouse Globetrotter's, did a beautiful job conveying the differences between the living conditions in Romania and at home. She commented on "how much we take for granted in America and that can't be said enough." Lorna recounted their earlier visit to a hospital, unpainted with cracked tiles, which was filled with abondoned children. It felt more like they were in a prison; there was no air circulating.

The DGH team will undoubtedly come home with a greater appreciation of what we have here in America. Their horizons have been broadened by experiencing the rich culture in Romania, learning about the people and most significantly, working alongside with them, improving their living conditions.

The Romanian Adventure is almost over, but the impact of the journey will be lasting in ways beyond measure.

'Til next time...Ashley Staton

Irony - 21st century technology meets 17th century life

Standing here with a group of our girls at the Barsana Monastery in Barsana, Romania.

Half of our group is helping separate wool threads that the nuns will use for sewing clothes and blankets. The other half has gone with one of the sisters to change bed sheets in the pilgrims' house.

Hoping to connect with WFMY this morning, so if you are up, tune in!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Viseu de Sus by Train and Foot

We pushed the girls hard today and boy did they step up to the challenge! Breakfast was at 5:30am. We boarded the bus at 6:00am and made the 1.5 hour drive to Viseu de Sus in order to be on the Carpathian Steam Train platform by 7:30am.

I am learning that you just have to laugh at the girls in moments like these... They come dressed in PJ's, they can hardly form complete sentences, and they will lean on absolutely anything (walls, windows, bags, each other) with hopes of catching a few additional minutes of sleep.

Fortunately, out of the exhaustion came triumph; everyone in our group can say that she added another 7+ miles to her growing list of outdoor accomplishments. During our walk we had the opportunity to play with young kids who would run out of their homes as we passed through their villages. We inhaled a delicious picnic lunch in the fields of a famous Romanian monastery (in one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen in my entire life). We even tasted a "sweet" from a local woman who saw us passing by... she came out with a cardboard shoebox in-hand and shared homemade chocolate treats with everyone in our group. (Size 8, they were just perfect!)

For those of you who received phone calls from your girls this afternoon... they miss you dearly. A couple were in tears when they got back on the bus; a short wave of homesickness on the tail-end of an exhausting day. They broke out the Lee Greenwood God Bless the USA shortly after, and then laughter ensued… no worries, they are all in great spirits.

I am having a tough time loading pictures from here, but promise to share more soon. We are off to the nunnery and Cluj tomorrow. Sweet dreams America. We will be home soon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vadu Izei Earlier Today

From Ashlie: "A quick note to let you know we have arrived in Vadu Izei. We are living with a local family in three different houses (Sylvia's, Anka's and George's). We wake to sheep, roosters, chickens...pretty much every farm animal you can imagine. Meals have been spectacular: fresh cheeses, chicken, tomatoes, eggs and veggies."

"We are about to head out on a walking tour of the village. This will be followed by another hands-on cooking class and later a Romanian Folk Festival." (As I gathered from Ashlie, the festival turned into a dance party. I'm sure more to follow on that note!)

"We love and miss you to pieces!!!"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action

The girls have requested that we post some of the video we have taken during our travels. Here’s to foreign airports, first arrivals, Romanian food and new friends!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back in Oradea

In case you missed the flood of status updates on Facebook from the GreenHouse girls earlier today, we are back in Oradea. We picked up our long-lost Sara Corcoran at the hotel this afternoon. A huge relief considering she made the journey over all on her own! (A huge thank you to Ashley Staton and my grandmother for all of your help coordinating logistics!!!) Now it's off to Baia Mare tomorrow for part two of the adventure. More updates to come!

Hope Grows Here

For our last night is Poiana, we wanted to create an experience that could move us away from some of the pettiness and “drama” that comes when a group has been in close quarters and sleep deprived for a long period of time, and into a spirit of family.

We were in a magnificent setting with a mountain backdrop, a clear river washing over rocks as our lullaby, and our host family simply and joyfully exuding love; yet we had quite a bit of discord.

Earlier in the trip, we had small group dialog that had produced some very positive response. So we decided to build on that and focus on ways in which we had immersed ourselves in the village culture and on the fact that you never really know what someone else’s life is like until you “walk in their shoes.”

Our night-time skies prior had been filled with stars, and the girls barely noticed them. We, as leaders, decided to try to bring the girls together around a campfire, observe the stars, and have an open discussion. Storms were threatening earlier in the day, but by the time dinner was finished, the skies had cleared somewhat, and our helpers expertly built a teepee from wood that the girls assisted in gathering.

We started out slowly, talking about our observations of life for the villagers and how it contrasts to ours; the strong work ethic, simple organic foods, the focus on family and on nature. Then we gradually began to share some of our own differences and challenges. Some of our girls have gut-wrenching stories, and all of them have amazing gifts as well as individual challenges. The ways in which they – and the leaders – opened themselves up and reached out to support and surround each other truly broke down barriers and opened new doors of acceptance and love.

What beautiful energy for us to take into the remainder of our journey. One of our leaders (Joan) had stones made by a potter from the North Carolina Mountains with “Hope Grows Here” on the front and Dustin’s GreenHouse on the back. Our last night in Poiana was the perfect opportunity to share those with the group. We were all filled with such emotion. As it turned out, although the sky was covered in clouds last night, our stars were on the ground.

~Sheryl Bryan

Fun, Games & In The Kitchen

Yesterday was interesting. We helped prepare a traditional Romanian dish names Sormales. To me, helping make the food means so much more than eating the food the host provides. For us, in my mind, it lets me know that they trust us enough to include us in a part of their culture.

Also, we visited the Bears Cave!!! This was so interesting. It also lets you know America is not the only place that has history.

To close out the day, we had a sister-to-sister talk where we reached out to each other. We discovered that everyone here has a lot in common. You never know a person until you really talk to them. This brought us together in a way I could not have imagined. This next week will bring us together even more.

~Johnisha Watlington

To the top, as a team!

One of the hardest things 4 me 2 do on this trip was the hike. I guess it's because I'm out of shape and I usually don't exercise. At the beginning my legs were burning and I was complaining more than all the other girls. But Ashlie stayed behind with me and helped me stretch my calf muscles so that my legs wouldn't hurt as bad... I grabbed a walking stick and started having fun. In the end I fell about 4 times and got stung in the head 7 times by an angry set of bees, but I lived to make it 2 the top and I was like the 3rd person to make it to the bottom.

~Ashley Hunt


My favorite part of the trip so far has been the hay festival. We woke up Thursday morning and after breakfast and a quick trip to the market, were told to grab a rake tool or a pitchfork. It was so interesting to see these hand-carved wooden pitchforks. I know in America we are used to seeing hay rolled up in the fields, but that is all done by machine. In Romania, they spend hours every day to bail their hay by hand. I gained so much respect for them as a people because of their work ethic.

The Romanian way of life is so strikingly beautiful to me. I wish America was less urbanized and spoiled so we would be more appreciative of our surroundings and what we do have.
We turned the hay bailing chore into a competition (who could rake their pile the fastest). But I kept thinking about how it isn’t a game to them, it is a way of life.

After bailing the hay, we went to the village school. It was so depressing to see these children beg and try to trick us into giving them what we had in our Give a Gallon bags. We played games and sang in the field behind the school in the beginning. Entertaining them was fun because they caught on pretty quickly. It was just hard to give our gifts at the end because it just didn’t feel like enough. As Sammantha said Saturday night, there is a difference between being broke and being poor.

~ Kathleen Harrington

July 23rd, in Pictures:

July 22nd - In Pictures


Today is Wednesday, July 22nd and we just arrived in Poiana, the remote mountain village where we will be living for the next four days. It is only the first “official” day of our trip, and already it is difficult to comprehend all of the miles we have traveled and the things we have experienced that brought us to this point. Together, we have journeyed through heartbreak, wonder, laughter and exhaustion.

Our day started with a trip to the main hospital in Oradea. Sylvia, the hospital’s Chief Administrator and Adi, our Host in Poiana, had arranged for us to hand out Give a Gallon bags in the Gypsy, Pediatric Oncology and Abandoned Children units of the facility. Going into it, I knew the experience would be challenging, and we did our best to prepare the girls (and ourselves) for what was in store. Looking back on it now, I realize there is no way to prepare anyone for this type of experience.

Before going any further, I wanted to share a little bit about the Romanian healthcare system. Socialized medicine welcomes a mother to live with her sick newborn/toddler (in a private room) at ZERO expense up until the child turns three years of age. Once that child turns three, that mother can continue living alongside her child for as long as she chooses, but the state does begin charging the equivalent of $3.00 a day for room and board.

If this sounds like a system designed to be taken advantage of, in Oradea I can assure you that is exactly what is happening! As we walked the halls of the Gypsy wing of the hospital it was overly apparent that they operated more like a daycare or live-in shelter than they did a healthcare provider. We struggled differentiating between patients and visitors. Women lined the halls socializing with one another while their kids ran up and down playing. It was dorm life meets playgroup... absolutely craziness!

I asked Sylvia about the situation and she shook her head with disgust. She explained how the Gypsy families grossly abuse the system. Some come up with excuses as to why their children should be admitted: a runny nose, a small cough, diarrhea… then they either move in with the kids, or drop them off, go out for coffee and disappear for indefinite periods of time. We were all shocked to see that this is a way of life for a lot of families in Romania. Briana kept saying, “And I thought people in America abused welfare!”

I share this experience not to be political, but to point out the difference between the two cultures. So many of the parents I know dream of giving their children a better life. These women were strategically abusing the system; they are trapped in the cycle of poverty. It breaks my heart to think about their children's future... I don't know how they will ever learn how to break free.

Down the hall and blocked off from the Gypsy wing of the hospital is the Pediatric Oncology unit. Fortunately, I have not spent much time in American Oncology units, but the little bit I have experienced has been hopeful… doctors and patients optimistically evaluating ways to fight the horrible disease. The mood in the Oncology unit of the Oradea hospital is much bleaker. Some of our girls tried to give one of the patients a Give a Gallon bag and the nurse sitting beside the child's bed shrugged off the gesture. She mumbled something along the lines of, “Don’t waste your bag on this child, she is going to die.”

If you think this is gut-wrenching, go up another 2 flights of stairs to the floor for Abandoned Children. You know you are somewhere different the second you arrive. While no place in the hospital is in quality condition, here the floors are missing tiles, paint is peeling off the walls and the air is still and eerily silent. Sylvia introduced us to the ONE nurse who works in this unit, and together they walked my group in and out of rooms on the hall.

The first room we visited was divided into two halves; there were three children one side and two on the other. Thankfully one of the five kids living in this dismal space appeared healthy. She rested quietly in a carrier on the floor. Just above her head were two cribs, one with a young boy who has Down Syndrome and another with a 5-month old little girl who is paralyzed from the waist down. The little girl with the spinal injury was positioned on a pillow such that her legs looked hyper extended. When I went over to pick her up I quickly realized how long it had been since anyone had cradled this child in their arms – much less exercised her legs. Her legs were unbelievably stiff and there was a white fungus-looking substance growing in the creases above her knees.

On the other side of the room we met a young boy who was born with a disease that causes his head to grow at a disproportionate rate than the rest of his body. His name is Istavan and Sylvia told us he has very little brain function. It bothered all of us to see how quickly Sylvia dismissed him because of his condition – again it was the “he won’t notice, so do not bother” attitude.

The child that stole my heart was lying in the crib next to Istavan. Her name is Evaleen and she is three years old. Evaleen has a terrible clef pallet, obvious developmental disabilities, seven fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. When we first approached her crib, she was lying on her side with her back to us. She would move her legs if I rubbed her feet and rock slightly as I stroked her back. I do not know if Evaleen was capable of sitting up, but she eventually rolled over onto her other side, allowing us to stare back into her deep and lonely brown eyes.

This is the point where I lost it emotionally. I stepped out into the hall to get a breath of fresh air and fell to the floor in tears. These kids have no one yet need everyone. Their physical disabilities are one thing, the absence of love and care is another. Why God, Why??????? Life is not passing children like Evaleen by; life never came to Evaleen and Istavan in the first place.

I could not bring myself to take pictures while we were in the hospital. In many ways, I did not need to because the experience will forever be engrained in my mind. Please say a prayer for these children, and for these families. It will not be the last time you hear me speak of them. While I do not know what we can/should do, I know we have to do something.

We are now three hours outside of the buzz of city life. You could describe the place where we are staying as a cute little house in a big, beautiful wood. (There are actually two houses here – a main house where 11 girls are sharing 5 rooms and 1 bathroom, and a river house where 10 girls are sharing 3 rooms, a pullout couch and 1 bathroom.) We keep the windows open at night so that we can marvel at the stars and enjoy the melody of the river. If ever there was a place where you could try to make sense of the craziness in this world, perhaps it is here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Journey So Far...

The Dustin's GreenHouse team has visited a local hospital where they gave 100 (of the 300 taken) Give a Gallon bags to orphan children.

100 more Give a Gallon bags were taken to a school in the village of Gorani. The DGH girls did relay races with the students, elementary through 8th grade. To share our American culture with them, the girls played Duck Duck Goose and danced the Hokey Pokey. Our girls were adored by the students and were treated like celebrities. The air was delightfully filled with laughter, singing and clapping.

Before school, the girls bailed hay which naturally became a contest to see who could build the higher mountain (of hay.) With only a rake and pitch fork in hand, the girls were mounding hay around a pole. The locals would push the DGH girls to the top of the "mountain" where they could compress the hay, dancing like "Ring around the Roses."

In freezing cold water, in their bathing suits, the girls played in the river behind the cottages where they are staying.

Divided into teams for breakfast and lunch, the girls are setting the tables and cleaning up after meals. They are washing their clothes in the river and are making their beds each morning. Parents and guardians, take note!!!

Being without the usual amenities and not too concerned with appearances, the girls are boasting "hot mess" hair!

The food is good and the DGH team has eaten very well. Goulash, schnitzel, and meat knish are a few of the native dishes they've sampled. Raven was prepared by bringing 2 power bars for each day in case she did not like the food, but has not needed them!

The team, girls and leaders, have shared a "natural sanctuary" devotion in small groups.

Reminiscent of our hikes in Boone, the team completed a rigorous 5-mile hike where they chose the waterfall versus the trail version. At times they were wading in water chest-high. Asked to rank the degree of difficulty, Ashlie said "just shy of needing to be strapped or cabled." WOW!!! Ashia commented that "If I can do this, I can do anything!"

When not in the water, the jungle boy guides were clearing the way for the team by thrashing brush along the way. Genny and Nikki said the "American boys need to step it up a notch."

Some random thoughts from your stateside reporter...

Technology is amazing! When Ashlie called this morning, she sounded like she was sitting right beside me. And within the next two hours, Janii and Adi were on the radio, 1075 KZL, live from Romania. Forget about the old-timey radio, I listened on my computer.

Earlier today, Sara Corcoran, a Dustin's GreenHouse leader, was departing for Romania to join the group and we were going over some last minute details. I was sharing pieces of what the team has experienced so far and we were both filled with emotion. Sara, exhilarated by what lies ahead for her and me feeling a part of the team although they are halfway around the globe.

The Dustin's GreenHouse Globetrotter Romanian adventure has barely begun, but the impact is already immeasurable both in what has been given and what has been received.

'Til next time...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Live from Romania

Good Morning Friends of Dustin's GreenHouse! Tune in this morning to 107.5 KZL at 9:50 - the girls will be reporting LIVE from Romania on the Jack Murphy show! Janii James will be our correspondent today. More to come on the Romanian Journey...stay tuned. and click on the "Listen Live" button or access via this link:

Reporting stateside - Ashley Staton

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We have arrived!

Apologies in advance for the quality of this post… I am nearing a point of deliriousness, but wanted to share a quick update since our arrival in Romania.

Just before noon we made our way out of the Budapest airport. Unfortunately, we had to leave two bags short... Janii and Samm's bags did not make the journey. Thankfully, both girls are handling the situation with grace and patience.

Our group loaded into two vans and buckled down for the last leg of our trip, a 155 mile drive into Oradea, Romania. We drove through beautiful sunflower fields, past a couple of meager towns and by several rundown, institutional-looking buildings.

When we finally arrived at the hotel, our gracious hosts awaited. Thank you to Adi, Lavi and their beautiful daughters, Becky and Sai, for providing us with an incredibly warm welcome to the country.

After a massive baggage unload and a quick "fluff," we sat for dinner at a local pizza restaurant located on the bank of the Crisul River. After a long meal and many more laughs, we are (finally) off to bed, or if you are cool, to the party in room 218 "where the Dustin's GreenHouse Ladies get in for free." (Don't worry parents, the party is in Lorna and Briana's room and they are playing board games.)

A bit of airport humor collected over the past two days:

"They have the same message here; sex sells."
~Raven Wilson

"I asked the lady if they had a water fountain and she told me to use the water in the toilet."
~Ashia Neal

"I have already taken 125 pictures and we haven't even left the airport."
~Kathleen Harrington

"I just met a dude from Israel and officially shook his hand. How cool is that!"
~Ashley Hunt

A Grateful Perspective (from Romania)

The journey has officially begun. We are 21 strong and Frankfurt-bound, and already our girls look like a posse of professional travelers. Despite the fact that this is only the second plane many of them have ever been on (Greensboro to Philly being the first), they have been quick to adjust to the life of a jet-setter.

Of the girls I can see from my seat...

- Adrian is watching re-runs of Desperate Housewives on her seatback television screen
- Monisola has her hair wrapped in a scarf, her head propped on a pillow and seems to be enjoying a good book
- Samm and Briana are snoozing - both out like a light only minutes after boarding
- Audra is talking the ear off of the woman next to her
- Lorna, whom I cannot see but I can hear, is laughing out loud on occasion
- Lakeya is beaming with excitement as the "Lufa-ya-ya" (better known as Lufthansa) beverage cart inches close to her seat

From a leader perspective, I think I speak for all of us in expressing a deep sigh of relief. All of the girls made it to the airport (on time), we maneuvered them through check-in, past security and onto the Philly-bound plane.
Once in the Philadelphia airport, we watched in awe as they scarfed down enough MacDonalds and China Express (in tandem for many) to last them the entire two weeks we are gone.

Just knowing that their bellies are full, their minds are entertained and their spirits are happy, I can momentarily breathe easy. Day one is off to a beautiful start, and for that I am very grateful.

On the Way

The Dustin's GreenHouse team is on the way to Romania! There was so much excitement at the Greensboro airport awaiting departure, the anticipation of flying over the "big pond," a first for many, and the adventure yet to be experienced.

We all, team members, family and friends joined hands in a circle of prayer prior to the girls' leaving. Thank you, Raquel, for your uplifting words!

I got the message of a safe first leg arrival in Philly, although the flight was a bit bumpy. Will update on Tuesday after the team arrives in Budapest with photos of departure.

'Til next time...