Life Skills

CEO & Founder Deidre Pujols Visits Moldova

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Recently, Open Gate International Founder and CEO Deidre Pujols visited her team and partners on the ground in Moldova. Her visit was perfectly timed, as the first major culinary project officially launched this Fall 2017.

Here is OGI Moldova President Anatol Malancea and Open Gate International Founder and CEO Deidre Pujols standing in front of the “open gate” of the church and new culinary project in the village of Antonesti.

OGI helped a local village church turn a formerly unused garage space into a fully functioning training kitchen. Now, the space is being used to train young women ages 12 to 14 in the culinary arts along with life skills mentorship and community building. The space will also function as an instruction facility for girls from the local school in the culinary arts. The village school previously had no functioning space for such a class, so when the principal heard about the new kitchen, they approached the project for collaboration.

Inside the newly renovated property of the culinary project in the village of Antonesti. This was formerly a storage garage.

Young women in the afterschool program meet for class 3 times per week for the entire semester (September to December – a new class will begin February to May). Classes have an excellent student to teacher ratio of 3 to 1, allowing for ample individualized instruction and quality mentorship time spent together. While the program centers around cooking, the primary goal is mentorship and the building up of self-esteem within each girl – together on the journey to “find their hero within.” Opportunities for personal growth and development are few and far between in the village. The prospect of a career or following dreams outside of the country are often accompanied by substantial physical safety risks. The majority of human trafficking victims in Moldova are from the rural areas where other opportunities are sparse and domestic violence rates are high.

TOP LEFT – Picture of the new student uniforms with OGI logo. 1st Class TOP RIGHT – Picture of the first 6 girls in the program. Class BOTTOM CENTER – Picture of the first 6 girls with Diana and Olga and Deidre.

Some of the girls and Deidre eating birthday cake that was made especially for Deidre’s birthday.

Warmth, friendship, strength, smiles, and singing emanated from the space, the teachers, and the girls.

Open Gate International exists for opportunities such as these, and we aren’t stopping here. From this culinary project, a scholarship program is being launched, encouraging young people from rural regions of Moldova not only to continue their studies, but to return to their villages to begin new endeavors creating opportunities for their families and communities.

More on this new scholarship program to come!

Moldova Safe Summer Wrap Up!

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As you may have read…

read previous post here

Open Gate International had the pleasure of partnering with Strong Foundations Moldova to provide ten young men with some fantastic opportunities this summer.

The program, entitled “Safe Summer” was designed to keep these young men from leaving Moldova in search of work over the summer – thus decreasing their vulnerability to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

When the dorms close for the season, many students leave for countries like Russia in search of work. It is illegal for underage youth to work full time in another nation officially, meaning many times, they go and work very hard all summer for little or no pay – labor exploitation.

This program provided them not only with physical safety but also ample opportunities for personal growth and fun!

Repairing a Fence

Volunteering

Some of the Safe Summer guys volunteering their time in a village to fix a woman’s fence that protects her garden from animals.

The woman’s fence is fully repaired! Way to go!

Extreme!

Summer Camp

One of the guys participating in an obstacle course at an extreme camp in Moldova.

Some of the Safe Summer guys at a summer camp in Moldov

Giving

Some of the Safe Summer guys giving watermelons to villagers

Swinging!

One of the Safe Summer guys having a little fun while volunteering in a village.

Watch What Safe Summer Means to Them!

Awareness Outreach Northern Moldova

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In the Fall of 2017, Open Gate International had the opportunity to partner with friends from the organization PELERIN in Riscani, a region in northern Moldova. OGI provided the primary funding for the 4-day event, reaching nearly 1,000 young people ages 14-20 and mobilizing over10 volunteers into 5 high school.

Volunteers from PELERIN and partner organization Beginning of Life presented programming focused on purposeful living, self-esteem, and anti-bullying. At the end of the outreach week, 400 of those young people attended a free concert in the region’s cultural center featuring popular Moldovan band, Not An Idol.

Impact

This initial outreach prompted a very positive response from 4 of the 5 schools visited. PELERIN has been asked by those administrations to return monthly in 2018 to hold presentations aboutvarious topics including: Drug Use and Addiction, Human Trafficking, Aids/HIV, and Abortion.

The following week, 100 students contacted a local youth outreach to get plugged-in to a healthy, vibrant community called “Youth House” where they will have weekly engagement with positive mentors.

Thank you for your continued support of our work at Open Gate International. Because of you and our partners here on the ground, young people in Moldova are discovering their hero within. Please enjoy this video from the outreach.

Open Gate International Hosts Training for Moldovan Friends Who Open Their Gates to Vulnerable Youth

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It was a 19 hour, intensive training for Moldovans working with children who have experienced trauma. Alex, Natalia, and Tabita from The Romania Without Orphans Alliance (ARFO) drove the 10-hour journey from west of Bucharest to Chisinau to present over the three days, in the Romanian language. The room contained a beautiful compilation of professionals and lay people, all dedicated to a similar call: competent compassion. In English, the title of the training is translated “Becoming a Trauma Competent Caregiver” and was designed by professional counselors, pastors, and social workers from the USA. This same training is used in orphan care settings all over the globe in an effort to better equip those working with traumatized youth. Trainees gain understanding of the goals of child welfare, essential skills of competent caregiving, and the possible effects of trauma upon a child’s development. They will also learn how to recognize the effects of ongoing stress, identify positive coping responses, teach new skills, and promote effective self-care for caregivers to decrease burnout.

In short, compassion is not compassionate unless it is also competent. It is quite trendy to say that love is all we need. This training helps those working with the most vulnerable take into consideration that our help (our good intentions) can also hurt, unless we deeply examine ourselves and make every effort to understand better the spiritual, emotional, educational, physical, and social needs of those we serve.

WHY THIS TRAINING?

A combination of intensely difficult home lives (poverty, domestic abuse, neglect) and also a good number of children who were raised in institutions across the former Soviet Union, has created a generation of immensely vulnerable young people in Moldova. This phenomenon is not limited to Moldova, reports from across the USA reveal that large percentages of children rescued from child trafficking were also in our foster care system. Children who are without the presence of just one caring adult in their lives, be it a mentor, coach, teacher, pastor, foster parent, family member, or adoptive parent are far more likely to be exploited. This is a worldwide truth.

The people represented in the room were pastors and future pastors, adoptive parents, foster families, NGO leaders, psychologists and social workers, firefighters and first responders, camp counselors, after school program directors and mentors. Each one represents unlimited potential to positively impact the life a child a risk here in Moldova.

WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME?

Of the 32 trainees, 26 returned their feedback forms. All of them reported that the content was relevant, clear, and applicable. They also expressed deep appreciation for the practicality of the training, with a good combination of theory and practice, as well as the ability of our main facilitator, Alex, to relate with the group. Alex and Natalia are married and have adopted 4 children in their home country of Romania. Their funny, yet honest, heartfelt and compelling experiences both challenged and encouraged everyone in the room. The training ended with a certification ceremony and graduation gift of the tremendously important work co-authored by the late Dr. Karen Purvis entitled, “The Connected Child,” which has been translated into Romanian. Here are a few testimonies from the training (translated from Romanian):

“This time of training was recharging and refueling for us, it was practical at the same time. I think we also learned we are not alone in this work, as we see all these other organizations and individuals here. We also see that we can apply what others have already learned and how it is working. I would like to say if you have further trainings, we want to be a part of this.”
– A Pastoral Counselor

“(A respected senior pastor from Moldova speaking to the rest of the trainees) It is up to us, what will we do with this. With courage, be sensitive to what God is speaking in your heart. The kids, orphans and others, need us. All of us are here for a reason… I believe that trainings like these for Moldovan families, will be just extraordinary!… Before we told our kids that they cannot speak about the past, but the realization is we need to address the past in order to heal. We can’t just talk about orphan care, we need to do what we are learning. Let’s bring together Moldovan families and share what we have learned and what are the joys of this work to call others into it.”

“In our project, we help biological and social orphans, and we are always having a goal to teach and educate them on how to live independently… but after these days of training, I realize that this is only part of what we must do. We must work to bring healing to these children (holistically). Also, I don’t have a family of my own yet, but when I do, I want to adopt a child. This conference has encouraged me further in that. Thank you.”
– Psychologist

“As we have sat and received this training… we are taking a break from our everyday jobs dealing with crisis… and we are just now realizing, after three days of rest and reflection, those trees are beautiful outside, the branches and the green leaves… (referencing the self-care module) you have to help yourself first before you can help others.”
– Military Psychologist

“Many say that you cannot work with these kids (orphans) because you don’t have the time or patience. But after these three days, I am realizing, it is possible!”
– Trainee

The Strong Foundations Summer Program Empowers!

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Open Gate International has been honored with the opportunity to partner with Temelii Tari (Strong Foundations), a Moldovan NGO, through sponsorship of its Safe Summer Program.

Over the last eight years, Mihail Chisari, the founder of Strong Foundations, has played a large role in the transformation of young men (social orphans and the vulnerable) from villages and cities across Moldova. His organization provides a valuable, structured program to largely unsupervised youth. In addition, with the school year ending and dormitories closing, these young men are tempted to seek full-time employment outside of Moldova due to many factors that contribute to youth unemployment. This often times means hard work, with little or no pay, and puts these young men at high risk of labor trafficking throughout Russia, Turkey, Israel, or other countries.

Strong Foundations summer program will utilize a hands on approach of two, full-time mentors to empower the young men by providing valuable life skills such as hygiene, conflict management, independent living, giving back to society, how to write a resume, and other positive, healthy habits. Along with the life skills portion of the summer program, the beneficiaries will be housed with the mentors in order to provide safe, structured living conditions.

One main component of the program includes the development of personal and social responsibility through helping the elderly. These outreaches will teach the youth that thinking of others and giving back is important to personal maturity.

Open Gate International believes that the Strong Foundations summer program is consistent with our mission and we are overwhelmed at the opportunity to partner for the summer. More updates to come as stories of growth and transformation are sure to follow.

Culinary Arts Program Update

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As we head into the home stretch of our 2nd session, the students of Open Gate International’s Culinary Arts Program are gearing up for their graduation. Week six transitions into the sweet elements of the program and everyone looks forward to it. Our students will be learning pastry, cakes, custards and cookies. All of the culinary elements at the graduation ceremony are prepared by our students.

We have ten students in this session and each of them has not only identified where they would like to work in the culinary field, but we have already set up interviews at those restaurants and some have already been hired.

Even though none of our current students knew each other prior to enrolling in our program, they have cultivated a close friendship and are actively making plans to stay connected after graduation. Each student is encouraged to create their own Legacy Team; a group of three or four people committed to encouraging the student and holding them accountable to stay focused on their goals. Some of our students have grown so close, they have asked to be on each other’s Legacy Team. It’s truly remarkable to see the transformation of each of their lives taking place every week.

Recently, one of our students was asked to share her story at an Open Gate International event. Even though she was nervous, she knew she was surrounded by her support team at OGI and she did a great job. What a privilege it is for us to be entrusted with the life of someone who has suffered so much. She is truly an inspiration to all of us. She knows her future is bright and her dreams that she once thought were impossible are now actually within her grasp.

Chef Brent and Judy are also actively maintaining a mentorship role in the lives of the graduates from our first session. Four of the seven are employed full time and are taking steps towards financial independence. One of the graduates who initially came to us in a homeless situation has gone on to get his driver’s license, a reliable vehicle and just moved into a new apartment. He has never been so happy and fulfilled in his entire life and credits his relationship with us and his overall experience at Open Gate International’s Culinary Arts Program as the reason for the smile on his face each day. His life has truly been completely transformed and he is on his way to a bright future.

Chef Brent and Judy are consistently looking for ways to improve each class and the overall experience as a whole for the students. They have introduced new technology for this session by way of Keynote presentations during the life skills/mentorship portion and the review at the end of each class. The students are responding with overwhelming positivity and expressing that the addition of the visual aids is helping them to retain the information even better.