Monday, November 12, 2018

2018 Viva La Familia Gala

This year's Viva La Familia Gala was a spectacular night filled Latin cuisine, good vibes, and new and old friends of the NPH USA Midwest Region. Most importantly, it was a tremendous night of fundraising our children.
On October 27th, the NPH USA Midwest Region hosted their annual gala at Latinicity Food Hall & Lounge, which is located in Chicago’s Loop. The switch from the traditional gala ballroom setting, allowed us to bring the flavors, colors and cultures of the thousands of children we serve in Latin America and the Caribbean to our guests in Chicago!

The event kicked off at 6 p.m. with a cocktail and dinner reception which included heavy grazing, open bars, silent auction bidding, and lots of entertainment. We were lucky to have our friends and musical performers from Marimba Luna Maya and Live Artist, Regina Simonsen with us for the night as well.

The cocktail and dinner reception was followed by what we call, the Viva Presentation. Each table featured an Edible Work of Art by Pastry Chef, Adriana Martell, of Latinicity. The Corazón Award, which is presented to those who have given their heart to the mission of NPH, was awarded to Nohemí Hernández Medrano, better known as Momo. Honored next was Reinhart Köhler who is the President of NPH International and the founder of NPH Honduras. Reinhart was the recipient of the Alma Award, which is given to someone who has already a recipient of the Corazón Award. Reinhart Köhler was not only honored, but also served as our Keynote Speaker for the presentation. Also featured in the presentation was Bishop Ronald Hicks and President and Chief Executive Officer of NPH USA, Frank Donaghue. Thanks to our hilarious and unforgettable event emcee, Lou Manfredini, the room was filled with laughter the entire night.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the 2018 Viva La Familia Gala. From donors and guests, to volunteers and staff, we could not have pulled it off without the NPH family and teamwork that goes into this new, fun, and very Latin, NPH USA Viva La Familia Gala!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The more I explored the ranch, the more I fell in love with it...

Below is a post from Elah Dresden who attends the Near North Montessori School in Chicago and joined NPH USA this past June on a trip to our home in Honduras. Check out what she had to say about her experience at NPH Honduras!

I visited NPH Honduras for the first time in June 2018 for a week. Since this was my first time going, I didn’t know what to expect. My Spanish-speaking skills aren’t that great either, so I was a little nervous. Before we got to the ranch, our leader asked us to visualize what we thought it would look like and how we would feel when we got there. My visualization was blurry, but it was much different than what NPH Honduras actually looked like. I thought that I would feel confused, because I didn’t know how to communicate with the Pequeños. My feeling changed as well.

As I was heading into the ranch, I noticed that it was much bigger than I anticipated. There was a lot of green grass, trees, and beautiful houses (hogares) for all of the children. I thought that it would be smaller, closer together, less greenery, and fewer playgrounds. The more I explored the ranch, the more I fell in love with it. Every single building, statue, or landscape was more beautiful than I could ever imagine.

As for the people I met, right as I got off the bus, I was greeted with many smiles and hellos (holas)! Everyone was very welcoming, and understood that I didn’t speak their language that well. One of the things I learned throughout the week was that there are more ways to communicate than talking. There is hugging, playing, smiling, or simply waving to them as they walk to school. Those small acts can make a big impact.

When our group leader asked us what we took away from the trip on our last night, a lot of people answered with this statement: “I won’t take what I have for granted.” While that may be true, I believe that there is so much more that I personally took away from my visit. While they may not have as many materialistic objects/experiences as a kid in the United States, they are much happier and content with what they have than most of their peers in the US.

Those kids really inspired me. My views on life completely changed. We don’t need social media, fancy cars, designer clothes, etc. to be truly happy. As long as we have good friends, amazing caretakers, and the ability to communicate in a meaningful way, those materialistic things don’t matter as much.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

There was laughter, tears, hugs, smiles, and lots of love...

Below is an excerpt of a testimonial by Estefania Morales who volunteered as a coordinator of the female youth group, Chicas Poderosas, at NPH Mexico! 

The Chicas Poderosas program focuses on women’s empowerment. It meets once a week during activities hour, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., to discuss various topics related to women in society today. Chicas Poderosas is a space free of judgment, a space to share doubts or concerns, a space for the girls to interact and form a strong bond of friendship and support for each other.

During the first sessions, I organized and planned the topics in a very academic manner, with PowerPoint presentations, discussion questions, and journal time. I noticed, however, that the girls were not amused with this method, since it reminded them much of their high school classes. After coming to this realization, I began to change the presentation method. I started the session with icebreakers, played videos, and brought candy to motivate them during the games. But most importantly, I shared my story with them. I told them about my life as the daughter of Mexican immigrants living in the United States and I explained how hard my parents had to work and what sacrifices they had to make in a new country. I also described all the effort and cost it took for me to go and pay for college. Before listening to my story, several girls had a misconception of me. Since I come from the United States, the assumption was that I came from an affluent family.

However, during a session where we discussed the importance of education and one’s future, I showed them pictures of my childhood, I shared with them how my father immigrated to the United States for the first time, and I explained to them about the racism and machismo that exists in my city. What I wanted to convey was a simple message— life is not easy for anyone, everything has costs in life, sometimes we have advantages in life and sometimes we have disadvantages that we have to face. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, the most important thing is not to lose ourselves in the abyss of conformity or simply let ourselves be carried away by what comes into our lives.

I introduced various topics related to self-esteem so that the teenage girls could gain more self-confidence. I invited a psychologist, who is a yoga and meditation instructor, to introduce topics on trust, and therefore obtain strength and courage to excel in life. During these sessions, several girls shared that in their villages, women must marry and stay at home caring for the family.

Despite the ideologies that several girls brought along from home, I always explained to them that these ways of thinking are old and incoherent, because men and women today deserve the same rights. Enough is enough, it is time for women to wake up and fight for gender equality. Conveying these messages became my goal for the Chicas Poderosas program. I wanted the girls to eradicate old ideologies and traditions they brought with them from home and instead promote the importance of education so they could achieve a stable and satisfying life.

Through videos, icebreakers, conversations, journal time, special guests, field trips to museums, and celebrations, I managed to help high school girls open their eyes and analyze the problems of machismo in our society. During a session on violence against women, the girls were shocked and angry when I showed they saw a video related to domestic violence, and read facts about how often it occurs. When we played ice-breaker games, I saw them laughing with their teammates as they tried to make their team win. There were times when the girls wanted to continue to watch a video or play a game until dinner time, despite our time slot ending at 7:30 p.m., because they were completely entertained. I read their journals after our sessions, and there were times when I became emotional and teary while reading their goals and dreams. I was proud.

It was during these moments when I discovered my purpose at NPH Mexico. It was during Chicas Poderosas that the high school girls also discovered their purpose in life. Life is difficult, life surprises us and turns us around, and we do not always achieve what we want. I would relay a similar message to the girls: we have to fight, sometimes, but during these fights is when opportunities show up.

I have the satisfaction of knowing that I made the girls think outside the box, I made them differentiate between their traditional ideologies and modern ideologies in regards to women in society, but above all, I made them think about their futures. With that, I hope that in two, five, or ten years, even when they are finishing college, they think back to the discussions we had in Chicas Poderosas and hopefully that helps them make good decisions in life.

I did not come to NPH Mexico to transform the children, much less to change the world. In fact, there were several times after long and exhausting days in which I asked myself what I was doing here as a volunteer. It was during these moments, when I had to remind myself that these were teenagers, they had bad days and they were not always in a good mood.

However, there were other days when I was walking around the house and I heard, "Fanny, come over here!” or they just came over to cover my eyes so I could guess who they were. I turned to see who it was and I had a pair of eyes looking at me with a huge smile. These were the moments that reminded me why I was really here. There were times when the kids were not always laughing and smiling, but I can assure you that wasn't always the case; there were evening talks in the patio area, joking around with each other, or playing the guitar and singing with the music group. There were days when we would laugh out loud until our stomachs hurt. There were days when I almost cried while one of the boys told me his personal story. There were days when I had to remind the girls to pay attention during our Chicas Poderosas session.

There were days when I returned home disappointed because one of the kids had failed several subjects and was at risk of failing the school year. There were days when I was extremely proud and happy because while practicing English, one of the kids really tried to have a fluent conversation. There were Independence Day celebrations with dances, Mexican flags and mariachi music. There were altars for the Day of the Dead with pan dulce (sweet bread), sugar skulls, and colorful Mexican decorations.

There were Christmas carols, a manger, and fireworks. But above all, there was laughter, tears, hugs, smiles, and lots of love. You fall in love with the children, that's for sure. That is NPH. That, is NPH Mexico.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Returning to Guatemala

Below is a testimonial from Elizabeth Lanham, one of the leaders of a recent Mid-Atlantic/Northeast regional trip to NPH Guatemala. 

As a former volunteer at NPH Guatemala, I find myself inextricably linked to the kids I once lived beside. Since they are in my thoughts and prayers daily, I feel they are never far from my heart. However, this past week I was privileged to return for a visit and this time with a group from Virginia. We spent the majority of our time talking, playing, eating, smiling and praying alongside the children.

I think in our busy western culture we often forget that the most important part of relationships is not what we do but who we are. Most mission trips are about building or fixing. This trip was about spending time with the kids, being authentically present. Did we work while we there? Yes, of course. But it is not what made this trip meaningful. We find that in God. For God is love. And love is what makes us a part of the family we call Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The kindness and joy I experienced was truly contagious...

Below is a testimonial from Jack Theobald who visited NPH Dominican Republic on an NPH USA immersion trip with his sister, cousins, and Aunt!
In March 2018, I went on my first trip to the NPH house in the Republica Dominicana. It was a new experience for me, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone. The fact that I was going to live with over 200 strangers and that I didn't speak any Spanish worried me. I thought it was going to be hard to get settled in and feel welcome.

I was so wrong. I was the only boy in our group of 13 people, so I had an especially fun time playing with the boys here of all ages. It was a constant sports-fest, playing soccer for a couple hours everyday, basketball with some of the older boys, and throwing around a baseball. The young boys especially played with such joy that it brought a smile to my face. The kids there were so welcoming and nice to us, it caught me by surprise the first day. There is such a big difference between the culture in America and the Republica Dominicana. The people there are so much more open and kind with each other, and everything is so community based. It was nice to know that everyone cared for each other.

Even though I don’t speak Spanish, that didn’t stop the kids from coming up to me, grabbing my hand and motioning for me to come and play, or to just simply color with them or give them piggy backs. If I had to describe my experience with the boys, I would say it was like being used as a human jungle-gym. The boys there were filled with so much energy that they would climb on my back and ask me to lift them up on monkey bars or do push-ups with them on my back. Every night I would go back to the visitors' house exhausted but smiling with happiness.

Even while being sweaty and tired, being at NPH was an amazing and eye-opening experience for me. The kindness, happiness, and perseverance that I witnessed while spending time there was shocking to me. For example, I met Miguel, a 20-year-old who is in his year of service. He has been at NPH since he was 5, and during that time he taught himself how to play piano and guitar and to sing and write music. He has a beautiful voice that I was lucky enough to hear live. The fact that he taught himself these amazing skills through sheer determination was truly inspiring to me.

When I came to NPH, I thought that I was going to have to work hard trying to give to everyone here. However, the kindness and joy I experienced was truly contagious. I would like to thank everyone at NPH for welcoming me and my group with open arms, and hopefully, I will be back to visit soon.

Monday, April 30, 2018

It was amazing to hear what some of them had been through and yet, at NPH, they were able to just be kids...

Below is a post from supporter Victoria Fortune who recently visited NPH Dominican Republic! Here's what she had to say:
Four years ago, my daughter’s eighth grade Spanish teacher led a group of students on an immersion trip to the NPH (Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos) home in the Dominican Republic. This year, on my daughter’s fourth trip back, she invited me along. I got to meet her adorable godchild who we’ve sponsored since her first trip, and to experience firsthand the place that has had such an impact on her. It was clear to see why. NPH is a special place, where adults and children alike are quick to greet you with a smile and a hug. Their warmth and friendliness are infectious. 

The facilities at Casa Santa Ana are quite impressive, including a large greenhouse, a medical clinic, two separate school buildings, and family-style homes where the children live in groups of up to 20, with a Tia to look after them. We spent mornings working in the kitchen, the gardens, with the disabled children, or helping build a house in one of the nearby bateys, which gave us an opportunity to interact with adults and learn more about their lives. But my favorite part of the day was the afternoons when school let out and we got to play with the children in the beautifully landscaped park that runs down the center of the compound. I loved listening to their joyful voices and laughter as they danced and sang, colored and made bracelets, played basketball or cards. 

It was amazing to hear what some of them had been through and yet, at NPH, they were able to just be kids. Watching the teenagers chip in to look out for the younger ones and hearing about their dreams for the future was a testament to NPH’s success in instilling positive values such as respect and responsibility. 

I was impressed by NPH’s commitment not only to the children and community within their walls, but to the community outside their walls as well. They are remarkably nimble in their community outreach, from doing medical, education and social work in the surrounding bateys, to helping build homes for locals, to offering families assistance to enable children to return home when circumstances allow. Being able to contribute to an organization like NPH, that is so dedicated to lifting people up in whatever way it can, is truly uplifting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Not by chance...

Below is a blog post by Laretia Williams an international volunteer who helped at NPH Dominican Republic. Check out what she had to say!

After working in volunteer and human resources management for a refugee resettlement nonprofit for six years, I decided that I wanted to serve abroad. My career has been shaped by interactions within very diverse settings, and one of my long-term goals is to become the HR director of an international nonprofit. In 2015, I knew that to advance towards that goal, I needed direct experience living abroad.

I thought I came across NPH by chance. NPH came up during my Google search of service opportunities in Latin America. But, now I know that the discovery was divine. When I entered the puerta of the NPH Dominican Republic home, the day after I learned my grandfather passed away back home in South Carolina, I felt a sense of calm. The tranquility I felt upon arrival assured me that I made the right decision of resigning from a job I loved with a steady income, putting my student loan repayments on hold, and moving just months after my niece’s birth.

I served as the visitor coordinator and the volunteer of the house of the oldest girls- San Esteban. I was able to hone my planning and logistics skills, improve my Spanish language, interact with people from all over the world, and establish life-long relationships with the children, fellow volunteers, and local Dominican staff. Also, during my year at NPH DR, I experienced firsthand the challenges and idiosyncrasies of navigating and adapting to another culture. For example, I reluctantly learned how to adjust my expectations of time. While in town or traveling the country, I also experienced the varying degrees of acceptance and assistance offered once someone figured out from my accent that I was not Dominican. My time at NPH DR revealed to me that a nurturing environment can motivate anyone to display their strengths and give them the courage to develop their skills.  

The NPH discovery was not by chance. My family has grown- my girls are forever my little sisters, the caregivers and staff are forever my aunties and uncles, and my fellow volunteers are forever my friends. I continue to apply the cultural competency lessons while working in human resources for a company that employs many former refugees. As I recruit, hire, and engage employees originally from all parts of the world, I tap into my time at NPH to continue to develop a welcoming and nurturing place of work.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Celebrating Our International Volunteers!

Below is a post by Vicky Medley, our International Volunteer Program Coordinator at NPH USA!

In 2017 we had another great group of US volunteers join the NPH family by serving for a year or more! Overall, we had 37 volunteers serving at least 6 months during 2017. That number includes volunteers who began in July 2016 (20), January 2017 (5) and July 2017 (12). It’s always hard to capture the number, it’s more like a snapshot at times! We had about 25 International Volunteers from the U.S. serving at any time during 2017.

Two of my favorite parts of my job are getting to visit our volunteers at NPH, and hosting our post service reflection weekends. In 2017, I was lucky to visit our volunteer communities in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. We also hosted a volunteer reflection weekend in the Seattle area, where recent former volunteers gathered to process and reflect upon their time at NPH. 
While our program continues to be solid, international volunteerism has been criticized over the last few years, often with good reason. Google “voluntourism” and you will find a laundry list of critical articles and opinions. You may have seen the “How to Get More Likes on Social Media” video created by Radi-Aid, and Barbie Savior, an Instagram parody account about volunteering in Africa. The majority of the criticism in most of the articles is based on foreigners disregarding local talent, local customs, and adopting a “savior” mentality towards those they serve. 

As an international Volunteer program, we are always looking to improve, and to check our work against ethical international development practices. We have more to learn, but I want to share some of our guidelines and thinking about the role of international volunteers at NPH, and why I believe NPH is a solid organization in terms of international service:

We require volunteers to serve for a year. That allows time for volunteers to form healthy relationships with the kids and the staff, and gives volunteers the opportunity really experience and understand the NPH mission. Most NPH volunteers stay involved far beyond their year. They return to NPH
for the celebration of sacraments, for graduations, and weddings; they keep in touch with the children they served. In addition, many of them remain involved with NPH USA on an Associate Board, as sponsors, with volunteer recruitment, or at special events.  

Volunteers do not replace local staff. Volunteers enhance the lives of the children at NPH by providing services and support that are hard to find in Latin America. Volunteers do not replace staff, but instead work alongside local staff.  

Volunteers work in areas in which they have received training and education. We do not believe that just because you speak English you can teach English, nor should you be medicating children unless you are an MD, or providing therapies unless you are a certified therapist. For the most part, trained volunteer teachers
are in our classrooms (and not teaching core subjects; mostly ESL, working as classroom assistants and sometimes PE); licensed volunteer nurses are in our clinics; licensed volunteer Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Art Therapists provide services. Many recent college graduates who have valuable previous experience working with kids serve in tutoring, in administrative roles, or offering programming like youth empowerment or youth ministry. We try to match a volunteer’s strengths and skills with NPH’s needs.

We do not require that volunteers pay to serve. NPH does not view volunteers as a source of revenue. Instead, NPH provides volunteers a stipend, room and board, and access to basic medical care. NPH USA covers the cost of medical insurance in case of hospitalization or evacuation. Volunteers do have some costs: they must cover their airfare, and any language classes
they may need.

We prepare our volunteers in the areas of intercultural communication and an immersion in partnership based service. Our volunteers all complete the Impact Abroad Toolkit, created by Serve Smart
It’s an online interactive course that dives deeply into exploring and coaching on partnership based (rather than charity based) service. Most of our volunteers also take the Intercultural Effectiveness Survey, “an instrument used by profit and non-profit organizations, including companies, government agencies and educational institutions. It was developed specifically to evaluate the competencies critical to interacting effectively with people who are from different cultures.”

NPH provides volunteers with guidelines about using photos, and sharing their experience online. NPH holds the dignity of the children central in their Child Media Policy. During orientation, volunteers are trained on the country specific policies about posting photos of children living at NPH. Volunteers are asked to share their blogs, and when necessary (rarely!) we do ask volunteers to edit content
to adjust or remove a photo or change some wording.  

We welcome any discussion about our International Volunteer Program, and invite you to celebrate the accomplishments of our talented International Volunteers. Their passion, dedication, and love for NPH is inspiring to us all!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Volunteering Comes Full Circle

The 2018 Midwest Pequeño Tour was amazing again this year! We welcomed 12 pequeños from NPH Guatemala, mostly university students or those completing their year of service at the home, and for three weeks they traveled throughout the greater Chicago area to perform traditional music and dance from their country at various churches, schools, and businesses, helping our Midwest Region to raise funds and awareness for NPH!

About two weeks in, we decided to schedule a morning at Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) in Libertyville, IL. We wanted to switch things up for the group from the daily venue visit. We thought we could all do something to help others together and give back because after all, many hands make light work! What better place to do so than at FMSC, which has set out to feed God’s starving children hungry in body and spirit. Little did they know, better yet, little did WE know, that we were bringing twelve individuals from Guatemala who’d been served by the kind graces of the hard-working hands behind FMSC.

It wasn’t until the group spotted the MannaPack meal that they realized they were helping those who’d provided some of their meals as children growing up at NPH Guatemala! 
“Seeing it firsthand at the place they made it for us was such an amazing experience,” David (left) said. “Just the way they prepare it is great to see. I can see the hard work they do and all the passion behind it.”

This moment of realization set in for the whole group and gave everyone a little extra fire in their heart that morning to create as many meals for starving children as they could in two hours. By the time the session ended, enough meals were made to feed 44 kids daily for an entire year! FMSC has a tradition of blessing the food before it is shipped off to countries around the world. The Pequeños took part in this as well before declaring it ready to ship.
“I was working really hard and tried to pack as many boxes as I could,” Jacinto (third from the left) said. “For me, it was a great experience because I could help an organization that helped me before and is still helping my little brothers and sisters at NPH."

Needless to say, our Guatemalan visitors had a wonderful experience volunteering with FMSC in Libertyville. Seeing the impact that they had on the employees of FMSC was also quite powerful. Seeing the joy in their faces and the tears in their eyes was just an added testament to the hard work that is put into this organization and the care they have for feeding the hungry. 

It was really a beautiful coincidence that we brought our Guatemalan visitors to volunteer at FMSC that morning. Thank you to FMSC for all that you do to help serve the children of NPH and to feed the hungry all over the world!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

We feel we left NPH with so much more than we gave...

Below is a reflection from Joanie and Norah Sullivan from the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast region who recently visited NPH DR!
Our trip to NPH in the Dominican Republic was a life-changing and heartwarming experience for us. Before we got to NPH we were excited and a little nervous about being in a new culture and having to speak a new language. Immediately, we realized that the language barrier and the cultural differences would not be an issue. 

On our first day there, children would come up to us and start conversations, want a hug or ask to play. As the week continued, we came to know many individual children and often heard right from them how NPH had affected their lives. We developed friendships with them: after school we would play games with the younger children and have conversations with the older kids about school and sports. They were so much friendlier than we were used to. For example, when we were playing cards or talking, someone would come over just to say “hi” and give us hugs. Even though sometimes we couldn't understand what the children were saying, we still were able to communicate with each other. This experience was so different from our lives in Boston that we feel we left NPH with so much more than we gave. Our visit taught us many important things that we will never forget.

When we arrived back in Boston we were much more aware of wasting food, electricity, and water. We were also so touched by the friendliness of the children at NPH that we have tried to continue to go out of our way to act the same for people here. We also learned to appreciate our education. Many of the children outside NPH did not attend school at all, and many more received a very poor education. Arriving back in the U.S, we are determined to take advantage of all the opportunities provided to us.

Although we came to NPH in the Dominican Republic so we could give back to the children there, we are so grateful because the children gave us something much more important instead. We left with new friendships, an understanding of what is important in life, and many amazing memories. We were so sad to leave NPH at the end of the week, but we are already planning our next visit to come and to see all our new friends again.