For the past three summers I have spent a week at the happiest place on earth. This place is not Disneyland; it is an orphanage in a small town, three hours outside of Mexico City. The orphanage is called Casa San Salvador in Miacatlan, Mexico. I go there with an organization called Friends of the Orphans, which raises awareness and funds for orphanages run by Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos in 9 different Latin American and Carribean countries. This trip is the highlight of my summer. Each of the more than 600 kids is amazing to spend time with. Even though most of them come from battered homes or from life on the streets, they are the happiest kids I have ever met. They are so happy, with so little, it makes me appreciate how much I have. After each trip I come home and am thankful for all the material goods I have, but also for my family. While these kids have each other, most of them do not have parents. I make the trip to support the kids, but what they do not know, is that they teach me valuable life lessons, like how important family is, and how thankful we should be for what we have. In my daily life my appreciation of my family is not always visible; we get in arguments and sometimes do not get along. But at the end of the day I love them, and I tell them this so they know that I do appreciate them. This experience with Friends and NPH has made me a more compassionate person and has shaped my personality to be as such. Each year I leave the orphanage in tears because of the deep love and compassion I feel for the children, and I miss them all year long. I consider them to be a part of my family. These family members are not blood relatives, but related through wonderful experiences. I stay in special contact with two boys whom we sponsor and financially support throughout the year. I come home from this trip and give more of myself to my friends and family. I take all the love and compassion I have for the kids and try to spread it around. To do this, I share my stories about the children and encourage people to get involved with Friends and NPH. The kids have taught me that I should appreciate all that I have, especially all the people who care about me. Because they have had such traumatic experiences and difficult lives I know how lucky I am to grow up with a house and a family who care about me.
Lauren Dominguez is from Danville, CA. She has gone on Friends-sponsored Mission Trips to Mexico for the last few years. Her family also hosted pequeños when they visited California last year.