Below is a post written by Mid-Atlantic/Northeast intern, Lindsey Duff, about amazing volunteer, Ailene Orr who is currently halfway through her 13-month stay at NPH Honduras!
Ailene Orr has been visiting NPH Honduras ever since she was twelve, and it was through her annual trips as a visitor that she decided she wanted to make a bigger commitment and volunteer for a year at the ranch. While her yearly visits allowed her to make friends and connect with the home, she wanted to do more. So in 2013 she became a volunteer at the home teaching Spanish and Math to the newest kids on the ranch in order to help them transition to the classroom.
Ailene’s first impression of the ranch was that it was an “idyllic place, nothing like the typical idea of an orphanage.” While adjusting to certain things about life on the ranch was difficult—the busy schedule, her new job, and the cultural differences—and it took several months to settle in, she still feels that way about the ranch.
“I think it is impressive that NPH does everything in its power to treat each child as an individual and respond to their unique talents and needs, rather than treating them as only a member of the group,” says Ailene of NPH’s programs. This is especially evident in Ailene’s work as she helps individual children make the transition into the NPH family. As a transitional or “leveling” teacher, she is one of the first people the pequeños get to know when they arrive at the ranch and are in the progress of adjusting. It’s something that Ailene really enjoys because she can form close bonds with the kids and see a lot of progress both academically and behaviorally in the short time she works with them.
Although there is much to enjoy about her job, Ailene finds that there are many challenges as well, in particular helping kids who are having difficulty adjusting to their new lives. “When they arrive, they are scared and vulnerable; everything is new and it’s a lot to adjust to all at once. Often they take out their anger, sadness, or fear with bad behavior, and the first weeks or months can be difficult,” says Ailene. But as their teacher, she also has the opportunity to help them through this change and see remarkable progress, and she clarifies, “However, they are also very eager to form positive relationships and are often some of the most affectionate, sweet, and loyal kids. They are very grateful to the people who help make their adjustment easier. I love to watch the transformation as the kids adjust and even after my students move into their grades, they continue to come visit me and always greet me with a hug.” Ailene has felt truly lucky to gain the friendship and trust of the pequeños who were at first the most difficult and distant when they arrived at the home.
Beyond her work in the classroom, she has gotten the chance to interact with the kids during their leisure time as well, and she happily recalls one favorite event—the trip with the youngest pequeños to a beach house during Easter time where the tías made delicious food, and they all played in the sand and waves. It was, for many of the pequeños, their first time at the beach, and they were delighted to be there.
Back at the ranch, Ailene acknowledges that it is the little moments shared with the kids that keep her going. “When they run up and give me a hug just to say hi, when I see them for the fifth time that day, but they are still super excited to see me, when they get really excited about little things, when they ask me to sit with them at dinner or put them to sleep at night,” these are the things that she loves about volunteering. When she leaves Ailene knows that she will dearly miss being part of the everyday life at the ranch, being an integral part of her hogar, seeing the kids she’s grown so close to, and experiencing the sense of community that is so present in the NPH home.