Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pray for Haiti.

The following is a blog post contributed by Chuck Allworth (Midwest Regional Director at Friends) where he shares about his recent trip to Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs (NPFS) Haiti. 

Today is Saturday and I've been here since Wednesday. I guess my biggest impression so far is that Haiti is a place with many stark contrasts.

Yesterday, for example, I went to 7:00 a.m. Mass in the little chapel on the grounds of our pediatric hospital (St. Damien). Lying on the floor in the middle of the chapel was a toddler child who had died in the hospital overnight. Jean Paul was wrapped in a pillow case that people in the Chicago area turn into funeral palls with beautiful decorations and send them here by the thousands. No caskets -- too costly. No family or parents in attendance at the funeral Mass, just Fr. Rick presiding and a couple of dozen foreigners who volunteer at the hospital and one or two Haitians. On the one hand, it was very sad to think of this dead child wrapped in linen lying inches away from us on the floor. On the other hand, it was a truly beautiful funeral. We did our best to send little Jean Paul off to heaven as best we could.

Another contrast happened two days ago when I went with Fr. Rick to the city morgue to observe him and other members of our organization picking 70 or so unclaimed corpses, zipping them into body bags, loading them on a flatbed truck and taking them out to the countryside for a decent burial. Fr. Rick and the Haitians were the ones doing the dirty work. We visitors would simply place crosses or rosaries and funeral palls on top of the bodies prior to them being zipped up. The conditions in the morgue were beyond gruesome. Bodies stacked like logs in disgusting positions. Lots of children. Way too many children. Babies in their diapers lying on top of elderly people. Hundreds of corpses in varying states of decomposition. Half-clothed (or unclothed) adults lying grotesquely on top of children dressed in their Sunday best. Bodies stained by the blood and fluids of those piled all around them. A permeating stench that defies description. Unbelievably, though, the Haitians with us were singing and clapping and dancing the entire time we were in the morgue -- about 90 minutes. Non-stop joyful, not sorrowful, singing at the top of their lungs. They were happy because they were taking bodies out of such deplorable conditions and giving them a proper Christian burial. Such joy in the face of such horror.

Last contrast: When we went out to the country to bury the bodies, the cemetery doubled as a cow pasture (although with very little grass). Row after row of simple graves dug about 4 feet into the earth. Most of the graves were marked with crucifixes...with cowpies all over many of them.

I spent the better part of the past two days unloading medical supplies from containers and organizing a warehouse full of those supplies. It was sweaty and hard and real dirty work, but nobody complained because of the poverty we have seen that the people here endure on a daily basis.

It's amazing what they do with shipping containers here. I've seen them used as hospital wards, offices, classrooms, storage units, and orphanage dorms. A cheap and easy re-use of something the rest of the world would have but one use for.

I'm back in Port-au-Prince after spending two wonderful days at the NPFS St. Helene home in Kenscoff. This home is about 5,500 feet up in the mountains to the southeast of Port-au-Prince. My room overlooked the most beautiful vista of green mountains dotted with small villages and terraced farmland. In much of Haiti, the countryside has been denuded of trees because people use the wood for building materials and to make charcoal. This is not the case in the area around our home. The setting is breathtakingly beautiful. Imagine a boarding school campus with gorgeous trees all around. Huge pine trees over a hundred feet tall. The air is clear and the high temps are in the low 60s. Hardly what you expect of a Caribbean climate. Evenings and early mornings are downright chilly. The entire campus is just very serene, green, peaceful and pleasant.

It was yet another stark contrast to Port-au-Prince with its oppressive heat, noise, filth and poverty. There are about 450 kids who call St. Helene their permanent home. And, again, in another contrast to what I had seen up to that point, the kids in our home are well dressed, well fed, well educated and very well cared for in general -- as I knew they would be.

These orphaned and abandoned children are the lucky ones. There are millions of other children here in Haiti who have it far, far worse. 20% of children in Haiti die before they reach the age of five.

Back to the orphanage. Every other Sunday, Fr. Rick, the Passionist priest who runs the entire NPFS organization here in Haiti, comes up to our home from our pediatric hospital to lead Mass for the children, but yesterday was not one of those Sundays. So, all 400+ kids got dressed up in their school uniforms and walked to the closest church. As the crow flies, it was probably no more than half a mile. Too bad we didn't have wings. Since we were in the mountains, it was probably closer to a mile and a half of steep, treacherous paths and winding, rutted roads that would put the worst of Chicago's pot-holed roads to shame. My guess is that the church is located about 1,500 feet of elevation BELOW the home. It took us about 30 minutes to walk down and a little over an hour to walk back, but it was well worth every minute to be with them and to witness and listen to them pray and sing during Mass. It was loud and joyful. I made a few new friends during that journey.

St. Helene is actually about 20 separate small dorms, plus a dozen or so other buildings (school, chapel, clinic, etc.) scattered over about 60 acres on the side of a mountain. On our way up to the orphanage on Saturday, we stopped and bought enough candy to give each of the kids a few pieces. After we got back from Mass yesterday, we took the candy around to all of the dorms and gave it away to the kids who were happy and grateful to receive the sweet treats.

During our time in Haiti, we were fortunate to have the part-time guide services of Antoine, a former pequeño from the St. Helene home. Antoine works in the Father Wasson Angels of Light program and also in our new orphanage home in Port-au-Prince that is made entirely out of refurbished shipping containers. On our last full day in Haiti, Antoine took us to an after school program for about 50 children that he began in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood where he lived before the earthquake. While we were there, we handed out bags of rice and beans to the children to bring home to their families. We also distributed protein bars and cooking oil. Here, we have a former pequeño who not only works for NPH, but also has begun his own small charitable organization to serve the children from his old neighborhood.

I will leave you with a story about James, a Haitian I met while we were doing some road repair work on a gravel road that runs within our hospital campus near the triage clinic. I took a break and sat down in the shade near where James was standing. He came over to me and began to make small talk in halting English. It turns out that he and his wife brought their nine month old son, Moses, to the hospital because it was obvious to them that Moses was experiencing abdominal pain. James was telling me about his life post-earthquake of trying to find a job but having no luck. He said his boss was killed in the quake. He told me to pray for Haiti at least a dozen times. James’ wife called him over to look after Moses while she went for a break of her own. We said our goodbyes and James left to be with his son, while I went back to my road repair. About an hour later, as we were loading up from our vehicle for the trip up to St. Helene, I noticed that James and his family were walking out toward the exit of the hospital campus. I stopped them and enquired about Moses. It was the first time I saw Moses. He was an albino child with obviously African facial features and hair, though blonde. James said that Moses didn’t need to be admitted and that they were given some medicine that should hopefully do the trick. Again, he told me to pray for Haiti. He didn’t ask me for prayers for him or even for Moses. Pray for Haiti, he said. After tracing the sign of the cross on Moses’ forehead, I said that I would.

Please pray for Haiti.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Investing in the Children's Futures

John and Laurie Dooley are longtime supporters and volunteers of Friends of the Orphans and NPH. Recently John shared the story of how he got involved with us, why he and Laurie are passionate about the children they sponsor, and how to invest in their future.

The huge refrigerator in our kitchen is covered with pictures of all the kids, grandkids, and a recent addition, our new nephew, Mateo. My wife Laurie and I have 6 children together and 6 grandsons with one more on the way. Over the years we have proudly added pictures of our 3 NPH godchildren shown standing beside us with their beautiful smiles on our visits to their homes. Our passion for the children of NPH has grown exponentially since 1999 when we viewed a video about NPH Mexico that had been circulating around our parish. Laurie brought the video to our small Christian community, and as a result, our group decided to sponsor a child. That child is now a beautiful, bright young woman who is graduating from high school with plans to study Accounting at the University in Monterrey (which thrills me as I am also an accountant). Along with us, 3 other couples in our group have continued to support her all these years. That was just the beginning. As I remember, our monthly contribution for Brianda was $25 per month, a pretty significant amount for us at that time.

In the summer of 2001 Laurie and I went with a group of people from our church, hosted by Fr. Tom Belleque, our pastor, to Miacatlan, Mexico, where we met Brianda for the first time and spent the day with her. We came home with a new passion for the concept of sponsorship and raised our monthly contribution to $35 per month! We were hooked!

Laurie began volunteering for our regional Friends office. She joined the Board, and they were looking for a treasurer so I was drafted for the Board as well. Before saying yes, I told Fr. Tom I was a little embarrassed about being on the Board since I really didn’t have that much money and didn’t have a circle of friends who had money. Fr. Tom wisely said not to worry about that and that the Lord had other reasons for calling people to jobs. Within a few years, the Friends’ regional offices merged and my function as a treasurer was no longer needed. However, we continued to be involved, attended International meetings, visited homes in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. Laurie continues to serve on the Northwest Board and has been Board chair for the last two years. Along the line, we have added two more Godchildren, Jonathan in Nicaragua and Georgia in Guatemala, and raised our donations for each child again. The pictures on the fridge keep accumulating along with letters, report cards and Godparents’ Day greetings from our kids. They are part of the big Dooley family.

We continue to work hard to share the incredible story of NPH and Friends with everyone we meet. What I know now is that our hearts, our very beings have been molded into individuals who care deeply for the NPH family and that we have been blessed with time, talent and the financial means to continue our support of NPH as we grow older. We will continue to be as generous as we can personally and from our business, Northwest Etch Technology. We believe strongly in making sure that when we die that our commitment to NPH will continue through contributions from our estate as well.

One of the opportunities we are excited about is the Fr. Wasson Legacy Endowment, established in 1995, which is an important tool for major gifts and estate planning. The FWLEI will remain an ongoing and everlasting source of financial stability for the children of NPH. Currently, the endowment has grown through gifts and investment results to a total of over $10 million dollars. A distribution policy has been established that allows for yearly donations to NPH and support of crises such as the Haiti earthquake that happened last year. Right now, the Board of the endowment is offering a $100,000 challenge matching gift to raise funds for the FWLEI on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the death of Fr. William B. Wasson.

As our financial contributions have increased, our commitment to providing for the future of NPH/Friends has grown stronger. Wouldn’t it be great if we could leave this earth knowing that the children of NPH through Friends of the Orphans will continue to receive our contributions year after year? Laurie and I are giving this much thought as we move into our retirement years.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summers at Casa San Salvador

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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I am mommy.

My name is Melissa Hoyt. I am 26 years old, and I am mother to seventeen boys: Gustavo, Alejandro, Rafa, Gerardo, Diego, Bruno, Pedro, Zeferino, Carlos, Chucho, Jesús, Galileo, Benito, Daniel, Ivan, Emmanuel, and Ulises. They do not have my genes, my hair, or my skin tone. They do not speak my native language, or for that matter, know much at all of the United States. However, for all practical purposes, in their eyes, I am mommy. Let me start at the beginning of my story.

Melissa with the boys.

Nearly ten years ago my parents signed our family up to host a group of the touring folkloric music and dance group from NPH at our home, to be a sort of multi-cultural learning experience. The day those pequeños stepped foot in our house, my family unexpectedly began on a path that none of us had imagined. We fell in love with the children, with their smiles, their dances, and within one year we visited the orphanage in Mexico ourselves, needing to see who and what was responsible for these remarkable children who had entered our lives. We continued visiting over the course of my teenage years.

Fast forward to my college graduation from Northern Arizona University. I was lost and without a plan when my older brother Christopher, who was in his second year volunteering at the orphanage, invited me to spend a few weeks with him planning summer activities for the 600 kids who would soon be out for summer. I hurriedly accepted the offer. I had visions of myself basking in the Mexican sun, playing all day, and of course, enjoying the Coronas. On May 26, 2006 I arrived in Miacatlan and my connection with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos was only intensified.

Melissa with her brother, Chris, and Chavelita.

I entered the hacienda that has been home to orphaned, abandoned, and abused children since the late 1950’s. A now reformed sugar plantation originally constructed in the early 1800’s, I could feel years of history seeping from every inch. I can still to this moment smell the mango orchards, hear the splashes and children’s laughter from the pool, and feel the heat from the tortilla factory as I passed it for the first time. I hurriedly applied to stay on as a volunteer caregiver, and now I stand here as mommy.

I remember with exact precision the day I walked into the Chicos section of the home where I was placed as a volunteer. The dormitory for the six-, seven-, and eight-year old boys, I was instantly attracted to the never ending energy, the little voices, the large personalities. I met Gustavo, a six-year old boy whose father had abandoned him and his five siblings and whose mother was serving a seven year sentence in prison. I can hear his laughter. I met Zeferino, a seven-year old boy who had been found wandering in the mountains alone, face covered with sores and feet swollen and covered with blisters. His first day in our home was the first time he had ever worn clothing or shoes. I can still feel his joy from each time we went to soccer lessons. I met Bruno and Pedro, six and seven years old, two brothers who had spent their earliest years begging for money on the streets, abandoned by their mother and abused by their alcoholic father who would not give them money for food. I can still hear their excited voices as we prepared a picnic.

My duties while in Mexico included becoming encargada (house mother) to over twenty young boys over the course of two years. Dentist appointments, doctor visits, consoling hugs, homework, picking the almighty dreaded onion out of food, showers; it was all fair game. I passed to their beds nightly, dispelling rumors of ghosts living in the bathroom, of the monsters on our rooftop, closing doors and ensuring that I would be there until they were fast asleep.

I recall my beginning days in Mexico, days lost among Spiderman, Batman, lost shoes, squirt guns and sling shots, the shock that laundry could be dried on rooftops and the inexistence of dryers, the first day Gerardo hugged me in a moment of fear and said “mi mama,’ or “my mom.” Taking their first photos after disembarking their first waterslide, their birthdays, first championships, first sleepover, first hugs after realizing that there were no visitors on family day, first lost tooth, first knocked out tooth, first time a scorpion was “accidentally” placed on my shoulder, first time I heard the unexpected comforting words, “I love you, mom.”

Melissa with Alejandro, Gerardo and Daniel. 

My original six week stay had turned into one year, then one year and a half, and finally, after two years I returned to the States. I contemplated how I could justify leaving these children who I loved as if they were my own, these children who had been abandoned so many times in the past. I decided that I could justify leaving the pequeños if it meant I dedicated myself to a greater cause, one that would enable me to continue supporting this organization in any way that I could. I moved directly from Mexico to Chicago to attend DePaul University and pursue my Masters in International Public Service, focusing in global leadership development. I now work for Friends of the Orphans overseeing our Child Sponsorship Program, which pairs donors with the children in our homes who are in desperate need of your encouraging words and mentorship. My older brother Chris extended his one year volunteer contract in Mexico to three years and now works for a non- profit in Kansas City. My younger brother Michael is currently living at NPH Mexico and is a caregiver for the 14 and 15 year old boys. My younger sister is planning on volunteering after her college graduation, but in typical youngest child fashion, she is rebelling just a tad and pursuing NPH Guatemala. My dad became so heavily involved in helping to fundraise for Friends of the Orphans that they finally just hired the guy and for the past seven years has been the Regional Director of our Southwest office. If you had asked my parents ten years ago when they signed us up to host the kids if they could have imagined the path our lives would take, they would tell you absolutely not, but what a wonderful addition to our lives this has been. In fact, I called my dad to ask for a brief reflection on our families ties with NPH and he poignantly remarked “we opened our homes and they opened our hearts.”

Melissa and Daniel.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Aurora's Story

Aurora Zacarias is an ex-pequeña who grew up at NPH Mexico. She graduated from university and now lives and works in Monterrey, Mexico.  Friends, Susan Campbell and Noami Hult have been her godparents for more than 20 years. Here is her story. 

Please let me introduce myself, my name is Aurora Zacarias, and I was born in Mexico City in 1977. I am the youngest of my siblings, and have an older sister Elena, and older brother, Alejandro.

I did not become a member of the NPH family until 1988, after my mother died and my father abandoned us to go to America.  What we thought would be the darkest hour, was in fact the year that my life changed for the better. As they say, when one door closes another one opens. When we walked through the doors of NPH, our lives changed forever. Let me tell you my story.

Like many children in Mexico, I was born into poverty. Having one bed for the three of us, it never crossed our minds that there was anything better for us in life. Although we attended public schools, rarely did we have books to read or pencils to write with. Our days and nights left no hope for dreaming.

Christmas time was especially tough for my family. Traditionally, children receive candy, toys or clothing from their parents for Three Kings Day, but we never got anything from our parents. It was sad because we thought it was our fault, we must have behaved badly or done something wrong to not get a gift. Looking back, I guess it was a good thing that we didn’t understand how poor our family was.

My mother passed away when I was 8 years old. She had hepatitis C, but we never noticed that she was seriously ill because we didn’t have access to a doctor.

My Dad tried to take care of us without our mother for the next two years, but there was often no work and he turned to alcohol. He lost his will to fight. He gave up on himself and on us.

One day our father sat us down to tell us that he was leaving to the U.S. to find work. He promised us that he was making this decision to give us a better life, that he would send money to us. He gave us 20 pesos and 1988 was the last time we saw our dad. We have not heard from him in 23 years. He abandoned us. We don’t know if he’s even alive.

Our grandfather and uncles took care of us for a short time, but it was very clear that they didn’t want the responsibility of three more children. They were poor and struggling themselves. At that time, we were really lucky if we had one meal a day.

Soon, they gave us two options. The first was to move to separate towns in Mexico where we had extended family. Because they were poor, we would have entered the workforce at a young age, and lived our lives working the fields without an education. We would be separated, and may have never seen each other again.

Our second option was to be given up for adoption, and grow up in an orphanage. This of course also meant that we might be separated forever. Imagine being 10 years old, and trying to decide between these two options. Again, when one door closes another one opens. One of our aunts had heard about NPH, and that’s where, by the grace of God, we ended up.

I remember our first day at NPH very well. I had never been to such a beautiful place. I remember the open space, the gardens, and plenty of space to play.  I had never imagined in my wildest dreams that we might end up in a place like NPH.

From the beginning, our new brothers and sisters made us feel very welcome, and asked us a lot of questions, and made us feel as if we were life-long friends.

For the very first time in my life, I had my own bed. I was able to go back to school at NPH, and never again went without a pen or notebook for class. 

I also remember our first Three Kings Day at NPH. We each got our first Christmas gift! This finally eliminated all doubts of whether I was a good child or not! I was a good child.

Our new family gave us love, taught us to be responsible, and look out for each other. Every day we woke up early, got dressed, had breakfast, did our morning chores and then went to school. After school we’d eat, do more chores and then did homework. The rest of the time was free to develop our interests.

My favorite activity was dancing, and I was part of the NPH dance group for five years. Back then, and still today, the dance group travels to the U.S. for fundraisers, helping Fr. Wasson ensure that future generations of pequeños also have a second chance at life.

I traveled to the U.S. for the first time when I was fourteen, as part of the dance group.

NPH takes great care in teaching the children important values. Fr. Wasson always made sure that even kids like us, who came from very little, knew the importance of giving back.

This is a picture of me with baby Felipe during my year of service. All pequeños
give a year of service back to the home before going to high school. During my year, I took care of kindergarten age pequeños. Each day I woke them up, showered them, took them to school, helped with homework, showed them how to do chores, played with them, and made sure they ate well. I learned to be a mother at age 15, a quality which would help me later in life.

I could never have done all of this without my two Guardian angels, Susan Campbell and Naomi Hult, my Godmothers from Friends of the Orphans. They have proven their love, support and commitment for the past 23 years of my life, and we still communicate every two weeks. They still remind me often of my pigtails when we first met, and Naomi still carries a picture of that moment in her wallet.

Throughout my time at NPH, their support brought me joy and hope. Their faith in me made me stronger. Their letters and visits meant the world to me, and taught me that I can have dreams. And dream I did!

My brothers and I took every opportunity NPH gave us. We finished high school, and I’m proud to say that my sister Elena, my brother Alejandro, and I are all college graduates!

Elena graduated with a degree in Accounting, and currently works as the Sales Manager for an international logistics company. My brother Alejandro studied medicine, and graduated as a medical doctor in 2002. In 2004, he was invited to become the Family Doctor for our home at NPH Mexico, a job he had for five years and didn't think twice about accepting. Alejandro is currently in his second year of residency as a Pediatrician, so that he can continue his dream of helping the needy children of the world.

For me, the youngest of the family, I graduated in Business Administration in 2002. But I was still hungry for more, and had always dreamed of improving my English to speak my Godmother’s language.

My sister Elena took a second job to help, and in 2004, with extra support from my Godmothers and money I had saved, I moved to Toronto for a study abroad English program. I moved back to Mexico in 2005, and have worked as Treasury Manager for a U.S. manufacturing company for the last five years.

Last year, another dream came true when I bought my first home. My Godmothers were so proud. Every accomplishment has been an accomplishment for me, and for them! This year, I fulfilled another dream and went to Europe. Who would have thought that my faith would have brought me all the way to the Vatican.

I am living proof that Friends of the Orphans and NPH, with the help of its supporters, transforms lives. 

Every day I thank God for guiding Fr. Wasson to follow his dream.

I also thank NPH supporters, like Susan Campbell and Naomi Hult, my Godmothers, for being there every step of the way. NPH and my Godmothers were my family when I did not have one.

I know that coming to NPH changed my life, my brother’s life, my sister’s life, and the life of thousands of children after us. I hope that you decide to be a part of that change as well.

Thank you!


Hello Friends and Welcome to the Friends of the Orphan Blog!

Here, you will find personal posts from staff, volunteers and supporters like yourself about their experiences with Friends, our mission and the children we support. . Because Friends offers the unique opportunity for donors to build close and meaningful relationships with the children they sponsor and support, there is no doubt there are many stories to share. To encourage Friends supporters to share their experiences, we are creating a forum where everyone can share their thoughts about the great work we are all doing together in raising children and transforming lives This blog will do just that. We hope you will visit frequently to check in for new stories as well as share your own comments and help us to create a widespread online community of support. 

Thank you for all you do to support the children.

Sharon Saxelby
President & Chief Executive Officer
Friends of the Orphans
134 N. LaSalle Street
Suite 500
Chicago, IL  60602