Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Work of Love

Below is a story from dedicated Friend, Liz Wisnasky from Illinois, who has worked on a wonderful project benefiting the children in Haiti.

The burial cloth project was started before the earthquake in Haiti. I met Father Rick at the International Meeting in Mexico when Betty Gildae and I were helping Friends of the Orphans Midwest Region on their board. After a trip to Haiti, before the earthquake, John Shattuck came back and asked us if we could make burial cloths from pillowcases and sheets. We had made 5,000 and then the earthquake hit. We have 13 churches, schools and charity organizations helping us with the project, and we have expanded to also making reusable cloth diapers, little girls' dresses and boys' shorts. The Children of Abraham heard of this project and they so kindly sent our donations in containers down to Haiti and some recently to Peru. Father Rick has received over 25,850 burial cloths and a few thousand dresses for the orphans in Haiti. We made a beautiful banner for his church when we saw he used one of our burial cloths to cover a large crack in his church wall. An 86 year old angel from Incarnation Church has cut out over 45,000 crosses from material that we glue on to each burial cloth. The Sisters of Charity open our burial pall boxes when they arrive in Haiti, and they say you can feel the love in each one. At St. Dennis in Lockport, IL Father Justin Dike was deeply moved when he saw our work of love. He said, "Making these burial cloths is such a gift of love and corporal mercy for the parents who have nothing to bury their precious children in. I believe this project will go world wide as it is needed everywhere."

If you are interested in joining this project or learning more please contact Liz Wisnasky at 708-614-6475.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Little moments of generosity are powerful in that they are infectious.

Read this amazing blog post from Dani, a volunteer who is in the midst of her year helping at NPFS Haiti

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three months. It feels like I just got here- I’m still struggling to learn the language, still meeting new people every day, still doing something different at work every day, still figuring out how to fill up my free time. I don’t have a usual thing I do with any of my days which makes it all feel new and exciting. But I think that that’s a big part of why I came here. And Haiti definitely hasn’t disappointed. When you can’t even count on facts from one day to be true on the next, semblances of routine and monotony are nonexistent.

But in other ways, much more substantial ways, it feels like I can’t have only been here for three months. The friendships I’ve made here are so much deeper than any I’ve made in the states in just three months. The work we’ve accomplished as a team has been substantial and important. Although it can feel discouraging from day-to-day, when you look at where we started from, it makes me so proud. I’m proud of myself for learning and adapting to working in the developing world. I took a college class about teaching and we talked a lot about starting with the most basic knowledge with your student and going from there. When a teaching a computer program in the US, your first question would probably be, “have you used this particular program before?” In Haiti, it's not “have you ever used a computer before?” or even “do you know how to read?” but, “can you see the letters on the computer?” And although this reality is sad, I’m happy to have an understanding of Haiti’s circumstances that allows me to not make presumptions about people. I’ve learned, and am continuing to learn so much about the culture, that I know not to judge levels of understanding or methods of getting things done. I know that I am a visitor to this culture and that it is me that needs to be adapting, changing and learning to the way of life in Haiti. I am very thankful that those that I work most closely with, both Haitian and American, share many similar values and goals as me. It has made my transition into daily life here peaceful and rewarding.

This morning we had a mass to dedicate the new wing of St. Luc Hospital to Sister Philomena, a long-time NPFS volunteer. Father spoke about how we are able to accomplish so much because of the foundation that has been built from the love and sacrifice of those who worked before us. It was very meaningful to see so many of our long-term staff, volunteers and supporters there. He spoke about how all of these services we provide—a home for orphaned children, medical care for sick children, a home for disabled children, a hospital for adults, a hospital for disasters, another two homes for vulnerable children, a therapy school for disabled children—have all been created out of necessity, which is a tragedy. He spoke about that the criticism of our organizations, both internal and external, is valid and important, but that we have an organization that has been built on love for the children and love for the Haitian people. And as I reflect on his words and the work of the hundreds of people of NPFS, I am happy that we have an organization to be critical of. I am happy that people feel safe enough here to express their opinions and care enough to want to make it better. The day we take a look at our organization and say, “ok it looks like we’ve done enough” is the day we have stopped listening to and loving Haiti. The problems here are not ones that are going to be solved in my lifetime. But we are listening to the people of this country, by not only providing social services, but jobs and roles in leadership and management. We are not an organization of 20 blancs, who hire Haitian security and drivers for us to spend our days going from UN meetings to drinks in Petionville. We are a Haitian-run organization with international volunteers in advisor or training roles only. Haiti’s progress and development is going to be made by Haitians and I am happy to be a part of the empowerment and training to work towards our shared goals.

Although disappointment and devastation surrounds us all the time, for me, it’s more difficult to focus on the bad. But believe me, it’s here. Yesterday, walking into oncology as a mother cries over her three year olds body being taken out. Our cook being robbed of all the money to feed our children for the week. Patients dying because they didn’t have the money to physicall get to the hospital when they started getting sick. A university student having to fight for his right to a USB drive. Three children being abandoned at the cholera treatment center last week. Living and working in Haiti, you can’t dwell on the bad because it will pull you into a downward spiral of absolute devastation. You have to walk a fine line between listening and truly understanding other’s circumstances and not letting the overwhelming need get to you. And perhaps the hardest thing of all, is understanding that each of us has a different tipping point. Although I may be ready to hear about a great need and ready to fight to improve it, another volunteer, or my boss, or my family back home, may not be ready to hear about it. We all have our causes, our battles and whether they be self-interested or not, we have to respect each other’s work and dedication.

But what I’ve been learning to do here, is to keep a little ear open. I can’t solve our multi-million dollar budget crisis. But the babies in the abandoned room get very little attention? I have an hour to go play with them most evenings. A volunteer sees a mommy walking around the hospital with no shoes, so she gives her her flip-flips. Little moments of generosity are powerful in that they are infectious. These little gifts of time and things have expanded the hearts of our seasoned volunteers and I see that they now fight for big and difficult changes. Sending children to the US for surgeries requires medical clearances, partnerships with a donating hospital and enormous amounts of money, but they make it happen. Volunteering at a clinic in the slums on the weekend when you already spend 60 hours a week running a hospital takes a level of dedication that I can’t understand. But I can see people’s growth in the process and it makes me inspired. I hope that I too can grow in the process of my time here and learn to give more and more. So thank you to my friends and family who have been listening to me tell stories about babies, children, coworkers, patients and life in Haiti in general as I process everything I’m experiencing. I definitely could not do it without you.

Read more of Dani's post at her blog, here

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stories from Honduras

Enjoy these candid pieces written by students of Glen Urquhart School in Beverly, Massachusetts who visited Rancho Santa Fe at NPH Honduras and learned about the various facilities at the ranch and all the hard work that goes into making this a home for the children who need it most.

Rancho Santa Fe
By Cole Symes

As you drive through the gate of Rancho Santa Fe, there is a clinic, pharmacy and surgery center on the left. Most people would think of a surgery center in a Central American country as not the best, but when I had a tour it was as good as, or better, than some in the United States. Once you pass the clinic, you see a sign for the school and a walking path leading the other way. It is a small Montessori school for all of the kids at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) Honduras and a couple of kids from a nearby village. It has classes up to eighth grade, and each kid can learn at their own pace. After eighth grade, NPH will pay for them to go to high school, but they have to do a year of work or año familiar first.

Soon after passing the school, you reach an intersection; one road goes to El Buen Pastor (the Good Shepherd, or the boys’ homes), while the other leads to Talleres (vocational workshops) and San Cristobal (the visitors’ home). After sixth grade, the kids learn a trade at talleres. They can learn metalworking, tailoring, woodworking, shoemaking, carpentry or electrical systems. The last path would bring you down to the farm were they raise bunnies, chickens, and cows.

After San Cristobal, there is the bodega where they keep all of the donations and clothes for NPH. Next to the bodega is the kitchen, where they cook all the food for 600 kids every day. Most days, the food is beans and rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Near the kitchen is the tortilla house where they make 2 tortillas for every child’s dinner. On the other side of the Ranch from the boys’ homes are the girls’ homes. 

Finally, between San Cristobal and the kitchen are the canchas, consisting of two cement basketball courts and a cement soccer field. Next to the canchas is Casa Suyapa, the coed home for children under six. Rancho Santa Fe is surrounded by mountains on three sides, and has trees and animals everywhere. If you climb one mountain, you can see the whole Ranch. It is one of the most beautiful landscapes you could see.

The Bodega
by Katya VanAnderlecht

The large steel door clangs shut behind us and we descend down the cement stairs into the bodega, temporarily feeling cooled by the slight drop of temperature in the basement. To my left I see almost half the room filled with black garbage bags, and to my right three mounds of shoes ranging in various sizes, baby, child and adult. The ground is littered with sneakers, sandals and the occasional fur-lined boot (Yes, because it's definitely going to snow in Honduras!), which leave only a small section of open floor for us to sit down and start sorting.

We commence searching for the long lost pairs in the stragglers left behind from yesterday’s work, excitedly calling out once we reunited a pair, followed by a chorus of under-enthusiastic cheers and weak clapping, for to be honest what’s so exciting about matching shoes? The matched shoes are either tied, velcroed, rubber banded or taped together and tossed into the corresponding pile. As we settle in, there is an ever-constant flow of talking, singing and occasional shoe pun made by Cobo or me in an attempt to keep up our ongoing pun battle throughout the week. Once it is clearly hopeless that another pair will be discovered, Señora Kelley tips over one of the bags, revealing what that half of the room was full of, bags upon bags of shoes. A layer about one foot high (haha) fills the remaining floor space with footwear and we go at it again, shoes flying every which way after we all claim a type of shoe, collect that type and sort through. I ended up with the task of matching girls dress shoes; you would be surprised at how many makes of practically the same shoe there were. Although it was nice to have so many shoe donations, it is amazing what you can find. There was this one pink snow boot that kept showing up, being a different size and for the same foot, none of them matched. Right on cue, as if he had been planning it the whole time (which he probably was), Cobo comments on how he is experiencing déjà shoe.

Many shoes were not even worth pairing and were thrown into the reject pile, destined for a dump. In some ways, I felt like people thought this was a way of justifying getting rid of something that was no longer usable, because of dirt, grime and heels separated (the poor little souls!) just because you were donating it. Giving up my position of dress shoe sorter to Jack, I make my way across to Jenny to aid her in untangling a mass of tennis shoes that were all tied together. There were probably seven pairs with very similar white laces all bound by the mother of all knots in the center. We successfully got a few pairs loose but it was obvious that no progress was being made and after spending at least 20 minutes on it, that was abandoned.

We probably paired more shoes than we will ever own in our lifetimes, but it still felt like we didn’t make a dent on what was left to come. We may have done a lot but I didn’t feel exactly fulfilled at the thought that I had played a big game of matching the whole morning while I could have been cooking a meal for the children or collecting eggs at the farm. If you take away something from this speech, just let it be to please, and I repeat please tie shoes together when you donate them!

La Cocina
by Orren Fox

Six-hundred hungry mouths needed to be fed each day. Not once or twice, but three times. The kitchen ladies wake up many hours before any of us would ever consider in order to cook breakfast. No days off, and three times a day. The least we could do would be help. If it involved chopping, sweeping, or scrubbing we would do it. It did not matter what task we were assigned, we would do it and we would do a good job.

With my work group of Chris, Cole and Steve, we headed up to la cocina on Friday to start our final work job. That day we would chop about 50 plátanos for the soup. We would make a shallow cut down the center of the banana, and use it to help us peel. After we peeled the plantains, we would chop them to a specific size and shape and then toss them in a large bowl of water. On the outside, they were a dirty green color and very tough. On the inside they were a beautiful color. A mixture of vanilla and peach, this banana-like formation was truly beautiful.

We also chopped many potatoes and luckily, did not have to peel them. Instead, all we had to do was select the rotten ones, throw them out and move on with the edible ones. We then took our huge bowl of potatoes and walked them over to the machine. This 40-inch- high, metal cylinder required a key to turn it on, but unfortunately, the woman with the key came to work around 8:00 a.m. and it was only 7:30. The nice young man who showed us how to do everything in the kitchen had an idea. He grabbed two knives, kneeled down behind the machine and jiggled the knives until the machine seized and turned on. He picked the lock with two kitchen knives! We only had to pour the potatoes in, wait a minute, and pull them out when ready. The machine turned and rumbled the potatoes around until they came out, scrubbed and peeled. The bi-product was a brown mush of potato skins oozing out the bottom into a large, square tub.

While shucking corn and inspecting the cob, it was terrifying to peel back one of the leaves and find an inch-long caterpillar squirming around inside. There were some terrifying moments and some mouth watering ones, but all together the kitchen receives five stars in my book for being a great place to work.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"They were simply becoming a part of this family for the week."

Here is a blog post from Tara Suchland, an adult leader on the Mission Trip to NPH Mexico hosted by Friends' Midwest Region this past July.

Blogging about an NPH experience is a daunting task. It seems as though I’ve done nothing but talk about the trip since I learned I was going, and I certainly haven’t stopped since my return (I’m sure my friends, family, local grocery cashiers…would agree.) However, when sitting down and trying to condense my visit into something that will express exactly what I learned, who I met, why I want Friends of the Orphans to be a part of my life from here on out and still have you reading at the end…well, my words seem to fail me.

I am the Campus Minister at Trinity High School in River Forest, IL. When we were approached by Friends of the Orphans to help organize a Dominican Mission Trip, I about jumped out of my chair with excitement. I was finally going to be able to bring my students on an international mission trip, it was going to be permeated by Dominican spirituality and it would be about building relationships, not houses. It was all I could do not to quote Jerry Maguire when I met Chuck Allworth and Melissa Hoyt (Friends' Midwest Regional Director and Child Sponsorship Manager)… “You had me at hello.”

A couple months later I was Mexico bound with 17 young women (13 from Trinity and 4 from Regina Dominican), our school president, Sr. Michelle Germanson, Megan Alterson, a generous and energetic Spanish teacher, and our Friends of the Orphans guides, Chuck and Melissa. I think we were all nervous and excited and had no idea what to really expect despite the copious amounts of preparatory materials and orientation meetings.

Over the next week I would find myself impressed by my students time and again. They were enchanted by NPH's Casa San Salvador and its inhabitants. No cockroaches, bats, lizards, bug bites or lack of favorite foods could extinguish their smiles. They did chores alongside the pequeños…and looked forward to dish duty. They spent their free time making friendship bracelets with the children, going to the pool, and hanging around in the courtyard with whoever happened to be there at the time. As we stumbled over our Spanish skills (or lack thereof) we fell in love with our godchildren and their friends, and my pride for my students grew.

At one of our evening reflections I asked the trip participants if they recognized what they were doing as “service”. They tossed around the idea for some time. They weren’t really “doing” anything. There was no tutoring, painting, building, filing, no chores that didn’t correspond to some type of mess they helped to create. They were simply becoming a part of this family for the week. The students were struck by how each person at Casa San Salvador who crossed their paths said hello. They took time to talk to each other and take care of each other because they were family. In the end, the students agreed, yes, they were providing this community with something important: friendship, affection, love. It was service. But they also agreed that this service wasn’t going above and beyond. It was something they should be doing at home. Being more present to those around them, being more helpful in their communities, taking time to be with each other. It was just so much easier to do with these people, their godchildren, who lived this way each day because they are a part of NPH.

So, as far as service trips with my students go, this one was a great success. Each person on the trip became a minister. I wasn’t merely a chaperone on this trip, though. Yes, I held onto the key to our room. Yes, I plunged the toilet when it got clogged. But I also had a godchild. As I stood outside the bus when we arrived I remember thinking that my poor pequeño was bound to be disappointed as all of his friends ran up to the young, very cool, teenage girls and he got me, the teacher. However, when our turn came, he didn’t hesitate. I raised my hand and he bolted towards me, wrapped his arms around me and stood there hugging me before I could even say hello. Jonathan, my godchild, is a precocious, silly, mischievous, kindhearted little boy and we quickly became friends. Our bond solidified one morning over a game of Barrel of Monkeys. Yes, what is perhaps the most boring childhood game ended up in fits of giggling and grappling for small plastic monkeys punctuated by screams of, “¡Mis monitos, mis monitos!” (“My monkeys, my monkeys!”) for Jonathan and me. As each of my students pledged to continue their sponsorships and figure out ways to come back to NPH Casa San Salvador, I knew I wanted to do the same thing. As much for myself as for other Trinity students.

There’s so much more I want to include in this blog! Our trip to the water park, the masses with Fr. Phil and the pequeños, our evening trip into Miacatlán for pizza…but I’m afraid I’m becoming that family member with the vacation slideshow. Instead, one final memory. One afternoon we held a forum with a pequeño in his year of service, an ex-pequeño and a young man from Virginia who was part of the international volunteer program. We asked them questions and listened to them talk about their experiences, how they ended up at Casa San Salvador, their experiences, hopes, etc. In the end, we asked them each what their favorite and least favorite part was of being a pequeño. The year of service pequeño first responded in English. He told us that NPH was his home, his family, and he wouldn’t be who he is now without it. Then he paused and said, “nothing”. He didn’t have a least favorite part. The second response came in Spanish. It was very much the same. NPH had taught him to care for people. It didn’t matter if they had been a part of NPH…if you see someone who needs help, you help them. That’s what NPH had taught him. It was a gift – just like his education had been. Then, he too paused, and said “nothing”.

Each one of us on that mission trip felt the same way. Our experience at NPH had given us a glimpse of this huge family and what it must be like to be a part of it. As we return to school, and see each other in the hallways, we smile and still feel a great connection with our friends at NPH. We talk about the NPH report cards that hang on our refrigerators at home. We’ve been welcomed into Casa San Salvador and, in turn, we will share its story with anyone who will listen.

Dominican Mission Trip participants learned that sometimes serving others is as simple as forming relationships.