Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The transformation that the Friends and NPH family has allowed Kervenson to undertake is amazing, astounding, and fulfills every hope and dream I have for him...

Below is a testimonial from Rachel Prusynski, great Friend and Godparent, who shares her personal and touching story about her own experience in the Haiti earthquake and meeting her godchild, Kervenson. 

On January 12, 2010, I was trapped under the rubble of the six-story Father Wasson Center in Pètionville, Haiti. I was rescued from the building with just a broken arm and multiple lacerations. My friend Molly Hightower, who was volunteering for a year with special needs children for NPH Haiti, was not so lucky. Needless to say, my two-week vacation to visit my best friend from college and meet the children she loved ended quite tragically and unexpectedly, and I have spent the last three years since the earthquake trying to honor Molly’s memory through fundraising efforts and return trips to Haiti. I have also fallen in love – deeply and desperately – with the country that lost so much on January 12, 2010. I’ve also fallen for an adorable orphan named Kervenson.

Kervenson lost his family on January 12, 2010 at the age of ten. He literally had no one, and was being abused in a tent city when NPH workers found him and brought him to the Angels of Light earthquake relief program. Once it was fully determined that Kervenson had no family left, he was transitioned to the permanent orphanage in Kenscoff, Haiti, where he lives in a gray house with pink trim, a dozen or so boys his same age, and a caregiver who is quick to smile and assure me that Kervenson is a well-behaved young man.

Kervenson and I first met in January 2011, when I returned to Haiti for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake to participate in celebrations and memorials. After the earthquake, through my own process of grief and recovery, I decided I wanted to sponsor a child who had somehow been traumatically affected by the earthquake. Kervenson certainly fit that description, and I detected remnants of his suffering in the shy, gangly child who was far too small to be ten years old. Despite spending multiple days together walking through the grounds and sharing the joys of a cold soda, Kervenson rarely spoke unless it was in hushed whispers, except to ask me when I would return.

I write this story during my fourth trip to Haiti after having visited Kervenson for a third time. The confident, tall, and polite twelve- year-old I just spent time with is almost unrecognizable from the sad child I met two years ago. Kervenson is learning English and jumped at the chance to practice greeting me in my language. He told me about his trip this last fall to Italy, where he visited Rome, met Andrea Bocelli, and walked onto the soccer field at FC Milan. He said thank you about fifteen times while opening his Christmas present and asked me to send him pictures and a book in English so he can continue to practice. This time, I couldn’t get him to stop talking. He showed me a watch from his godmother in Italy that he met during his trip, although he diplomatically assured me that I’m still his favorite godparent. And of course, he immediately asked me when I would return.

I can’t tell you that my sponsorship experience is selfless. My physical recovery from the earthquake was swift, but the emotional trauma of being trapped in rubble and losing my best friend was more difficult to shake. Having Kervenson in my life means that I have a family member who knows exactly what the earthquake felt like. It also means that Kervenson has someone all to himself – whom he doesn’t have to share with his 400 brothers and sisters in Kenscoff – that also understands the event that changed his life forever. I hope and dream for Kervenson that his experience in the earthquake is easier for him to shake. I want him to grow up knowing that he can be whoever he wants to be, and I want him to have the necessary support and encouragement to fulfill his potential. Especially after this last visit, the transformation that the Friends and NPH family has allowed Kervenson to undertake is amazing, astounding, and fulfills every hope and dream I have for him. I am blessed to be a small part in this transformation and I cannot wait to continue to support and love him as he realizes his own hopes and dreams.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Impressive Art Inspires Others to Support

Yevette, volunteer and talented artist, with her beautiful mural outside of the Upper Midwest Friends of the Orphans office in St. Paul, MN.

Last Spring Yevette came into the Friends of the Orphans office in St. Paul, MN merely looking for volunteer opportunities to fulfill a course requirement. Little did she (or we) know that her volunteer interest would produce such beautiful results and inspire others to support Friends and NPH. Yevette spent countless hours on her project. She researched national flowers from each of the nine countries of NPH. She sketched, painted, and perfected the impressive piece of artwork.

Not even the bitter cold weather could keep Yevette from finishing the beautiful mural that now adorns the entry way. Those of us associated with Minnesota in any way understand that the end of Fall and beginning of Winter severely limits outdoor activities, but not for Yevette. She was dedicated to finishing this amidst the chill before the worst of winter hit; gloves, hat, paintbrush, and all. We are so grateful for her commitment and creativity!

Now, as many people pass by the office, they often stop in admiration of her work. This intrigues these passerbys to learn more about our mission and help support the children of NPH! Yevette has created a beautiful talking piece as not only an entryway to our office, but as a way to engage new support from potential donors, sponsors, volunteers, and supporters.

The entire Friends of the Orphans’ Staff would like to THANK YOU very much for all of hard work, Yevette! You did a wonderful job and have inspired others by your work. We have loved working with you as a volunteer. Mil gracias! :)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Now not only was I writing and reading, but dreaming...

Below is a speech from Merlin Antunez from NPH Honduras. You will be amazed by his story. 

Today I will share with you my story of how I came to NPH and how it changed my life along with my brothers' lives forever. 

I come from a family where both of my parents only had an elementary education. My father was a farmer and my mother a housewife. My parents could not afford to send me to school and until the age of 6. I only had one day in kindergarten. The kindergarten also served as a grocery store or a movie theater depending on the day of the week. We had a decent life but could not afford the basics of medicine and food, and as a result I became ill and ended up in the hospital many times. I lost two brothers to pneumonia before they turned one year old. I remember holding onto my mother’s long dress as my father and some strangers buried my second brother who died of pneumonia, a moment I will never forget. Soon afterwards my father became very ill and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We had to sell some of his belongings to pay for a local shaman’s advice since it was cheaper than a doctor. The medication that my father needed cost more than the average family’s income in Honduras. At that point we stopped having regular meals. The stress of my father’s illness soon caused my parents’ divorce in 1985. The court appointed full custody of my two brothers and I to my father. On that day my mother kissed me goodbye and I did not see her for another 10 years. Several months after the divorce my father realized he couldn't provide for us. He then made the decision that changed our lives forever. He asked a friend to take us to a transitional government orphanage in the capital, a 14 hour ride from our home, and left us there. At the orphanage we attended a public school for some months, but without love, attention and the basics of books, paper and pencils we didn't learn anything. It was a very difficult situation. 

We stayed there for 9 long months until the day we were blessed by a visit from Reinhart Kohler, co-founder of NPH Honduras. He came to the orphanage and we were chosen to be part of the first group of children to join the NPH family in Honduras. Looking back I can now say that was the luckiest day of our lives. 

It was a cold and foggy morning when I came with my two brothers to the home for the first time. When we arrived we were shown to our very own warm bed, and were given breakfast of pancakes with honey and butter, and to this day it is still my favorite meal. 

We were greeted by smiles and hugs from strangers whom were very happy to see us. From that day on I called NPH “home”. Although I had moments of sadness because my parents were gone, somehow at 6 years of age I understood I had other things to worry about like my future and planning out my life. I finally had the 24 hour a day support I needed from my new family and now I wanted to do more. 

I learned to read and write and was considered one of the best students in my class before the end of my first year at NPH. I visited my first grade teacher 20 years later and she still remembered me for being the intelligent but stubborn little boy with the curly hair. For the first couple of years NPH did not have its own school until I was in 3rd grade when I finally had a classroom to attend with my own chair, desk, notebooks, pencils, crayons, books, snacks and recess. What else can a child ask for? It became easy to succeed when you had loving support and are provided for every day. One day while playing on the tire hanging under the mango tree at my new home I decided I was going to study hard and become a doctor so I could help my sick father. 

When I made the decision to become a doctor I did not keep it a secret, I told my friends and the people taking care of me, “Listen, I have decided to become a Doctor. Maybe I can heal my father,” I said those words as if it was a treasure I had just found on my way to the bus that would take me to school that morning and repeated it all the time. Caregivers and friends were very supportive of me. Just a few short months before I could not even write my name, now not only was I writing and reading but dreaming. I knew I wanted to make a difference, and in my new home I knew I would get the support I needed to make my dreams come true. 

During my time at the home I had wonderful Godparents from Germany, Holland, United States and Switzerland. My God Mother Renata and I still keep in touch. I met her 16 years after sponsoring me when I had the chance to go to Germany. It was an amazing day and I had a wonderful time and I thanked her often for sending me the delicious chocolates in my childhood. 

I finished my first nine years of school while also learning English and German from my caregivers at NPH. For high school I was given a full scholarship to a private school in the city. After high school I did my three years of service at NPH, the third one as a nurse assistant at the NPH clinic. With the support of NPH I attended the National University of Honduras and graduated in 2009 as a general physician. For the next two years most of my patients were the children of NPH (my brothers and sisters) and the villagers. The villagers received medical attention and medication practically for free, one of the many ways NPH shares with the community. During those 2 years I had the opportunity to follow up with patients that had orthopedic surgeries at NPH surgery center; it was then that I fell in love with orthopedics. In December 2010 I decided to become an orthopedic surgeon. I still have 14 more months before I accomplish that goal. 

26 years have passed since I entered my home at NPH. When people ask me if I think if I made the right decision to become a doctor working for low income areas, I smile and say I have no doubts at all. I really enjoy working for people in need; the best way they can pay me is with a smile. My favorite patients are the poor ones that are humbling and tell me their heart-breaking stories. Their relatives sleep on the floor next to them, often bringing them meals since the government cannot afford their medication, tests, or a physician. 

Every story I hear reminds me how much I have been blessed by NPH. I work at least 90 hours a week with no regrets. I love what I do. I love being a doctor. I am a living example that NPH helps so many children and families. NPH gave me an opportunity to change my life forever and I took advantage of it, and so did my two younger siblings. One is now an English professor and a father, the other one is an electrical engineer. Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that none of our generations in the past five centuries had a University degree. 

Following the values Father Wasson instilled in us we have managed to heal deep wounds. Today I help cover my father’s expenses and I also provide him with medicine every month. My brothers and I are currently working together to build a new safe home for our family. We reunited for the first time as a whole family after 24 years. Of course none of our dreams would come true without your generosity and unconditional support. I achieved my dreams! I DID IT! And I know my little brothers and sisters still at the home can too with a bit of faith from you, and for that I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.