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.