Friday, April 12, 2013

Two Families Unite!

The Mages family of Minnesota and the N.P.H. family of the Dominican Republic unite!  

My name is Suzanne Mages and I am a relatively new volunteer at the Friends of the Orphans office in St. Paul, MN. I originally got involved with Friends of the Orphans after visiting the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos site in the Dominican Republic in July 2012, where my older sister, Kristen, has been volunteering for over a year now. This past January, I was fortunate enough to make a second visit to N.P.H, but this time, my whole family went down as well as two of friends! 

Being that Michelle, my younger sister, Becca, my best friend, and I were on break from college for the entire month of January, we ventured down a week before my parents, giving us a full two weeks in the Dominican Republic. In that first week of the trip, we spent the majority of our days at N.P.H., developing friendships with kids of all ages. 

Becca and me with some of the girls! 

In the mornings, we would see the kids off to school. At noon, we would walk with them back to their houses and join them for lunch. When the school day was over, we would spend a few hours in the park, listening to music, playing on the playground, or helping with chores. On Wednesday evening, we, along with the entire N.P.H. community, attended church. It was during these times that the kids and volunteers, without realizing it, reminded me what it looked like to selflessly love and serve others. For example, in their few hours of free time after school and before dinner, I could look around the park and see the older boys teaching the younger ones how to play baseball. If a little kid started crying, it wouldn’t take long before he/she was scooped up and comforted by a volunteer or older kid. No child ever seemed to be left out. Everyone was always welcome, even an outsider like me! 

Before we knew it, the week had passed and it was time to pick up my parents and Kristen’s high school friend, Abby, from the Santo Domingo airport. We spent the first couple days after their arrival at a nearby resort, giving Kristen a chance to relax after the busyness of the holiday season. We then headed back to N.P.H., where our family of 7 (at this point we considered Becca and Abby a part of the family, with my dad calling them his “second daughters”) was warmly welcomed by the N.P.H family of over 200, uniting our two families together as one. 

Our ever-expanding family! 

The day of our return to N.P.H. happened to be the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Dominican Republic site, so we had the opportunity to be a part of the celebration. The day began with Mass, and lunch in the park followed. In the afternoon, we watched a program that some of the older kids put on for all of the visitors that came to partake in the festivities. The dancing and loud music made it such a fun atmosphere to be a part of! 

It was so fun to watch some of our new friends perform in the program- they did a great job! 

Amidst the blaring music, little Saul managed to fall asleep in Kristen’s arms! 

In the final days of our trip, my family was entirely immersed in the N.P.H. family that the kids, employees, and volunteers so welcomingly made us feel a part of. We played bingo with some of the older girls, spent more time in the park, visited the baby house, played basketball, walked to the nearby batey for soda with the girls in Kristen’s house, watched the older boys play baseball… the list goes on and on. We were even able to eat lunch with the kids in their houses, thanks to the hospitality of the tías (caregivers). 

 Michelle and Dad having a grand ol’ time with some of the younger boys! 

The days at N.P.H. allowed my dad to spend some quality time with our family’s sponsored child, Wilson (age 16), which I think meant a lot to the both of them. My dad is the lucky father of three girls and because of this, I think he considers Wilson the son he never had. And much to my mother’s surprise, this trip included a complementary manicure. Twelve-year old Anita pulled out her cherished Christmas presents, a nail file and nail polish, one afternoon and set to work on my mom’s fingernails. I think my mom was more than pleased with Anita’s skill and color choice of alternating lime green and pink. 

Dad and Wilson! 

Mom getting her nails done by Anita. 

Although we dreaded its arrival, eventually the time came to say goodbye and return to Minnesota, an especially difficult task for Michelle, Becca, and I, who had been there the longest. To leave a place where love and happiness was so abundant was almost impossible. It was incredible to be so accepted by a community that knew we would only be with them for a matter of days. The kids were inspiring in that despite the countless tragedies of loss and abandonment that so many had experienced in their pasts, their ability and willingness to love was fearless. 

Little did I know before leaving that this trip to the Dominican Republic would have such a great impact on me. Spending time at N.P.H. has not only brought about many new friendships and cherished memories, but it has provided me with inspiration to love more fully and be of greater service to those around me. And for that, I am forever grateful!  

 Family photo :)

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