Wednesday, June 26, 2013

One sees children and teens who are flourishing in a safe, secure and loving environment.

Below are reflections written by great Friend and sponsor, Terry Sechrist, from the Southwest region who recently visited NPH Mexico. 

I feel blessed to have been introduced to FOTO/NPH through friends (Jill and Brian Hetherington), and become a Godparent in 2006. Annual visits are a source of inspiration and personal renewal witnessing the transformation of young lives with love, diligent care, strategic and judicious planning and oversight to provide the children with optimal opportunities in life and the development of life skills from an early age.

One sees children and teens who are flourishing in a safe, secure and loving environment. Miacatlan has a special and unique spirit that is immediately evident upon arrival at the home. I carry that memory each year until my next visit.

First hand interaction with the children and volunteers increases my hope, optimism and commitment to a better future for all these children. I am proud to partner with FOTO/NPH’s dedicated team to nurture spiritual and personal development of each child and help with operational expenses. I would encourage other Godparents and friends to visit the NPH homes to get to know the children personally at a deeper level and appreciate what the organizations are accomplishing with your financial help and prayers.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Twenty Years of Love

Below is a letter written by Gena Heraty, who has been working for the Special Need Program at NPFS Haiti for the past two decades!

Can you remember where you were this time 20 yrs ago? I can hardly remember where I was 20 days ago not to mind 20 yrs ago! But in this case I can remember more or less because you see I was preparing to come to Haiti.

I remember arriving in Haiti, the airport, the people that came to pick me up. I remember the trip up the mountain to the orphanage (and getting soaked wet in the back of the pick up). I remember the smell of the humidity, the smell of a mango (first time I had ever seen a mango) and I remember being hugged by Yvonne!

Funny to think back – I close my eyes and I see so many pictures of that first year. The most dramatic was meeting Eliane. This beautiful fragile girl was to change my life forever.

And so as I look back on twenty years I have to say that my greatest joy has been loving these kids. And my greatest pain has being in watching them suffer, being so powerless so many times and then the worst of all pain has been when they have died. In twenty years, we in Kay Christine have buried 9 of our children: Eliane, Magdala, Kervens, Marjorie, Darline, Audelina, Jonnie, Tifle and Olivier. If I talk about them it is because they have all marked my life in a very special way.

Living in Haiti is for sure challenging but I have to tell you that despite everything,; Hurricanes, Deaths, Kidnappings, Street violence, Earthquake, Cholera – despite all the disasters, I can honestly tell you that in twenty years I have never wished once to be somewhere else. I have been so so lucky. I am surrounded by people that love me and that I love. When I get fed up there is always someone to wrap me up in love and give me strength to keep going. My life is one of so many blessings.

Has Haiti improved? In some ways yes. There are more roads, we have more electricity, there are more banks, hotels, and big supermarkets! This current government seems to be trying hard to get infrastructure in place so we can invest more in the place. In terms of the poverty levels I would say it is probably worse – definitely not better. You just have to visit our hospital and you will see for yourself. Or come to a 7am Mass each morning and count the dead bodies lying on the floor – Father Rick blesses the dead each morning at mass and these are kids that die in our hospital and adults that die in the adult hospital. I would say that at least five bodies are there every day. And you know what, most of these have died from illnesses that could be treated if they had received help on time.

For me it would be easy to just get fed up with it all because the problems are so so many. But my goodness we have done so much! I mean imagine when I came in 1993 we had 9 children with disabilities/handicaps. Now our program in Kenscoff has 34 and we have two rehab centres that care for over 300 children with severe disabilities. Not only that but we have a beautiful Special Needs school for over 80 children that live with their families, we have a horse riding program, we have the kids in the swimming pool weekly, we have an art therapy program and and we have a school for children that have learning disabilities! So you see we have been busy the last twenty years! Learn all about what we are doing here.  

These kids are so amazing! A few days ago I told them we would be accepting two new children into our family. Fernanda and Jeff are both abandoned in our hospital and in desperate need of a beautiful loving family. When I told the kids this they literally yelled with joy and went on to tell me how they would look after them, play with them and kiss them. So spontaneous and so beautiful! Now every day they hound me asking when I am going to get the kids. I have to wait til all the legal work is done, and then we will bring them to their new home.

Death is as part of our life as living and here in Haiti we are confronted with it all the time. If not in our home then in neighbourhood. People just die young here all the time. But it is never easy! Never! Most of you reading this will know what I mean – unless you have never lost a loved one. Our job here in Kay Christine is to give the kids a good home, a safe and loving place to live with good medical care and access to all that they need. We have to accept that the kids are fragile, that many will not live to be old. The theory makes sense. The reality is not so easy and the reality is that we have to keep going and keep opening our home and our hearts to new children. We have to keep saying yes to love.

To sum up my 20 yrs in Haiti? It has been a journey of learning and loving. I have been surrounded by wonderful people who have believed in me and in our work – and who have worked just as hard as I. We have worked as a team and ended up creating a family. A beautiful beautiful family.

I have been supported by people that have never ever met me and have decided to trust me because they also believe things could and should be better. I have been overwhelmed with requests for help, crushed by tales of despair and hardship and inspired by the courage of the Haitian people. I have watched in awe at mothers carrying their severely handicapped children to our centres – under the hot sun, on the dusty road – day in and day out. I have spent nights and days in the hospital with sick children and watched the amazing devotion of the mothers there with their beautiful children. I have watched them spend day and night there and at night time watched them rest their weary often hungry bodies on the hard floor under the beds of their children. True warriors of love!

In Twenty years We have done so much together – built and developed programs, built houses, sent kids to school, sent kids to doctors, paid for universities, bought clothes and food for those in need. Sent school buses to bring children to school. We have saved lives together. We have given hope together. We have shone a light on the darkness together. We have stood side by side with people in need and we have helped them get through each day. Together we have worked hard to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti and we have showed what can be done if people work together!You have been with me every step of the way. And I need you to keep with me. I am asking anyone and everyone to do me a favour. I would like if everyone reading this could donate a “dollar a year for each year I have been in Haiti” so that's twenty dollars. I know, times are hard, I know you have a ton of expenses. Believe me I know. But I also know that I really need your help. We have had to cut back our support to the families we are helping. Your twenty dollars will help us keep our programs going.. Your 20 dollars will help keep the Special needs Kids in school. Your 20 dollars will help us provide physical therapy to the kids, your 20 dollars will help us provide teacher training and therapy training – your money will help us continue and expand and reach more and more kids in need.

I want to leave you with something beautiful written by an author that for years has inspired and guided me – Jean Vanier. If you have never read anything written by him please do yourself a favour and discover him! As I spend these days reflecting on my twenty years of Love , twenty years of living with and working for children with severe disabilities I think this piece by Vanier sums it up very nicely. Loving someone does not simply mean doing things for them;it is much more profound. To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance; it is to understand them, understand their cries and their body language;it is to rejoice in their presence, spend time in their company and communicate with them. To love is to live a heart-to heart relationship with another,giving to and receiving from each other.

Love and thanks, 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It is important to make sure the kids value their godparents and everything that they do for them even though they cannot see them.

Mariney Ocampo is currently the Head of the International Sponsorship Department at NPH Mexico. Born in the United States to Mexican parents, Mariney lived in California until she was one year old. Her family on her father’s side of the family lives in the United States while her family on her mother´s side of the family lives in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In Mexico, at the age of four she was enrolled in a bilingual school where she began to learn English, and at the age of nine she began to study French at a local language center. Since she was young, her dream has always been to be an interpreter, and her biggest goal - to interpret for the United Nations.

Mariney studied International Relations at the International University in Cuernavaca. During this time, she also studied German, Italian, and Russian. She received a scholarship to participate in an exchange program through Virginia Tech where she studied International Development before returning to Cuernavaca where she graduated in 2004. In 2005, she began to work for a German NGO, CBM, in Cuernavaca whose mission is to support local projects for the benefit of disabled people in poor countries. Mariney worked as the coordinator of the projects in the Caribbean for three and a half years. After her experience with this company, she moved to England where she received her Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution, a branch of International Relations, at the University of Bradford. During this time she was also able to study Arab with a friend from Syria who was also living in England.

Following her graduation from Bradford in 2010, Mariney returned to work with CBM to aid in their relief efforts after the earthquake in Haiti that year. The organization opened an office in Haiti, and she worked in displacement camps there for six months. Because there was no infrastructure, the people had gone to live in plazas and parks, and it was in those displacement camps, or “tent cities,” where she helped coordinate the construction of infant shelters. Since there were no schools, hospitals, or homes remaining, health, educational, and rehabilitation services were offered in the tent cities. Mariney’s job was to hire people to install structures for the thousands of orphaned children, where they could receive meals, shelter, and therapy. At the end of 2010, after the heavy experience in Haiti, she returned to Cuernavaca because of her desire to be with her family.

She began her job search, only knowing that, “I wanted to work for a non-profit because I had always worked in this sector. I was never involved in the governmental or private sector because I have always liked philanthropy.” She found an opening at NPH, not realizing that Nos Petit Frères et Soeurs (the organization that built Saint Damien’s Hospital in Haiti, which had survived the earthquake and where she had gone to attend meetings while working in Haiti) was not a French or Haitian organization but had originated in her home country of Mexico, and in Spanish was called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos™, or NPH. Having come to this realization, Mariney was very interested in the position, came in for an interview and had a tour of the home in Miacatlán. She fell in love with the home and the social objectives only to begin working as the Volunteer and Visitor Coordinator in March of 2011.

Mariney held that position until December of 2011 when she began to work in the sponsorship office because she was asked to support in the transition of the retirement of the previous Director of Sponsorship of 28 years, Mayi. Mariney worked as the assistant to the director for six months, and in June of 2012 Mayi invited Mariney to be the Head of the International Sponsorship Department. Day to day, she dedicates herself to obtaining new international sponsors, or godparents, for the children of NPH Mexico. Every day there are new requests for sponsorship, and it is her responsibility, along with her team of three, to facilitate communication between the children and their godparents. Every day they receive letters and packages from International Sponsors, and together they work with the children to write letters, thank you responses, translate them, and send the responses. Another part of Mariney’s job, and one that she enjoys a lot, is being responsible for the organizing of the spending of the “Sharing Fund.” This is a fund made up of monetary gifts received by international sponsors and used to fund activities and celebrations in the home. Mariney has the responsibility of giving out birthday money at the end of each month, Christmas money during the holidays, allocating money towards activities like BBQs, First Communions, summer activities such as ceramics, taekwondo and theatre.

Mariney says one of the biggest challenges of her work, but one that she fully enjoys, is that “this office is a bridge between the godparents who are far away and the children who are here. We have to make an effort to build those relationships from a distance, and to create a consciousness in the kids because to them the sponsors are so far away that they are almost invisible. It is important to make sure the kids value their godparents and everything that they do for them even though they cannot see them. We are also going to begin the Godparents Party so that the children realize that all the good things that they have here, and it this is an important part of that. It is a way to show thanks to their godparents.”

What she likes most about her job is knowing that her work helps so many children and having the opportunity to get closer to the kids, "I enjoy knowing that the money from the godparents is spent on fun for the kids and knowing that my work has an impact, and helping to ensure that this can continue to benefit the children. I think about that every day. If it is a boring, or sad, or a busy day, I always remember that I am working for all the children that are here, and that is what I like."

Mariney is about to complete one year in her position as Head of the International Sponsorship Department and we would like to congratulate her on this mark in her career at NPH and thank her for all her hard work and dedication that she has given to us.

Reported by Elizabeth Caletka, Communications Officer