Friday, April 11, 2014

We are helping these children create the necessary opportunity for an empowering, dignified future.

Below is a reflection written by volunteer teacher, Doug Orofino, on his time teaching the children at NPH Honduras. 

Lo que es mi Camino, Lo que Llevo Yo

The Path I Walk:
Each morning I set myself upon the path which winds me down to the sun-bathed Escuela Primaria. Glancing across the deep green rows of the Ranch's Hortaliza (garden) I can smell the pine trees which so laboriously clothe the mountains. Sometimes when the world is the perfect blend of silk white cloud, azure blue sky, and sleepy morning sun, I find myself stumbling for thought, wondering, "What in the world led me here?" There is no easy answer as to what kind of person finds themselves here at NPH Honduras, breathing, and living, and loving is this unique home. And although we all come from different backgrounds, Honduras won't let you stay the same. We all find ourselves being opened up, shifted around, and put back together. I'd like to think its for the better.

I think the biggest thing that has changed for me since Rancho Santa Fe is my perspective on what it is to have "a real life." I once would have told you that people who are living 'real lives' have steady jobs, apartments or homes, heath insurance, are no longer claimed as dependents by their parents during tax season, and enjoy three things they would have hated as kids, i.e. wine tasting, antiquing, hiking for no reason but to walk, etc. Now, I am much less certain. Honduras presents a glimpse of an alternative lifestyle. A life where swimming in drinkable water is an unspeakable sign of wealth. Where making $2.50 a day is not uncommon. This life is perhaps more "real" than a life of new cars every 6 or 7 years, steady jobs, masters degrees, and student debts. More people live a life akin to what I have seen here, than what I know in my personal experience.

The Things I Carry:
So what implications do these thoughts bring into my day to day life? The kids I work with will eventually graduate, hopefully study in the city for a secondary school experience, and move on to the real Honduras. It is so important to equip these children with something to help them succeed when the stakes are so high. How else can we even hope to attempt to break through the oppressive cycle of poverty that has threaded itself into the very nervous system of this glorious, humid country?
It is hard to see the long term affects of our work, but we must have faith that we are helping these children create the necessary opportunity for an empowering, dignified future.

It is an easy thing to get stuck in the mud of, "let's learn our tablas (times tables)" or "why can't they just understand?!" The more demanding expectation is to walk through these struggles, delivering, day by day, the instruction these beautiful, young people so desperately need to create their own futures, where the consequences of lacking basic education are imbued with danger. So we press onward, and when the sun has set, in the darkness lightning dancing through the broken, clouded sky, I think I might just love Honduras enough to do it all again tomorrow.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Love, Security, Responsibility, Work, and Sharing

All of our International Volunteers make a strong and lasting impression on the children of NPH. At times we are lucky to have a particularly talented volunteer join the NPH family with strengths and skills that create a deep and lasting impact on our organization. Hunter Johnson joined NPH Honduras as a volunteer Communication Officer, and after completing his volunteer year he was hired to create a new series of videos to showcase the NPH homes. He visited all the NPH homes, capturing beautiful video footage of our kids, staff, NPH leadership, and programs. You can see the video he created to celebrate NPH's recent 60th anniversary as well as his other videos here:, and read about his adventure below.

Thank you, Hunter. We appreciate the work you have done with NPH.

I still can’t quite believe it. Three things that I’ve come to enjoy most in life are creative video making, traveling to unknown territories, and goofing off with adorable little kids. So when NPH International first approached me with the proposal of a project that is essentially the ultimate combination of all three seemingly unrelated elements, it felt like a dream. Then I agreed to do it, and it was no longer this far-fetched fantasy. It became an incredible, worthwhile reality.

So, what is this task, you wonder? It’s rather straightforward when written out clearly: NPH wants new videos that highlight the programs, properties and people of its nine homes across Latin America and the Caribbean. Working as a one-man camera crew, I would spend a week at each of these locations to capture everything. Then I would edit the footage together to produce a collection of videos for the NPH website and to help with general fundraising. This is what I signed up for, but, as you might imagine, I got a whole lot more out of it than what was listed on the job description.

Let’s rewind a second.

I first came to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos™ as a volunteer in January 2012 to work as the Communication Officer at the home in Honduras. I clearly remember the initial feelings of being overwhelmed and intimidated by the foreign language, demanding work schedule and large quantity of kids that engulfed me from the first day I set foot here. But, I also recall the following months with equal vividness: greatly improving my Spanish language skills; learning to manage my job with competence and efficiency; and finally, abandoning the notion of our children as a giant number and beginning to know them on a more personal and profound level. Now, this place feels like home. I walk around the property with the same comfort I’d walk around my house back in the States. But still, even with all this newfound confidence, I can’t say I was entirely prepared for the epic journey that lay ahead. The fact of the matter was, it took all that time and effort for me to become comfortable at one NPH home, now I was asked to go to eight more.

Nevertheless, I finished my time as a volunteer in Honduras, packed up my clothes and camera equipment for four months of travel to nine countries, and on May 3rd of 2013, I set off on the exciting new adventure.

Well… not quite…

One positive quality this journey reinforced was patience, and I was tested on it right from the very start. You always have to have a plan, but you also have to know that this plan could be delayed, altered, or totally scrapped at any moment. So, two failed attempts to cross the border into El Salvador due to rejected passport stamps and one minor bus crash later, it was actually on May 6th of 2013 that I set off on the exciting new adventure, this time deciding to start the journey in Guatemala instead.

Okay, fast forward again.

This time even further, to where I am currently: in Honduras, sitting in my office, having completed the long tour to all eight other countries and in the midst of what is sure to be a lengthy and detailed editing process. Looking back (literally) at my visits to the NPH homes as I browse the 700-plus gigabytes worth of video footage and photographs, I am now removed enough from the big trip to be able to reflect upon the people I met and moments I experienced that all add up to a larger, more comprehensive understanding of the enormous NPH family.

Since returning to Honduras the question I’ve been asked most often by the children is which home I liked the best. I can’t respond to this question because I simply don’t have an answer. No single home jumps out at me - instead, all the homes are brought to mind. Every home is unique in its size, architectural design, and rhythm of life. The individual children, employees, and volunteers that live and work at each NPH home combine to produce a special environment that distinguishes it from the rest. So, when I’m asked this question, how can I respond? The homes seem so different they’re almost incomparable.

As I dig deeper and deeper into the video archive I’ve begun to notice a pattern not quite so obvious at first-glance. My video footage is organized by country and then further broken down into folders sorted by category: school, nutrition, work, healthcare, free time, religion, etc. Looking through these folders for each country I’ve made a profound observation: The homes are a thousand times more similar than they could ever be different.

Looking beyond the exoskeleton of the superficial characteristics of the homes and seeing right into the heart of the organization is where the real truth lies. What is incredibly uniform across all the countries is the one, omnipresent philosophy that the founder Father William B. Wasson laid out for us. Love, Security, Responsibility, Work, and Sharing: these core principles are smoothly woven in many layers into the video footage I’ve collected. The reality is, while the homes may be in different countries and the children come from various backgrounds, the reoccurring trends in the footage I’ve captured goes to show just how in sync and harmonious these places truly are.

Let me give you an example. When I’m editing a video and I’m looking for a shot of a happy child, the fact that I have literally hundreds of shots to choose from which depict children from all the homes joyously smiling at the camera, playing freely with their friends, or laughing in the arms of a caregiver is a definite sign that NPH does good work. It’s a definite sign of the organization’s consistency. This is the principle of Love, captured in its many forms.

The same can be said of the other NPH pillars. Security is a shot of a young caregiver in Nicaragua tucking in a toddler in at night. Responsibility is a clip of a girl studying in Peru for her exam the following week. Work is a recording of three teenage boys in Mexico harvesting fresh tomatoes to serve for lunch. Sharing is in a video of a child in the Dominican Republic happily splitting her juice amongst five of her closest friends. Of course the contexts in which these principles manifest themselves is always diverse, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what nearly a terabyte of high definition video footage says about the values of the NPH family.

Apart from the actual video being a testament to the mission of NPH, the many personal memories from the trip deeply engrained in my mind also continue to resonate within me. Visiting this many countries so quickly produces a whirlwind of recollections, and some things, unfortunately, blend together. But others don’t. I met so many good-natured people who come to NPH to dedicate their time to do something far beyond them in scope, but when taken one small step at a time, progress can be seen. Some people stay for six months, others stay for 30 years. Simply being in the presence of these individuals and witnessing their dedication, it’s impossible not to remember them and become inspired by their determination.

Interacting with the children in each country was the most significant part of the journey. In each country I roamed the property freely with my camera, attempting to take video of the kids in their most natural states. Of course, sometimes things weren’t as genuine as I hoped, and kids would put on Oscar-worthy performances for the camera. Like for example in Haiti, when 12 boys “prepared for bed” as they stood in two perfect lines and vigorously brushed their teeth, staring directing into the camera lens and trying their best to smile without drooling toothpaste onto their T-shirts. But much more often than that, the moments were truly authentic, and this honesty is felt when playing back the videos.

Some of my favorite memories are the times I shared with kids without the camera as a barrier between us. Usually there was at least one child who decided to become my best friend/personal assistant in each home, carrying my tripod and camera bag everywhere and laughing uproariously at each one of my really-not-funny jokes. Some children opened up to me and told me their pre-NPH story. Most didn’t, and we just took each other for who we were, in that moment. I had so many identities over the course of the tour. These have included uoontair (Spanish pronunciation of my name), Cazador (the word “hunter” in Spanish), Hamster (because I guess it sounds like Hunter?), and my personal favorite, the original blue Power Ranger, as I convinced (I mean, really convinced) about 20 young boys in Bolivia that this was my previous occupation before coming to NPH.

The travels were a true test for me on many levels. Both physically and mentally, things could be demanding. Mentally, because the sheer amount I was expected to document sometimes seemed enormously overwhelming to do working alone. Physically, in that I may have been sick with some sort of illness for nearly half of my time on the road. But that part is over, and now that my reality is a more static one - very static as I find myself editing video at my desk for close to 8 hours a day – I can undeniably see the value in every moment I experienced during the voyage, as challenging or effortless as it was, and I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could.

When I think back at the four months I spent floating from one NPH home to the next, I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to better know the breadth of the mission of the NPH family. I feel blessed to have been able to use my personal strengths and skills for a cause in which I truly believe. And finally, more than anything I feel blessed to have met and shared quality time with so many playful, curious, and motivated children who refuse to dwell on the unfortunate realities of their past and are ecstatic to receive a second chance at being a normal kid with an exciting and optimistic future.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Never underestimate the impact you are having...

Below is an excerpt from a wonderful reflection blog post by NPFS Haiti volunteer, Bridget Holtz.

Children are the hope of the world. This one is a carry-over from my time in Nicaragua – but if you are ever depressed, discouraged, weighed down by life, go look into the eyes of a child, sit and play with him or her. The energy and determination they possess and the joy in their smiles as they discover and share the excitements of their days will bring life and laughter.

Never underestimate the impact you are having. This is not meant to pressure us, but to keep us aware that we are being watched, our actions being measured as we profess a faith or a philosophy. Live out loud, in words and speech, in actions and in truth.

Laughter is healing. Laughter is hopeful. Laughter is intimacy. I knew I had reached a level of trust with the nurses in the clinic when we could laugh with each other. I was willing to make mistakes and sound ridiculous as I learned Creole and learned about Haitian life. Humor was a way to reach the one nurse who intimidated me the most. I am the best kind of target for teasing – I immediately fall for it and react strongly. So the laughter abounded throughout every day and put us at ease with each other. It also reminded me not to take myself so seriously.

Oh, Haiti, I miss you. I miss the genuine presence of each moment, the sun and the laughter and the sounds and the little hands and feet, the sweat and the tears and the chanting of my name and the full-body hugs of the little ones. The 7Up, the morning coffee, the baby cows mooing like they are full-grown, their mommas checking for cars before letting them cross to the pasture, the rice and the beans and the spice and the chicken, the refreshment of a cold shower at the end of a brutal day, the simplicity of life, the knowledge that one life could make others better. The determination of a people who refuse to give up, no matter what the cost, who fight for each moment and possess faith far beyond mine. Three nurses who showed me every day that if we have faith, hope and love, we have the tools to succeed. The bravery of young children who run after life with abandon, who dance and sing and love and rejoice and embrace each day with all they have. I pray that I can bring these and so many more tidbits into life here in the States, and that the depth of my heart will only serve to dignify, love and be present to those who are now before me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I’ve come to learn that relationships and communication are incredibly intricate and so valuable here.

Below is an excerpt from a blog post written by Ashley Siferd, a volunteer from NPH El Salvador. Ashley talks about how much she has learned about the delicate and extremely meaningful relationships built with the children at the NPH homes. 

I’ve come to learn that relationships and communication are incredibly intricate and so valuable here. Building trust with some of these kids takes time and effort, especially given some of their backgrounds and personal histories. So each new interaction or deeper conversation with any of the children for me is a victory because that means we are getting closer and leaving superficiality behind.

For example, almost 5 months had passed when one of the older girls finally opened up and started talking with me; at least it became more than just saying hello in passing. Just a few weeks ago, she felt comfortable enough with me to cry on my shoulder. I would never have expected that when I first met her.

Monday, April 7, 2014

I'd heard that being a tia was hard work...

Below is an excerpt from a blog post written by NPH Guatemala volunteer, Jessica Heintz. Jessica shares about how rewarding her experience being a "tia" last December was for her! 

I was pretty nervous leading up to December. I’d heard that being a tía was hard work, and it certainly was. The hours could drag on, the kids wouldn’t listen, etc. At the same time though, it was an experience I really enjoyed. My position as clinic assistant doesn’t provide a lot of direct contact with the kids. Thus, the intense time I spent with so many pequeños in December was great! Also, because I had a new group of boys for the most part, I got to know a lot more kids within the home.

One of my favorite parts of the tía experience was doing “vela”, or night duty. I would drag my blankets down from my house to the section, rocking sweat pants and glasses. My partner would leave and I would put on some lovely Latin bachata music until my boys fell asleep. Then, when everything was quiet, I too could snuggle up on the tía bed until the morning, when I was in charge of waking everyone up for another day. While I missed my own bed a bit on these nights, it overwhelmingly felt like such a position of honor to be able to have the privilege of keeping watch over the kids while they slept.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

We are a family here!

Below is an excerpt from a blog post written by volunteer, Kristin Mages, who worked at NPH DR. This week, National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we are celebrating all our volunteers like Kristin, who selflessly dedicate their time to helping positively influence the lives of the children living in the NPH homes!

WE are a family here. That was Padre Wasson’s philosophy when he started NPH in Mexico back in 1954 and that continues to be the case to this day. It’s not uncommon to hear a kid here referring to one of their housemates as their brother or sister; some of them have known and lived with each other since they were babies. Plus lots of our kids have siblings here with them. 

On that note, we have a really special project that we do here as volunteers called Proyecto Familiar (I’ve mentioned this before in other blogs). More or less, once a month, each volunteer is assigned a family of siblings and together, we make supper. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s about being together. Some siblings here are very close, but there are others that you rarely see together and as you can imagine, when you live within 4 walls with 250+ other people, there’s not often time to be alone as a family and not surrounded by others.

This past Sunday, I did two different Proyecto Familiares. First off, we had Franchesca (one of my girls) and her younger twin sisters, Fernanda and Katery. I knew this one would be a walk in the park, because these siblings are super close and Franchesca is very responsible. Franchesca planned it all and we ended up making ensalada de coditos (pasta salad, Dominican-style) in the way her mom taught her years ago. We had a great time!