Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Reflection on Trust

Below is a piece written by former volunteer and current Upper Midwest Associate Board Member, Hunter Johnson.

Gaining the trust of a child at NPH isn’t always easy. While some kids run to you with open arms, becoming your best friend from day one, others don’t. For some it takes a consistent presence for them to confide in you, especially for older children.


This was one of the reasons moving back to the US was challenging for me. I felt that in my two years living at NPH, I’d invested so much time and energy into the formation of deep relationships with the children - children that I truly love - and now I was far away, no longer a part of their daily lives. It hurt. There was no way I could remain close to the children and be seen as a trustworthy presence while I was exactly not that - present. I thought my relationships would fade because I wasn’t living there and that there would be no chance for me to get to know new children.


But I was wrong.


Last March I returned to NPH Honduras for a short visit. During my stay, I spent many evenings with the same home where I had volunteered when living at NPH: a group 14-18 year-old boys. Many of the ones I knew well had gone on to high school, so the group had changed. It now consisted of different boys. I didn't know these ones nearly as well.


One particular night I spent with this group, a boy in the home was quite sick. He said he had trouble keeping his food down and felt pain in his stomach. He asked if I would accompany him to the on-site clinic. I went with him.


We walked to the clinic and he was given medication. He told me he was hungry since he had not eaten. Knowing by now that he had missed dinner in the home, I grabbed some cereal from my room and we sat outside and talked as he ate several bowls.


He opened up.


He told me about his abusive household prior to NPH and the death of his parents. He told me about how things were going in the home at NPH. He told me about how he was doing in school. He told me about who he was dating.


I was never close to this boy before.


By the time I walked him back to the home several hours later, I felt connected to him. And for the remainder of my visit in Honduras, we were close. I could tell the way his eyes lit up when he saw me that he greatly valued our quality time together, as did I. It’s amazing that this connection was made in just a fraction of one night.


So what has this taught me? My relationship with the NPH community did not stop growing when I returned to the states.

As I had previously thought, building relationships through consistent presence and familiarity is certainly an effective approach. But through my experience with this boy, I now know a new way: Gaining trust by responding to a specific person’s call for help and listening when they most want to be heard. This is equally, if not more important. And you don’t need two years to do it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

However, as many people told me, it wasn’t an adios (goodbye), but rather an hasta luego (see you later)...

Below is a testimonial written by Upper Midwest Associate Board Member Kristen Mages.
Three and a half years ago, I graduated from college, packed my bags and hopped on a plane for the Dominican Republic en route to a home called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. I knew I wanted to do volunteer work, but I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had found the organization online about six months earlier and thought it sounded like a good fit. It met my three simple requirements for the service year I planned on doing: working with children in a Spanish-speaking country and a faith-filled environment.

Before long, I was hooked. I remember my very first day at the home and how one of the special needs girls ran up to me giggling away as she lovingly tackled me with a bear hug. Since I was walking into a life where not even one face was familiar to me, I vividly remember how welcoming that hug felt. I also recall my second day there, Three Kings Day, and how I was allowed to choose the house I would get to work with (although looking back, it was actually them who chose me). I ended up in Casa Santa Ana, a house of twenty rambunctious teenage girls all hitting the age of puberty. After about six months of my patience being constantly tested by these girls, they started to trust me and open up. I sat by these girls’ sides for hours as they talked about their boy crushes, their absent family members, their plans for the future and many other things; as they opened their hearts to me, I found myself doing the same with them. Before long, the thought of leaving after a year became unbearable, and I decided to extend my time there for another eight months.

As my second Three Kings Day with the girls came and went, I realized just how hooked I had become. What had felt foreign in every sense of the word just 365 days earlier, now felt familiar, comfortable and most importantly, right. I had twenty new hermanitas who meant the world to me. Months later, as my time abroad came to an end, I was forced to do the hardest thing I have done yet in life – say goodbye to these newfound family members. I am usually a person who keeps her emotions in check, but with this life event, I wasn’t able to. Even reflecting on those goodbyes a couple years later gets me choked up once again.

However, as many people told me, it wasn’t an adios (goodbye), but rather an hasta luego (see you later). And that was true. Since that difficult departure, I have been blessed to be able to go back and visit once or twice a year. I send letters to Casa Santa Ana every month, and I’m now sponsoring one of those twenty girls who hold such special spots in my heart. I’m also an active member on the NPH Upper Midwest Associate’s Board where I get to spend time with other young adults who possess the same strong connection I feel towards NPH. We host fundraising events and find every means possible to share this piece of our hearts with friends and family in Minnesota.

When I think of how important NPH is to me, a million different faces, moments, and memories come to mind. I remember things from my first day in the Dominican Republic three and a half years ago all the way to the conversation I had with my parents’ NPH godchild yesterday, on the day of his graduation from high school. In the end, I realize that NPH has not only changed me, it is me.