Thursday, September 17, 2015

NPH Honduras – a place I feel so at home

Below is a testimonial written by Noel, a sponsor from our Northwest Region!
If you ask my tween and teenage daughters what was the highlight of their summer they will instantly and without a moment’s hesitation reply “the week we spent in Honduras at the Ranch.” But I’m getting ahead of myself because this wasn’t our first trip to Rancho Santa Fe.  NPH Honduras is so special that this was a repeat visit for us!

Three years ago I heard about NPH and that there were trips to the homes in the different countries and thought “that would be a neat thing to do.” Little did I know that I would end up opening my heart to children thousands of miles away, develop a relationship with two children there, sponsor them, and eagerly look forward to their letters updating me on their lives.

Recently my daughters and I had the opportunity to return to Rancho Santa Fe; our experience the summer of 2013 was so amazing that we couldn’t wait to go back; it had just taken us two years to do it!  So on July 17th we settled into our red eye flight eager to land the next morning in Tegucigalpa and get back to the Ranch.  We knew we would have a great week, but would either of the girls we sponsored remember us like we remembered them?

When we arrived at the Ranch it was a Saturday and after quickly unpacking in the guest house, San Cristobal, we headed off to mass.  What a wonderful way to start our week at NPH with Father Reynaldo, the uplifting music, and the beauty of the outdoor chapel.  My girls quickly scanned the crowd and picked out one of “our girls”.  We had several occasions to see Sarah* over that week.  We had dinner with her and her hermanas in their hogare (the building on the ranch where the 20 or so girls that age live), we saw her perform in an evening of cultural dances, we went to the school and were treated to an assembly full of Honduran traditions that she was a part of, and she and her two younger sisters visited the guest house one afternoon and we got to play cards, blow bubbles, and color.  But my most special time with Sarah was one afternoon when I visited her after school.  She could have easily played with my two daughters who speak Spanish (I don’t) and all of the girls in their hogare, but instead she took me by the hand and the two of us went out to the swing set and monkey bars near Hija Maria, where she lived.   We swung on the swings, went down the slide, and finally just sat, perched atop the monkey bars enjoying each other’s company.  While Sarah always welcomed me warmly whenever I saw her by giving me a hug, the fact that she chose to hang out with me when I could barely communicate because my Spanish was from so long ago – that meant the world to me.  As the saying goes, “your presence is your present” and Sarah didn’t care that I couldn’t speak her language, she valued me being there. 

The week was full of special times like the evening our group was invited to Father Reynaldo’s home and sat out on his porch in the evening with candles lit and had the opportunity to talk with him and some of the leadership students; students selected to come to Seattle to study for a year’s time.  Then there was the afternoon we went for a hike and got to cool off in a watering hole after our steep climb through the woods and hills that make up the Ranch.  A few days later I cooled off in La Posa (the watering hole) behind the farm.  The farm is home to the four-legged critters on the ranch; there are cows, chickens, and rabbits.  One of the great things about visiting an NPH home is in addition to spending time with the kids, you get to actually help out – whether that be with maintenance around the home, chopping up vegetables in the kitchen for that evening’s supper, weeding in the garden, or helping Donya Gloria make tortillas – they estimate she has made millions of tortillas over her 28 years working at the Ranch.  So this day we were to go to the farm and collect the eggs.  While my kids were excited to do this, I was a city girl and not so sure about hoisting up a chicken to search for eggs underneath!  While it was a bit unnerving – I was worried about getting pecked, the chickens were very used to it and obliged my prodding good-naturedly!

One afternoon during some down time I went with another woman in our group to Casa Eva, the home for elderly people who had no one to care for them and had come to live at the Ranch.  I recognized some of the residents from our prior visit and we were warmly welcomed into their beautiful courtyard.  I met a younger woman who was staying there while she recuperated from surgery she had had at the clinic.  She was appreciative of the medical care she’d received and passed the time waiting for her next surgery by crocheting.  Before I left she had given me a pair of booties, the perfect size for my daughter’s doll back home!

Touring the clinic and meeting the orthopedic doctor there, a former Pequeno (boy who grew up at the ranch) was a highlight. The waiting room was packed when we got there; we were treated to a tour of their state of the art operating room, and saw the dental clinic that is being built.  The clinic hosts medical brigades monthly and offers needed care to those at the Ranch as well as surrounding areas/towns; care that wouldn’t be available otherwise. What a gift and how special that a boy who grew up at the Ranch came back to serve as one of their doctors.  We saw this too when we toured the workshops where all the kids learn a vocation.  A couple of the instructors grew up on the Ranch and came back there to teach; I tell you it is a special place!

One evening we were treated to dinner and conversation with the Volunteers.  Every year people come from around the world (quite literally, we met volunteers from Germany, Australia, Spain, the United States) and spend a year (or more) working at the Ranch.  Through an interactive game of bingo we got to know these special young people and I could see the wheels turning in my older daughter’s head as she took all this in.  From her visit to NPH Honduras in 2013 to her visit to NPH Guatemala in 2014 and then on this return visit to NPH Honduras in 2015 she has consistently said that she wants to volunteer at a NPH home when she’s older – the challenge is going to be which of these special homes to go to!

Before our first trip to an NPH home, I was nervous.  I had traveled to Europe but never to Central America and I had lots of questions.  Also as a single mom I thought do I really want to spend my one week of summer vacation at a home for kids where I’d be doing some work – was that what I needed to recharge? Wouldn’t lying on a beach be more the ticket?  There was nothing more restorative for my spirit than a week with the amazing kids and staff at NPH. Everyone told me “you will get so much more back from this trip than you give” and boy were they right.

If you’re thinking about visiting NPH, as Nike says, “Just do it” I guarantee you that it will forever change you bringing much love and happiness into your life.  The world now seems a little smaller with part of my heart residing in these two girls who live in a different country but who I consider to be part of my family. In this fast-paced society where finding connection can be hard, NPH is an oasis. If you take the time to learn about NPH and visit one of their homes where amazing transformations happen, you will have had a positive impact on a child’s life; what a neat remembrance of your summer vacation.  And who knows? Like us, maybe you will make a forever connection that will enrich your life on a daily basis and bring you coming back for more.  I can think of no better wish for you! 
*Name changed to protect privacy.



Monday, September 14, 2015

The window that we share into each other’s world...

International volunteer Zena Lapp puts you in our kids shoes with this story!

There are so many facets of life at NPH Bolivia that it is impossible to capture my volunteer experience with any one story. So instead of telling you a story, I’m going to have you imagine something.

Imagine that, at the age of two, the government decided that your parents didn’t have the resources to take care of you and your two older siblings. They put you in a home with children who come from similar situations. You don’t remember much about your first few years in the home, but you do remember that there were always people taking care of you, holding you, hugging you. You remember playing with the other children, going to birthday parties, drawing pictures, and eventually starting school. You moved into a different house with a new caregiver and children similar to you in age. You began doing chores, you got to eat meals with your biological siblings on the weekends, you started playing football regularly, and you realized that many of those pictures you drew as a child were for your godparents from other countries. You also began to realize that some of the people you interact with are volunteers and visitors who are there to get to know you and to work at the home alongside the local staff. In addition to your caregivers, you began to have meaningful relationships with some of your godparents and some of the volunteers. Your godparents are one of the only constants in your life. They write regularly, they ask you how you are, and they teach you about life in their country. On the other hand, the volunteers and visitors come and go, but you still learn a lot from them. You see how people from other places and backgrounds may be different in some ways, but that in many ways they are similar to you. They like to play, laugh, and tell stories. They teach you, without you realizing it, important lessons about cultural diversity. You understand, years later, that because of those collective experiences, you have gained a cultural awareness that you wouldn’t otherwise have had.

One of the questions that I have struggled with in my time here is, “Are all the resources that I have spent just to be here offset by the difference that I have made in the lives of the children?” The simplest answer may be that the cost of a volunteer is much less than the cost of an employee, signifying that NPH saves a lot of money by having volunteers. Or it is possible that something I said or did might have had a direct impact on one or some of the children; I try to be a good role model for them. But I think what may be even more important is the window that we share into each other’s world.

Maya Angelou, a poet and award-winning author, once said: “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” NPH is doing just that by exposing our children to people from cultures that are vastly different from their own.