Friday, December 30, 2016

Celebrating 2016 and looking forward to 2017...

2016 was another year full of great accomplishments at NPH USA - new friends, supporters, volunteers and godparents; successful fundraising and friend-raising events; joyous trips to the NPH homes; and so much more - all to transform the lives of children in need! And it is all possible through the generosity of people just like YOU! If you have yet to make a gift to support NPH USA, please consider making a donation today, and check out the 2016 highlights from each regional office of NPH USA below as well as our Haiti Initiative/St. Damien Pediatric Hospital Fund!

Northwest Region

  • In the NW, we graduated the fifth (and welcomed the sixth) annual cohort of 6 young leaders from NPH to the Northwest for a year-long program of study and leadership development. We also published a report on the impact of the program on the first 26 graduates!
  • The NW Associate Board for young professionals sponsored a variety of fun and successful events in Seattle, including Carnaval for a Cause, Hunt for Hope, and a Trivia Night. AB members also sponsored fundraisers at their companies, including f5, which featured NPH USA during their holiday campaign, and Microsoft, where the Devices Division sponsored a soccer tournament that raised more than $20,000.
  • Support of our events grew dramatically, including our second annual NPH USA Northwest Golf Classic, and our record-breaking Gala, which raised nearly $400,000. In particular, we increased our corporate sponsorship significantly from past years.
  • We welcomed 180 new child sponsors, and 13 Northwest donors contributed $5,000 each to provide a scholarship for a university student at NPH.
  • Nine international volunteers from the Northwest did a year or more of service in one of the NPH homes in 2016.
  • Ross Egge joined our Northwest staff team, after 11 years working on the ground with NPH in our homes, and we welcomed Jacqueline Shrader as the new Program Director of the NPH Seattle Institute.
  • We moved to a new office space (same building) – come visit us!
  • We raised more than $1.7 million in general funding to support our children, plus an additional $1.7 million in legacy and restricted gifts! Thank you to all!
 (photo of Paul Sandoval, AB member!)

Southwest Region
  • Edwin Mehta joined the team as the SW Region's Development Coordinator, and Jarrett Ransom joined the team as the SW Region's Development Officer!
  • The SW Region hosted all of the NPHI Staff and Country Directors for meetings and fundraisers during the National Director Weekend and also celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Fr. William Wasson’s passing. It was a wonderful time had by all!
  • The SW Region hosted the Pequenos from the home in Nicaragua for three weeks of Fundraising and Events in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Danville and also had the 2016 SW Get Closer Gala with special guests Ismar and Marlin!
  • At the end of October and the beginning of November we had a women’s group that travelled to the NPH Home in Guatemala where 20 women had the opportunity to experience the culture and witness the life that the children have at the home in Guatemala.

Midwest Region
  • The pequeños from NPH El Salvador provided great music and folkloric dancing during their 18-day Pequeño Tour this past spring. The group spent most of its time in the Chicago area, staying with families in St. Michael Parish in Orland Park and Transfiguration Parish in Wauconda. They also traveled to the far reaches of the Midwest Region for a long weekend at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Lenoir City, Tennessee. We estimate over 3,500 people witnessed one of their many performances. Many thanks to our host families and local organizers. We couldn’t do it without you!
  • The weather cooperated this year for our Fourth Annual Golf Outing featuring NFL Hall of Famers and other football greats from years past. We moved the golf outing this year to the stately Biltmore Country Club in North Barrington, and the new venue was everything we hoped it would be and a whole lot more. More importantly, the golf outing set a new record in terms of the amount that was raised.
  • For the third year in a row, the beautiful Standard Club of Chicago was the location for the annual MW Region's Gala and After Dark events. At the Gala, the Midwest Region presented John and Cindy Shinsky with its Corazón Award, which is given to those who give their hearts to the children of NPH. John and Cindy have worked tirelessly to build and support Ciudad de los Niños in Matamoros, part of the NPH Mexico network of homes. For the third consecutive year, the Young Professionals Board of the NPH USA Midwest Region hosted the always fun Gala post-party, aptly named After Dark. A good time was had by all. Revenue for the Gala and After Dark was 10% higher than last year.
  • Thanks to the organizing and running efforts of Midwest Region Board member Chris Ambroso, in the famous Chicago Marathon Team NPH USA’s runners raised $12,500 for the children of NPH!
  • This year, the Midwest Region directed six trips to NPH homes in Guatemala (twice), Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and El Salvador. Participating on those trips were 135 people who were able to experience for themselves what life is like at an NPH home.
Standing outside the bishop’s residence in Knoxville, Tennessee is the group from
NPH El Salvador with the Most Reverend Rick Stika, Bishop of the Diocese of
Knoxville, in the middle.  In the upper left hand corner of the group is His Eminence
Justin Francis Cardinal Rigali.
Midwest Region sponsor Anita Lambert and her goddaughter are all smiles during
                Anita’s visit to NPH El Salvador in November.
Upper Midwest Region
  • The UPMW region celebrated Volunteer of the Year Vic Roers! Vic is valued for her dedication and her enduring amount of time and talent. She shares the NPH story with everyone she meets and wants nothing more than to ensure NPH children have a stocking for Christmas. Vic has been such a supportive and helpful volunteer and is quickly becoming a regular at NPH Honduras and El Salvador! 
  • Thank you to all the supports in our Upper Midwest region for making this year’s Cinco de Mayo 5k Run/Walk (our 10th Annual) such a success! We raised $18,593 and had 278 participants! Special thanks to our generous Sponsors: Summit Orthopedics, Valley Pain Relief and Wellness Center, HED Cycling, Modere North America, and Defining You Pilates and Fitness! 
  • This August, members from the Upper Midwest Region’s Associate Board of Directors formed a 2016 NPH USA Summer Games event that raised over $8,000! The group created fun and original contests and competed against one another for the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals. Way to go Associate board!  
  • Thank you to the more than 360 guests who attended the 2016 Upper Midwest Gala presented by Nasseff Mechanical Contractors, which was a grand success! Through gala ticket sales, silent and live auction, games, and most importantly an anonymous match and commitments made during Fund-A-Need, we raised over $508,000 to continue Raising Children and Transforming Lives at NPH homes. We are also excited to announce 15 new child sponsors were formed. Likewise, we honored Jean Gray for his 35 years of dedication to NPH with the Rose Schaffhausen Award. A world traveler, Jean has seen the poverty that exists and destroys the potential for children. Jean has given his time, energy, and countless hours to the Fr. Wasson Legacy Endowment. Jean has embraced the NPH mission, furthered our cause and continues to cherish our NPH children.
  • In 2016, the NPH USA strategic plan addressed the importance to deepen efforts in philanthropy and restructure staffing to ensure future success. Molly Boyum was announced the Vice President of Development to oversee all of the regional offices of NPH USA, and therefore her previous position, now open, allowed for the new hire of a regional director. Stephanie Pommier, new Regional Director, joined NPH in July with 19 years of nonprofit experience, a great passion for social change, and adherence to sensitivity, collaboration, and ethics in all her fundraising. Steve Schmidt, our new Development Manager, was born and raised in Shoreview, MN and joined NPH in August sharing, “NPH is a family, and I feel as though I have found my home.”  

Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Region
  • Many parishes in the MA-NE Region united their church communities and joined NPH USA in helping those less fortunate this year! The generosity that poured out of St. Mary of the Assumption Parishes in Brookline, MA; The Parish of St. Anthony in Cohasset, MA; Most Precious Blood & St. Theresa Parish in Dover & Sherborn, MA; Good Shepherd Parish in Wayland, MA; Holy Family Parish in Duxbury, MA; St. Paul the Apostle in Annville, PA, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Herndon, VA resulted in over 90 children receiving new sponsorships this fall with more on the way!
  • Eight schools in Massachusetts opened their doors and hearts to the children of NPH Mexico this fall during our 2016 Pequeño Tour. Notre Dame Academy, Immaculate Conception Academy, Trinity Catholic Academy, Dexter Southfield, Hamilton – Wenham High school, Waring School, Rockport Middle School, and Shore Country Day, all welcomed the children and generously supported them in their fundraising efforts. Thank you!
  • Generous donors/supporters got together to organize events in support of NPH this year raising over $23,000 for the children of NPH. Brian Orr, Barbara Kelley, and Kara Swenson put together the Windows on the World event on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Eddie & Eileen Bernau hosted Cheers for Children at their home in Newburyport, MA. Patty Tarpey got together passionate donors and sponsors in a Cheers for Children event in Washington, DC and Deirdre & Steven Ginns, Patricia & Paul Mikus, and Charlie & Barbara Sullivan hosted the second annual Cocktails for A Cause in Hingham, MA while the pequenos were here from Mexico. Thank you to all for your support!
  • The MA-NE Associate Board and Junior Board have both had a successful year with many fun events and fundraisers in the surrounding Boston area. The associate board has expanded to include members in both NYC and DC! Reuniting returned international volunteers with passionate NPH supporters! Both groups have been helping to raise awareness and funds in support of University Education for the Pequenos.
  • The NPH USA Mid-Atlantic Northeast office facilitated many mission and donor trips to a variety of NPH homes this year, including Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Mexico. After seeing the direct impact of NPH and falling in love with many of the children at the homes, trip participants have become some of our most passionate advocates in raising funds and spreading awareness about NPH.
Haiti Initiative/St. Damien Pediatric Hospital Fund
  • We celebrated a matching grant challenge this year when a very generous foundation pledged $500k per year for three years if we could find two other donors who would join them for the same amount and duration, and thanks to two additional generous donors, we completed the challenge and received the support for St Damien Pediatric Hospital!
  • Fr. Rick and Jennifer Rayno, President of the NPH Haiti Board of Directors and Director of the St. Damien Pediatric Hospital Fund respectively, visited St. Louis Church and the community of Pittsford, NY in August. This generous and faithful community has been supporting St. Damien for over thirty years and raised nearly $60k this year through various efforts!
  • St. Damien graduated the first group of 6 new pediatricians trained at St. Damien in October! After 3 years of training, these 6 new pediatricians are ready to take care of children’s health in Haiti. There are approximately only 300 pediatricians supporting 3 million children under 5 years of age with great vulnerability in Haiti. We have retained 3 of them for our own needs. The 4th class of 6 physicians started their training October 1st.
  • St. Damien was able to offer continuous care during a 5-month strike of all governmental hospitals in Haiti from the end of March to August 2016. The hospital experienced a 2% to 25% increase across departments in the volume of the population served during the first 3 months of this strike. St. Damien proved once more that it is poised and always ready to help the Haitian community during crisis. St. Damien was recognized by the executive director of the Ministry of Health for the role it played for the country during a press conference when the strike ended.
  • The heart program at St. Damien has grown significantly. 11 children received heart surgery in February 2016. A second mission scheduled for September 2016 was postponed until January 2017 due to insecurity in the country. More than 150 children were screened during 5 visits of pediatric cardiologists from the US, France, India (from an Indian hospital established at Cayman Islands). A wonderful partnership with Haiti Cardiac Alliance, Gift of Life International and a foundation from Health City Hospital in the Cayman Islands support this program. A significant proportion of children with heart defects were dying at home or at health centers as families are not able to send them abroad for needed surgeries. St. Damien is the only hospital in Haiti able to offer heart surgery locally thanks to this support our partners. One of our own pediatricians has currently completed 6 months of a one-year training in pediatric cardiology in Martinique. The program will continue to grow offering screening, surgery, and follow up care to the children with heart disease in Haiti. There are 3 surgical cardiac missions that are scheduled at St. Damien during 2017.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Your heart will be the fuller and your life the richer for it...

Below is a testimonial by son and mother, Carson and Anna Stevens, who recently visited four NPH homes! Caron, a volunteer who has worked at NPH Honduras from 2014-2015 went with his mother back to Rancho Santa Fe (Honduras) as well as the homes in Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala! Read about their journey below!
My mother and I recently visited four NPH homes in North & Central America (October 11-24, 2016) as a follow-up to my volunteer year at NPH Honduras (June 2014-July 2015) and as part of our mutual dream to see any and as many of the NPH homes as possible.  On our trip we saw, in order:  NPH Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.  We had earmarked two weeks to make the trip but the main pitfall was obvious as soon as we were leaving the first home (NPH Mexico): the visits were too short (2-4 days at each home)!  Nonetheless, we got a flavor of each home and felt welcomed and befriended by countless pequeños (the resident children), staff and volunteers within minutes of arriving in each location.
Casa San Salvador, NPH Mexico (in Miacatlán), the genesis of NPH and most populated home of the four, felt like a safe, secure and peaceful fortress or campus despite its original use as a sugar plantation (which, we were told, extends all the way back to descendants of the Conquistador Cortez).  We met lovely toddlers, kids, youth and staff and learned a lot about the home´s past, its present projects and the future direction of the home.  Many people made the trip amazing, but particularly the kind and gracious Volunteer/Visitor Coordinator, Daniel, and Farm Director, Doctor Julio.  Dr. Julio explained to us how he manages the crops being grown, the philosophy behind it, and how the children are a huge part of the harvest, not merely because of the labor they provide (after school hours), but because of the education they receive in learning responsibility and how to respectfully live and grow alongside nature.  We were able to spend time with Marion, the pioneer and face of the Taller de Arte art therapy program, and her students as they carefully prepared papier-maché skeletons and skulls for El Día de Los Muertos (the November 1 Day of the Dead holiday).  We also sampled the wares of the Taller de Arte giftshop, where students donate mosaic creations (e.g. picture frames, vases and crosses) to support the art program, in keeping with the founder of NPH, Padre(Father) Guillermo (William) Wasson's principle of giving pequeños a sense of responsibility and contribution to their NPH family, or community.  Additional highlights of the trip included visiting a third grade class during a health lesson, dining and conversing with the pre-Kinder group, and attending the despedida (goodbye party) in honor of Maestra (Teacher) Eva, a teacher who taught at the home for 40 years AFTER having grown up in it.
Casa San Andrés, NPH Guatemala (in Parramos), immediately had a different feel because the home is located high in a cool mountain region.  Apart from some midday heat, it was much cooler in the morning, afternoon, and evenings than at the other homes.  The setting was stunning- on a high hill encircled by close mountains all around with a volcano (Volcán de Acatenango) nearby.  When we arrived, the school year had just ended and vacation had just started.  Things were quiet and calm, with a relaxed schedule of chores in the morning then recreational activities and free time in the afternoon.  So many people in NPH Guatemala were friendly, welcoming and eager to get acquainted with us.  Casa San Andrés had a higher ratio of volunteers (19 volunteers: 300 children) than Mexico (8:500), Honduras (19:450) or El Salvador (0:300; currently no volunteers).  We received incredible help and orientation from the Visitor Coordinator, Michael.  Among the many inspiring people we encountered at Casa San Andrés were Ismar Velásquez, hermano mayor (former pequeño) from NPH Honduras, as well as an old friend "on loan" from NPH Honduras:  Juan Bautista, a University student whose drive and focus allowed him to pursue his studies in Guatemala, with NPH Guatemala's support.  Highlights of the visit included sampling the snacks at the “Tienda Sonrisa” (The Smile Store) run by Special Needs pequeños and supervised by a youth in her año de servicio (pre-university service year pequeña, also referred to as año familiar), admiring and purchasing a few items from the Taller Recreativo (recreational workshop), a special needs recreational therapy workshop that makes artwork and jewelry for sale, with the proceeds going to the project and NPH Guatemala.  Like the Taller de Arte giftshop in NPH Mexico, both projects are great examples of Padre Wasson´s principle of giving pequeños a sense of responsibility and contribution to the home.  One final unique experience for us was seeing the pequeños divide into teams for the Guatemalan home's upcoming 20th anniversary, an experience in NPH Honduras known as “Las Olimpiadas.”
Casa Sagrada Familia, NPH El Salvador (in Santa Ana), was unique because it was the youngest, smallest and least populated of the four homes we visited.  If anything, the smaller space and lower population of the home allowed us to get acquainted more quickly with the home and its pequeños and staff.  We were also struck by the warmth and graciousness of the Casa Sagrada community of pequeños.  Everyone we passed- from the youngest preschoolers through the oldest año servicios- stopped, looked us in the eye, shook our hand and greeted us warmly.  Our visit was facilitated by the friendly employee, Carmina, who gave us a very enjoyable and helpful tour.  An additional highlight included meeting Brenda, one of the home´s administrators, who has worked there since the home opened in 1999.  We were able to visit two days of classes and spend our time in the most structured manner of the four home visits because of the timing (NPH El Salvador was getting ready for exams and was therefore in more of a regular routine; Mexico had been busy with a special event- the celebration for the retiring teacher- Guatemala had just ended their school year, and the Honduras visit was during the weekend).  We had breakfast and lunch with the school-aged groups and dinner with the casa de bebes ("baby house"), where the youngest pequeños (ages 3-8) live.  The little kids treated us to an unforgettable dance session, which included punta (traditional dance popular in Honduras, a homage to my Honduran “roots!”) as well as choreographed routines to pop music and several renditions of their NPH anthem.  We were impressed by how well the children of different ages got along with and looked out for each other and how close and friendly staff members and children were to each other.  We attended a beautiful, uplifting mass on Saturday morning before departing.  The two most noticeable differences between mass in El Salvador and Honduras were that NPH El Salvador has a more traditional, large church for their masses with amplified live music, while NPH Honduras uses an amphitheater and acoustic music.
Our visit to El Rancho Santa Fe, NPH Honduras (nearest to La Venta), was at least the fourth visit for each of us.  We spent several hours with the residents of Casa Emanuel, the hogar (dorm) I worked with as a volunteer.  Casa Emanuel is the hogar for the older group of Special Needs boys and men at El Rancho.  Mom met some of the surgical brigade staff and briefly helped them get some last-minute lunch food ready while I watched futból (soccer) with Casa Emmanuel, the Visitor Coordinator, Steve, and the año familiar currently working with Casa Emmanuel.  We also met some Honduran brigade-translators in the dorm section of the Volunteer House where we all were lodged; all four were talented, eager and interesting people.  We greatly enjoyed seeing the babies, kids, youth and staff but it was a somber moment to visit because dear Abuela Engracia from Casa Eva, (“Casa de Los Abuelos,” or the home for elderly people at El Rancho) had just passed away.
Each home visit was unique and tremendously moving.  While we would recommend visiting each home, the smaller physical size and populations of the Guatemalan and El Salvador homes seemed better suited for a short trip.  A few miscellaneous tidbits we learned along the way:  The more Spanish you (or someone in your group) know(s), the better your trip will be (this includes the trip to and from the home, especially if something unexpected happens and you have to spend a night, or- like us- TWO nights in a capital city); have backup plans for all transport and lodging-related details; and, finally, you´ll spend less money if you have secured some local currency ahead of time (it can be ordered ahead of time at local US banks and AAA travel club offices).  Because of the distance from the capital city to the home, NPH Mexico was unable to provide transport to and from the airport (the other three homes did).  However, it was easy enough to do that bit on our own, and the bus line the home recommended (“Pulman de Morelos”) stops literally right in front of Casa San Salvador.
All four homes are filled with wonderful people whom we feel blessed and grateful to have met and hope to see again soon (which we´re sure would be the same case at all NPH homes and communities).  Perhaps as a metaphor for Central America, the homes do an amazing job of providing visitors with breathtaking contrasts that sometimes change instantaneously: from beautiful, calm, quiet views of mountains, fields, farms and pastures to a cacophony of voices, laughter and el latido (the beat) of hundreds of kids living Padre Wasson´s dream.
While it would be easy for us to plug Mexico as the most populated, beautiful and original home that it is, Guatemala for its pleasant climate, strategic layout and most visitor-ready feel, or Honduras as our deepest emotional connection, we´d like to point out that El Salvador REALLY deserves visits!  Whether it´s due to being the youngest of the 4 homes, having a less-established volunteer program, or other factors, a visit there definitely seems the most unique and special for the home and they REALLY- all ages and roles- show their appreciation!  We encourage those who have never visited NPH to do so because it is a life changing experience, and for those who have been to one home and (understandably!) continue to go back there whenever possible, consider visiting another home as well.  Your heart will be the fuller and your life the richer for it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

We were able to develop relationships with them that will last forever...

Below is a reflection from our partner school Eastside Catholic in Seattle written by Anna Ricci and Karen Skoog who are the teachers who led a recent trip to NPH Nicaragua. They are a longtime and steadfast partner!

In June we had the opportunity to travel to NPH Nicaragua with 9 students and 3 staff members from Eastside Catholic School. As we arrived in Nicaragua we were immediately welcomed into the NPH Nicaragua family. We leaned into the discomfort of a different climate, language barriers, and new faces and quickly realized this was a place we could come as we are and be accepted unconditionally. 

One student, Kyleigh, shared the following in a reflection at our opening Mass of the school year. “The first day that we arrived, we put all of our stuff in our rooms at the guest house and went up to the multipurpose area where we were met with over 250 little kids, ranging in age from 5-18, all yelling in Spanish and fighting for the first hug or hand to hold. Despite the language barrier, over the next few days we would get to know these kids and the people at NPH Nicaragua very well, and we were able to develop relationships with them that will last forever. Over the 8 days that we spent there, we were able to go to mass, tour the city, including the Old and New Market, watch the boys NPH soccer team play against the neighboring town, eat meals with the kids, learn to dance, and more. I had so many great experiences and made so many amazing memories on my trip to NPH Nicaragua that I will never be able to forget.”

At a school assembly on Global Citizenship, George reflected on his experience sharing, “With all the disasters and chaos in the world, we know there will always be a need to build roads and schools and hospitals. That is valuable, but our experience was so different. You see the trip really began last fall when NPH flew to visit us. They flew their dance team up to the US and they performed in this very gym; they went to class with us at our school; they ate lunch with us. So really, we were just doing the same thing. We went down and we ate meals with them; we went to class with them, we played with them and did chores around the home to help out. In Nicaragua we built the same thing they built when they came up here. We built the most important thing we can build in our lives. We built something that can stand the test of time, something that can last forever. We built relationships.”

We are so grateful for all the ways these relationships have impacted us and our community at Eastside Catholic. 

“One life touches another and potentially both lives are changed; once life touches another and potentially the entire world is changed.”  -The Amazing Law of Influence


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Diversity at NPH

In spring, 2016 NPH USA created the Diversity Taskforce within our International Volunteer Program. The goal of our taskforce is to help ensure that NPH and NPH USA are diverse organizations that reflect the children that we serve and love.
NPH volunteers from around the world are a diverse group, and don't always fit the stereotype of how others may expect a "gringo" volunteer to look. Volunteers of color can face stereotypes, awkward questions and lots of teachable moments about race and ethnicity while serving at NPH.  Former volunteer and Diversity Taskforce member, Kimmie, shares some reflections from her volunteer year in Honduras in 2010-2011. 

"You look like Mulan."
"Are you related to Jackie Chan?"
"Put your hair in a bun like they do in your country."
It never occurred to me that my race would come up as a volunteer at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos Honduras. I’m mixed race (Asian and white), but it honestly hasn’t been much of an issue in the United States. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve experienced a slew of microaggressions (mostly of the "Where are you from? No, where are you FROM?" variety). Most upsetting were the occasions when people wanted me to explain why I didn’t speak Vietnamese. Because apparently bringing up someone’s painful family history is an acceptable consequence of satisfying one’s own curiosity. But I won’t pretend to have it as bad as many people of color in this country do; no, if people make assumptions about me, they tend to be positive.

So imagine my surprise upon arriving at El Rancho Santa Fe and immediately being labeled “la china.” And yes, every one of the above statements is a direct quote from a pequeño. I remember one night early on in my volunteer year, all the kids gathered in talleres (workshops) to watch the latest Karate Kid movie and every time the little Asian girl appeared, I would hear shouts of my name. It was crazy. I don’t even think I look particularly Asian (I know that most people who ask about my heritage just want to know why I’m brown). It wasn’t just on the Ranch. Walking around the streets of Tegucigalpa, people would frequently point at me and refer to me as “la chinita.” I kind of get it. Honduras has a surprising number of Chinese restaurants run by immigrants. Latin Americans are used to gringos looking a certain way (blond, blue-eyed). I suppose they were trying to make me fit into their schema somehow.
I did my best to clarify. My dad is Vietnamese, a refugee of the war. My mom is white. Both are American, as am I. This sometimes backfired. One night, I was eating with the boys in the hogar Arca de Noe and my ethnic background came up. 12 year-old Carlos insisted I must be Chinese. I explained that I was half-Vietnamese and that Vietnam is a country to the south of China. “Ohhhhh,” he replied. “I know. You’re a geisha.” Another volunteer tried to delicately explain what a geisha was, which only resulted in him requesting that I paint my face and entertain him. Fail.

Despite incidents like these, I did have my share of success. I worked in the hogar for the oldest girls, Hijas de Pilar. I developed incredibly close-knit relationships with my girls. Through those connections, I was able to share my background with an audience that cared about me and wanted to understand who I was. It was incredible to watch the girls jump to my defense. When a young boy asked me to say something in Chinese, María explained, “She’s from the States. She speaks English.” Sometimes they were a little too forceful. Upon hearing me called “chinita”, Sara exclaimed, “She’s Vietnamese, you moron!”
As a volunteer of color, you have to walk a fine line. You want to be respected and have your identity honored, but you have to remember you are in a foreign country with its own cultural norms. In Honduras, it’s quite common to use nicknames based on appearance. One of my girls was “Pecas” (“Freckles”) and a dark-skinned boy in the baby house was referred to as “Frijolito.” This might be considered offensive in the U.S., but we have to be careful that we’re not trying to bestow wisdom on the ignorant natives (hello, Savior Complex). I also recognize that it’s problematic to ask people of color to constantly educate. It’s never bothered me personally, but I think it’s inappropriate to make assumptions about whose job it is. I’m okay with taking on that role, especially with kids, because I know their questions come from a place of curiosity rather than malice.

Being a volunteer of color was definitely an interesting experience, but it didn’t define my year. What defined it was relationships. Relationships like the one I had and continue to have with Carlos. He still calls me Geisha, but it’s now a tongue-in-cheek term of endearment. He recently drew this picture of me as a new mother. He sees my race, but he sees me too. And that’s what’s important.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We left with our hearts full of love for the NPH children….

Below is a reflection written by sponsor Victoria Lloyd after her she, her husband, and their three young children visited NPH Mexico this summer.

In July my husband, my three young children and I spent a week at NPH Mexico. After meeting the Pequenos last fall during their tour in the Boston area, we were eager to see the children again and become more involved in NPH. Having never done anything like this, we went not knowing what to expect, or how our own children, ages 9, 10 and 12, would react to such a different environment. Would they be able to relate to these children whose lives are so different from their own, who don’t speak the same language, and who have experienced such great difficulties and in some cases, tragedy, in their young lives?

After a few hours in the home, we realized we had nothing to worry about. Seeing our own children and the children of NPH play together, without sharing a language, made us realize why we became involved in NPH in the first place. These are kids, just like ours, who want to play, laugh, connect with people who care about them, and just be kids. And that is exactly what NPH does for them. During our week, we saw how hard the caregivers and all of the employees work to provide a safe and loving childhood for these kids. Our job, we quickly realized, was to just reinforce that love and let the children know how blessed we felt to be even a small part of their lives. 

During the week we had the opportunity to play with the kids, do arts and crafts with them, and help out in repainting their basketball and volleyball courts. Through all of this I was amazed at how my own children and the Pequenos were able to connect and enjoy each other. It didn’t matter that we don’t speak Spanish, we created bonds with the kids that transcend language. Seeing my own kids and the Pequenos laughing over inside jokes they somehow created together, making up dances together, braiding each other’s hair, playing a spontaneous game of tag, or frisbee, or any other activity that kids do during their summer vacation, made us realize we had done the right thing in going on this trip. Our kids have been asking since our return, “Can we go back there at Christmas instead of doing Christmas?” 

We went to the home bearing suitcases full of supplies that our parish donated to the home, and we left with our hearts full of love for the children of NPH. Though it may not be for this Christmas, we know we will definitely be back!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

By the end of my week there, I wanted to stay forever!

Below is reflection written by sponsor and Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Junior Board member McKenzie Perkins.
My time that I spent at the NPH home in the Dominican Republic was easily the best and most life-changing week of my life. From the moment I stepped foot in the house I was going to be spending time in, I knew that these kids would forever change my life. Spending time in the park with all of the kids was by far my favorite time throughout my week there. Every afternoon was spent on see-saws and monkey bars, or playing a game of soccer. Seeing their constant smiling faces made me realize how truly special NPH is and how the children that live here are truly happy. I made connections that I will never lose. By the end of my week there, I wanted to stay forever. Saying goodbye to some of the best friends I have ever made was one of the hardest things I have had to do. Even though I know I will be back to see them, it was devastating to leave their beaming faces when my time there came to a close. I cannot begin to imagine what my life would be like without NPH, all the children I met, and my godchild in my life.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Meeting our God Daughter after 15 Years!

Below is a post written by Northwest Regional sponsor, Barb Schultz! Last month she visited NPH Nicaragua and got to meet her goddaughter for the first time in person! Here is her story: 
We first encountered NPH through our parish in Sumner, WA.  My daughter, Megan, and I attended an event to see the dancers from one of the homes perform, and then heard the amazing stories from some of the pequenos.  God led our family to a decision to sponsor a child – so my daughter picked little Marbely from the photos posted on the big board in the lobby of the church.  Her birthday was the day before Megan’s so she thought that was pretty special.
For these past many years, we have sent our monthly donations, and written letters and cards back and forth with Marbely.  I always thought it would be wonderful to meet her someday, but to be honest, I never really believed it would happen.  Nicaragua seemed another world away.
Then this spring, I got the annual postcard in the mail announcing the NPH NW’s yearly trip.  I was just ready to send it to the recycle bin, when suddenly it hit me.  This year they were visiting Nicaragua, Marbely, now 22,  would soon be leaving the NPH home there, and Megan’s summers at home in between college may be limited in the future.  This was our chance!
We took the leap of faith and booked the trip – so excited to meet our god daughter after all these years.  Luck was with us and Marbely was at the home on break from the university where she had just begun classes. 
I was a little anxious about how our meeting would go since our communication had been pretty basic in letters due to the language barrier.  But when we first met, all fears dissolved.  We hugged as if she was truly another daughter/sister.  A little shy at first, Marbely was more and more talkative as the week went on.  Her basic English and Megan’s basic Spanish (and both laughing at my attempts to speak) worked well enough for us to share how excited we were to meet her and see the home that has been hers for all these years.  We talked, we laughed, we taught each other card games and played soccer.  It was truly a touching experience for all 3 of us.  We even managed to involve my husband and son by sending voice messages over a phone ap. 
By the end of the week, Megan felt like she truly had a sister and I another daughter.  There were lots of tears and hugs when it came time to say goodbye – for now.  We’ve already been in touch several times since arriving home.  We have a real person on the other end of our letters and messages now, rather than just a name and photos.  She is part of our family and we love her!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Siblings Beyond Borders

Ashley, a former volunteer at NPH El Salvador, never imagined she was going to find the brother she always wanted so far away from home.

For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted a brother in my life and it didn’t matter if they were older or younger. I didn't care which. However, I'm the oldest of three sisters so I had long ago accepted my reality, that is, until I came to NPH El Salvador as a volunteer and met Jameson* in 2013.

Though Jameson appears in many photos from my previous visits to the home, I didn't get to know him until I moved to El Salvador. We bonded over washing dishes after dinner, or when we would tell jokes and talk about our lives while leaving the office for the day. One time, Jameson convinced me to try a pepper that he picked from a nearby tree. "I promise it's not hot! Try it. You'll like it." Well, it was the hottest and spiciest thing I have ever eaten, and I had to chug water to relieve the misery. He's never let me forget that moment.

He's one of the few pequeños who told me his story, about his life before NPH. He knows about my life and the personal struggles I have faced. Our mutual trust is something I've never taken for granted, as I know how hard it can be to share. We offer one another counsel and advice, share our hopes and dreams, and laugh like there's no tomorrow. I can't say that enough, we laugh so much when we are together.

When Jameson graduated high school I made him a small collage of a picture of us and pictures of his biological sisters (who are no longer with NPH). I found them when I was archiving old NPH El Salvador pictures for the home. He didn't have any pictures of his sisters until then. Jameson told me it was the best gift he had ever received. I went back to my room later that day and cried. I thought it was just a piece of paper with a few pictures, but it meant more to him than I ever expected.

There is this connection between Jameson and I that I've never been able to explain. We just clicked one day and started calling each other brother and sister. He is a very special person in my life, and I always tell people about my two sisters (he also calls them his own sisters) and my brother.

A few months before I moved back to the U.S., I asked Jameson if I could sponsor him. He said ‘yes,’ and from that point on, he started calling me his "hermadrina." This is a word he made up that is a combination of the Spanish words for ‘sister’ and ‘godmother.’

To me, hermadrina is one of the highest honors a person can hold. Getting to know Jameson over the years and to have him in my life is one of the greatest blessings. He is in college now, and I am so proud! Jameson is a wonderful person, and I know he will change the lives of everyone he meets.”

*Name changed to protect privacy