Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"I have never felt more welcomed into someone’s home in my life..."

Below is a blog post written by India Zietsman Donor Relations Manager in the Midwest Region - enjoy!

I started working as the Donor Relations Manager of our NPH USA Minneapolis office on March 9th, 2020. Even before that first day at the office, I dreamt about my first trip to one of our NPH homes. I knew that traveling was part of the job when I applied and it was a highlight of the job description for me. I value that NPH USA sends their fundraising employees to visit the homes so that we have a deep understanding of our work.  

During my onboarding, I spoke with numerous co-workers to learn all about my day-to-day work as well as the general mission of NPH. When coworkers spoke about our programs and kids, they lit up. They explained that there’s something intangible and indescribable that makes NPH truly special. Every co-worker would say, “When you visit a NPH home, you’ll understand.” 

My third day in the office, my boss Stephanie and I decided I would plan to visit NPH Guatemala and NPH Nicaragua during the summer of 2020. However, as we all watched the world shut down with the arrival of the pandemic, I knew my chances to visit a NPH home in 2020 were extremely low. 

Fast forward a year and a half. The United States is slowly opening up with the arrival of the vaccine. My co-workers are buzzing because finally, we are planning our first trip to a NPH home since the pandemic hit. And guess who’s on the list of attendees? ME! I truly screamed with joy when I found out that I’d be traveling to NPH Honduras in August 2021. I had watched all of the videos on NPH USA and NPH International’s YouTube accounts. I had read almost every article, webpage and brochure about our programs and our kids. I had learned as much as I possibly could from afar. After a year and a half, I’d be able to experience it all in-person. 

I have never been more overwhelmed with both joy and nerves at the same time in my life. A million questions came up: What did I need to do to prepare for this trip? Would the kids like me? Would the kids be excited to meet us? Would my Spanish (which I hadn’t used in 5 years) come back? And many more that I’m too embarrassed to admit in a blog post.  

We landed in Honduras at 3pm on a Tuesday and began driving to NPH Honduras, also known as the Ranch. Everyone who’s been to Honduras knows that driving there is slightly terrifying. Cars don’t just drive with a purpose there… they drive aggressively; constantly trying to overtake slower cars ahead of them on one-way roads. When we arrived at the Ranch, I think we were all grateful to be off the highway and inside the gates of the safe, gorgeous, calming property. We were also in awe of the enormous size of the Ranch. I got lost almost every time I walked around up until the last day of our trip. 

After three days of quarantine and a negative rapid COVID test, we could finally meet and spend time with the pequeños. Once again, my nerves and joy took over. I could feel myself shaking with anticipation. My first night with the kids, I had dinner with some of the older girls in their hogar, which is Spanish for “home”. When I stepped through the door, all of the girls ran up to me. They immediately gave me hugs, said “hello” or “hola” and asked me to come sit and eat with them. They were so excited to have me there and talk with me in my rusty Spanish. I have never felt more welcomed into someone’s home in my life. After dinner, they convinced me to dance and sing with them to American songs. I typically refuse to sing in-front of ANYONE. But looking into their eyes and hearing their pleas, I couldn’t say no. 

I walked back to the visitor’s center that night with the biggest smile on my face. My heart was overflowing with love for the girls I had met. They were all incredible. They immediately opened up to me – telling me about themselves, sharing laughs, and asking me all about myself. Now that I have had time to reflect, I recognize that I’ve never experienced anything like it in the United States. I was a stranger to these girls when I first arrived but left their home as a friend, as a member of their family. 

Hogar after hogar that I visited each day after that first dinner with the girls, I had the same experience. Kids running up to me just to offer a hug and say hello while I walked past the playground. Kids yelling my name as they watched me walk by their home. Kids sharing their passions and interests with me either through words or actions. I fell in love with all of them. I finally understood what my co-workers meant when they said, “When you visit a NPH home, you’ll understand.” 

I now have seen with my own eyes that NPH is truly unlike any other organization. NPH understands that every one of our kids is special and unique. While in Honduras, we were asked to describe NPH in two words. My words were holistic and human. I knew about our holistic programs before traveling to Honduras. I had read that they encourage our kids to be fully themselves, and that they have the power to empower. However, I only connected to the deep humanity of our work when I met our kids. Meeting them has given me a face to think about when I talk about our work. Today, I sit in my office and smile knowing that the work I’m doing is supporting them: those kids with beautiful dreams, incredible talents and huge hearts.