Roughly five years ago, I spent two years as a full-time volunteer at a children's home an hour south of Cuernavaca (they gave me free room and board, so it wasn't too much of a hardship). My second year, I helped care of 26 1st, 2ed, and 3rd grade girls. These girls are now in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. Compared to most ex-volunteers, I count myself very fortunate that I have in-laws that live near the house, so I can visit these girls at least every year.
As a quick summary, the house, Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (http://www.nph.org/) has been in existence for 55 years, and has been a home for thousands of children, many of whom are clearly now adults. They operate under a beautiful philosophy of unconditional love, pledging to be a permanent family for the children that live there. Therefore, when children are accepted into the home, they must arrive with all their brothers and sisters, and they are never adopted out, giving the kids a sense of security and belonging.
Education is of utmost importance, so, upon reaching adulthood, "ex-pequenos" can go on to lead self-sufficient and productive lives. NPH runs its own school, which continues through the high school level [note: high school is not compulsory in Mexico]. Furthermore, upon completing high school and donating two years of service to the house, those who have the grades to be accepted at a university are given the opportunity. Currently, NPH has about 100 graduates studying at the university level.
In my time there, what I've witnessed overall is a group of healthy, happy kids who grow up learning how to cooperate with one another, and know how to share better than any other children I've ever met. For example, my daughter Clara, who already has far too many toys, was showered with toys and stuffed animals from the kids she met there.
Clara and I arrived at the house at lunch time. Initially, I thought, "perfect timing! We can go meet everyone at once."
Yeah. Poor, poor Clara.
She got mobbed.
However, she tolerated all the hugs, the poking, the proding, the cheek-pinching, and the noise surprisingly well. She didn't enjoy it, but she hung in there. While I did want to soak up as much of my time there with the girls I worked with, Clara and I took frequent breaks to hang out in our room and recover from over-stimulation. After a nap, we'd head out to be squeezed and hugged and poked all over again. I earned some bad-mommy points over those three days. Sorry, Clara.
I also got to witness my first de-gutting of the fishes. Every two months or so, fish are harvested from the fish ponds, cleaned and then fried for lunch. They're delicious. However, cleaning enough fish for 500+ people is more work than the ladies in the kitchen can possibly handle on their own. Therefore, the oldest girls spend half their Saturday gutting the fish. Ugh. I did hear of some dorm moms promising their girls plenty of free time on Sunday for this exceptionally disgusting Saturday chore. I enjoyed watching the procedure and Clara enjoyed the fact that they were unable to smother her for a few hours.
If, upon reading this you've wondered to yourself, "500 kids in one house! How to they pay for everything?" Good question, and during this financial crisis it's gotten harder and harder to them to make end meet. NPH runs a godparent program, asking donors "or godparents" to sponsor a specific child for $25 a month. These godparents make up a huge chunck of NPH's operating budget. When one sponsors a child, the child and godparent begin writing letters back and forth. I've seen the excitement when godparent letters arrive, and know that they do appreciate having someone who writes specifically to them. Furthermore, I've seen this godparent relationship stretch well into adulthood, long after the godparent has stopped financial support for the specific child. The woman I worked with during my two years there was an ex-pequena, and I helped her translate a letter to her godmother, letting her godmother know that she was going to be a mother herself! How beautiful for this woman, who did not have much extended family of her own, to know that she could write her godmother such exciting news.
I guess I got carried away on that. However, if you know that you generally have $25 in spare change every month, NPH would be most grateful for your donation. They are hurting for funds, and after my two years there, I can vouch that the organization is a good steward of what they are given.