Do you ever get the feeling that it’s just not worth taking off for a week? You pay for it by being crazy busy before you leave and after you return. But now that I’m almost caught up, I can say that it was definitely worth it.
As those of you on the update email list from my website know, I returned a week ago from visiting my eldest son in Mexico. He is taking a year off between high school and college, and this semester he is working at an orphanage in Mexico. He lived at home in the fall while doing an internship, so this is the first time he’s been away from home for an extended period. It was absolutely wonderful to see him again and was especially fun to see him in his new environment. I also treasured this vacation since all six of us were together. As my children age, I am becoming increasingly aware that these family vacations won’t last forever.
One of my son’s jobs at the orphanage is preparing meals, and he was particularly proud of the orphanage kitchen where he spends much of his time. He is in charge of preparing all three meals two days a week. Almost all the food that the children eat is donated and it requires creativity to use up whatever they have in abundance. For example, he has repeatedly asked for ideas on how to use bananas. His grandmother’s banana bread recipe has had quite a workout. Our family’s idea of freezing bananas to use in making smoothies was another big hit. It was fun to see him excited about cooking, and I’m hoping it will continue once he returns home.
Another one of his jobs is going to various merchants to pick up the donated food. I cringed at the thought of him driving in Mexico since to my eye they have a very different set of traffic rules which involve a certain amount of playing chicken. But since there is little I can do about it, I’ve decided to not worry. (Much easier said than done.) He showed us the carnecerias where he gets meat and the tortillerias where he picks up the daily supply. They go through a lot of tortillas!
I have lead groups to work at various orphanages in Mexico, including this one. It was nice to see some of the changes they’ve made since we were last there. The “house” my son is working at was designed to be more family-like, and seems to have really succeeded, in large part because of Carmen, the house mother. Eight girls and eight boys live there. The children live in the neighboring baby home until they are six, and then they move either to the larger orphanage or to this house. In the past, the idea was to move the children to the teenage home when they reached 13, but now they’ve decided to let the children stay until they are 18, and even beyond until they get settled. I was thrilled to see these changes. I wish the children didn’t have to be in a separate home for their first six years and then moved, but as always, my mantra is “progress, not perfection.”
Carmen worries over her children just like you or me. One of the little boys had an out of control temper. He was becoming increasingly harder to handle as he grew. Carmen never gave up on him. She took him to various medical specialists until she was able to find help. He is doing much better now with medication.
As with many families, they were concerned about the quality of the public schools, and like many families they wanted to send their children to private schools. They negotiated a discount at the private school run by the local evangelical church that helps support the orphanage, but the cost was still prohibitive when multiplied by 18. A couple of churches in Michigan came to the rescue by holding fundraisers with all the proceeds going to pay school tuition. It’s hard to imagine a greater long term gift for these children than a really good education.
But a good education demands more support from home, and Carmen has had to find volunteers to help the children with their homework each day. That is another one of my son’s jobs. I can’t tell you the perverse satisfaction I felt when he complained about some of the children dwaddling and procrastinating their way through homework time. It took heroic restraint to not tell him that this was an answer to my prayer that he’d get a kid just like him. I couldn’t resist saying “welcome to my world”.
To the depths of my being I believe children need to be in families—real, permanent, forever families. But Mexico does not make that easy since it is very hard to terminate parental rights even if the parents have not been involved with their children for years. Those in charge of the orphanages also don’t make this a priority for any number of reasons, including being too busy. But if a child can’t have a real family, I pray that all of them could be raised in this substitute family setting. This type of care costs more, but this is the care that children need.
If you want to see some pictures of the larger orphanage complex including, Casa Leonel, the house my son is at, go to www.hogaramor.org. The information is a bit out of date but the general information is still accurate. The organization that helped to build these orphanages as well as other orphanages in Mexico is :
Helping Hands International Ministries
PO Box 1099
Leander, TX 78646-1099
Image credit: un_owen