2003-04 Casa Hogar Misericordia Orphanage Fundraiser

 

The Casa Hogar Misericordia Orphanage is located on the outskirts of Chihuahua, not far from the airport. Once you leave the highway you need to carefully navigate your way down a dusty, rock strewn, washed out "road" to reach it. The grounds are surprisingly small, with a series of humble single story buildings clustered around a courtyard with a makeshift basketball court and playground equipment.

One of the buildings houses a modest library and study area with teaching materials. Next to this is a "dormitory". The children are divided up according to age and sex with the young boys, young girls, and older girls in adjoining rooms in this building. The sleeping quarters are reminiscent of military barracks with bunk beds and small lockers with little space between.

What the rooms lack in space, they make up for in color and neatness. We were very impressed with the orderliness and cleanliness that was readily apparent throughout the facility (with the not unexpected exception of the older boys sleeping area). The kids share clothes and the orphanage has its own laundry room, where a few of the older girls are kept busy washing, and then neatly folding and storing the many shirts and pants. There was also a study area for the older girls, which included a few recently donated sewing machines for them to use.

On the other side of the courtyard sits the kitchen. It too is a small structure and the children must eat in shifts. The woman who manages the kitchen runs a very tight ship, and it is tidy and well kept. She is a creative cook and tries to provide as much variety as possible on the menu, within the limits of a diet whose staples are rice and beans. Recently she was fortunate enough to receive a donated microwave which helps speed up some of the food preparation. But much of the work is time consuming. All tortillas for example, are made daily by hand. Some of the older girls also help out in the kitchen, which gives them a sense of responsibility as well as helping them learn to cook.

Beyond the kitchen is the older boys dormitory. They have been segregated from the younger boys because of their propensity to fight. They have been segregated from the older girls because of their propensity to...well, let's just say that the last thing the orphanage needs is another mouth to feed.

At the time of our visit there were eighty five children living at the orphanage. At times they have housed over a hundred. Presently the youngest child is four, the oldest seventeen.

The experience of visiting was both heartening and heart breaking. Heartening because the impact of our efforts was obvious. Heart breaking because the needs of the children remain so great.

While the kids do have a roof over their heads, the facilities are not much more than that. The buildings are obviously not weather proofed, neither to withstand the torrid summer days heat nor the chilly winter nights (temps in Chihuahua often dip below freezing in the winter). The current septic system is overworked and waste seeps out of the ground.

The basic needs, at times, seem overwhelming:

-clothes
-books
-food
-clean supplies
-backpacks
-quilts/bed spreads
-personal hygiene supplies
-plastic cups/plates
-toys/games

But just as clearly our aid, limited as it was, will make a difference. We spent the afternoon of Thursday February 12th picking up supplies with a volunteer who works at the orphanage.

We started at the Sam's Club pharmacy where we loaded up on medical supplies. Antibiotics, band-aids, Calamine lotion, decongestants, ear medicine, fungus powder, gauze pads...you name it, we bought it. After filling the lengthy list of medical needs we still had funds remaining and elected to use them at Wal-Mart. We picked up trash cans, garbage bags, shampoo, soap, Pine sol, etc. And, because every child deserves to have a little fun in their lives, we scored a couple of soccer and basketballs as well as an inflation pump.

We also decided that our welcome might be a bit warmer if we showed up with items more enticing to kids than a bottle of aspirin, so we grabbed candy, chips, and soda. The volunteer suggested that we might want to pick up dinner for the children. So we arranged to snag some Dominoes pizzas on the way out to the orphanage.

Was it the most practical way to use our funds? Perhaps not. But for these children, every day in their meager lives is a Spartan exercise in forced practicality. We decided that for one day, they would live a little. (If you consider "living" having a piece a pizza, some chips, and a glass of soda.)

Upon our arrival we were greeted by both the staff and the children. The kids helped us unload the supplies and food from the truck, fighting for the chance to carry something, anything inside. In short order they were playing with the various balls that we had brought, and the pizza, chips, candy, and soda were being carefully distributed by the kitchen staff.

The kids were very well behaved and, considering how rare a treat pizza is for them, very patient as they waited for their food. After we toured the facility we hung out with them while they played and/or ate. My Spanish is pretty much limited to "hello, goodbye" and "another beer please", and most of the children did not speak English. Yet we still found ways to communicate, especially after I showed them the wonders of digital photography. Soon they were clamoring for group shots, upon whose completion I would be immediately surrounded by tiny faces checking their look in my camera's tiny display. From there the cry became "Mi solo! Mi solo!", as the kids started vogueing in individual poses. A few of the more adventurous ninos even volunteered to use the camera themselves, a notion that, after some initial hesitation, I agreed to. Any of the pictures that include me were taken by one of the kids.

After about an hour and a half, and with darkness approaching it was time to bid our farewell. We had delivered the medical supplies, a little food, a little fun, and perhaps some hope. Most importantly we were able to meet the staff and the children and gain a better understanding of their situation and needs. Which will definitely help us focus our future assistance.

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