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
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:
-personal hygiene supplies
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
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.