Hello friends and family! We are excited to share with you some of the experiences we have had this year in relation to the local orphanage here in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. In particular, we wanted to report on the activities and material help/support we were able to provide this month thanks to the generous donations we received from many of you back home, as well as many friends and family members we have here in Guate. We would like to, first, introduce you to the group home and the work that it carries out for its residents. We would also like to briefly explain how our relationship with the orphanage has developed since moving down here in March of 2015.
Fundacion Salvacion is a Christian children’s home founded in 1999. The home provides temporary care for children and adolescents that are considered at-risk, orphaned, or abandoned. There are currently around 80 children residing at the home. The home provides for the basic needs of each child, and they strive to do this using a house-parent model, which allows each child to be placed in a smaller family structure within the larger context of the home. The home is run by a very small staff, as well as a group of dedicated volunteers who have committed to help on a long-term basis. These individuals are made up of local Guatemalans as well as a few people from the United States who have made this country their home. Story International, a charitable organization dedicated to serving vulnerable youth in Guatemala, began supporting the home in 2012. They founded a school just down the road from the home intended to provide a quality, bilingual education for the residents of Fundacion Salvacion (the kids’ ability to understand and speak English is quite impressive). They have several other programs and businesses that are meant to benefit the home directly. While this group home, in my opinion, is a great place where kids have their basic needs met, as well as receive genuine love from the people who work and volunteer there, this situation is not ideal. The home has recently begun working more closely with the local community, not only to solicit monetary and material donations, but to raise awareness of the responsibility that community members have of caring for these children. They are striving to educate people on the foster care and adoption programs that exist here in Guatemala. This is quite the challenge, seeing as there seems to be a cultural disinclination towards caring for children who are not yours biologically (you should hear some of the questions we get from people about Xavion and Layla).
Since moving to Guatemala in 2015, as a family we have always been interested in volunteering at Fundacion Salvacion and doing what we can to help the children there. Every now and then we would drop off bags of clothes that the kids have grown out of, and we would even volunteer at the home when we had the chance, spending time with the kids there or applying a fresh coat of paint to rooms throughout the home. Around the end of the year in 2015, we had the desire to do something special for the home for Christmas. With the help of local friends and family, we collected some donations. We dropped these items off at the home and carried out a small activity with the kids there. Family members and our church youth group helped us with this activity. In 2016, we thought to ask for help from people back home, and we were grateful that many people decided to help financially with the small project that was becoming a family tradition for us. With this help, we were able to buy many things that covered some of the needs of the home, including food supplies and new shoes for the majority of the residents. Including all of the material donations that we received that year from local families and individuals, we delivered a truck-load of supplies to the home. We also carried out a small activity for all of the kids at the home. Since we received so much help from people with our project, we were able to provide a special treat for the kids: pizza!
This year was a very special year for us in regards to our relationship with Fundacion Salvacion. At the beginning of the year we continued to drop off donations and volunteer every now and then at the home. In May, I began my field practice at the home as part of the MSW program that I am completing. I was able to complete two semesters of field at Fundacion Salvacion, which just ended this month. Since I began working there, Brenda and the kids began going to the home more as well to simply spend time with the kids. Eventually, Brenda was asked by the agency director if she would be willing to volunteer of her time on a more formal basis as a group leader for the young women of the group home. She had noticed the positive relationships that the girls had formed with Brenda (as well as Maya!) and felt like she needed to make Brenda an official member of the team within Fundacion Salvacion. Brenda was happy to accept the challenge. Our relationship with the home has definitely evolved and deepened throughout 2017. Through this relationship, we have been able to really get to know the kids there. We have learned of their stories. We have realized that, despite their difficult situation, they are normal kids who want to have fun and enjoy life. They want to love and be loved. We have met many of the amazing people who are involved in the care of these kids and who keep the home up and running. We have learned the true needs of the home, and have realized how difficult it is to keep an institution like that going. Our children have made friends with many of the kids at the home, and we have become part of the family there. Our involvement with the home has provided us with many opportunities to provide service this year. Apart from the responsibilities we had (me as a social work intern, Brenda as a volunteer group leader), we have been able spend meaningful time with the kids, getting to know them, providing motivation and support, and helping them progress and overcome their personal challenges. We participated in the anniversary activities of the home, which included a 5k run in the rain (Xavion ran the whole thing!) We carried out several activities with the youth of our church for the benefit of the group home and the kids, including service activities and fun recreational activities for the children. We have also had the valuable opportunity to be advocates for the home, creating awareness of its needs and involving friends and family in donating and providing service to help the kids. It has been a blessing for us to be able to do this work. We have made many new friends, created many valuable memories, gained a deeper sense of gratitude for what we have, learned to love and serve, and received countless hugs from adorable children, among many other blessings.
This year we wanted to make our Christmas activity extra special for the kids, while also covering some of the overall needs that existed. We wanted to give a more individualized service to as many of the kids as possible, focusing on doing things that would truly allow them to have fun. Thank you to everyone who helped make this possible. Again, we received a lot of help from family and friends back home, as well as from families and individuals here in Huehue.
During this time of year, there are a few groups and organizations that carry out activities for the kids at Fundacion Salvacion, but these activities are usually directed towards small children. The youth residing at the home are oftentimes overlooked or feel left out. We invited all of the young women (ages 12+) to our home for a small Christmas party. We hiked up into the hill behind our house. After returning to the house, we watched movies while we helped the girls make homemade pizzas for dinner. We then played the candy bar game (a family favorite) with them, which was a big hit! Brenda also had a small gift for each of these girls, seeing as she is their group leader. This activity was a lot of fun, and the girls were happy to get out of the group home for a while.
For the young men (ages 12+) we arrived at the home with the things that matter most to adolescent boys: video games and food! We had an awesome Mario Kart Wii tournament and ate Domino’s pizza. They really enjoyed themselves.
Apart from these two activities which were directed towards the youth, we were able to take all of the residents to the local movie theater. We contacted the theater beforehand and had them do a special showing of Coco (awesome movie!) just for Fundacion Salvacion. Popcorn and soda were included for everyone. This was an incredible activity, and part of the fun was helping to transport all 80 kids and staff members to and from the theater.
We received material donations from many people here locally, and with the financial help we received, we were able to buy many backpacks and formal shoes that kids needed for the coming school year. This will relieve the home of a significant monetary expenditure this coming new year. My brother, Matt, and I also donated spinners from our business to each of the children at the home.