Tuesday – February 15, 2011

Up early, I was excited to start the day. Although I wasn’t doing anything specific for the Orphan’s Hope Project today, I was eager to get out and moving in the community. I spent the first part of the morning sorting out all of the things that I brought down for the two orphanages. I had to separate them into two piles; one for each orphanage. I also had to put all 20 of the donated Barbie dolls back into their boxes. We took them out to fit them in the suitcases, but I wanted to give them to the children inside the boxes since they were new. I imagine they don’t get a lot of new toys.

Mariel arrived with Helena the translator. They went down to the school ahead of me as I had to make a quick stop at the new facility NiCasa to give a message to one of the woman there as well as move my bags down. I’ll be staying in the dorm there for the next two nights with the Advance Team. This team arrives early so they can prepare everything for the arrival of the big mission group on Thursday. Sr. Debbie is coming then also. This is the first time a Mission will be using the new facility. It’s mostly completed from a construction perspective but there is a lot of sorting and moving things around as everything finds it proper place.

I left NiCasa to walk to the school. The day was very beautiful; the sun was shining brightly, a strong breeze that you could hear as well as feel was with me as I walked. There weren’t many cars on this dirt road but when they did come by, I had to be sure to jump out of the way. They don’t believe in slowing down for pedestrians. They kicked up huge clouds of billowing dust as they went by.

At El Nino, I was asked to help with the preschoolers. I had originally planned to observe Mariel as she worked with the children in the classes, but I was happy to go see the little ones. They were all about 3 years old and very cute but I was dismayed to see that the class was total chaos. There were about 15 children and there was very little structure, if any at all. The teacher, who was very nice, seemed not able to do much with the children except keep them from hurting each other. And with my limited Spanish, there wasn’t much I could say to them. I did read to them, probably butchering the pronunciation in Spanish, but the children didn’t seem to mind. They were all quiet for about 10 minutes, the time it took me to finish the 4 little books that were available and then it was back to the chaos.

We left the school for a long walk to the House of Hope, the facility that helps prostitutes get off the streets. The Mission had only recently found out about this place. It provides vocational training and a safe place for these women to live with their children.

It was a long dusty walk, easily over a mile and a good part of it along the main highway. Cars don’t slow down for pedestrians here either and at one point, I slipped and smashed my knee into the broken concrete and dirt as I was moving over to avoid a speeding car. With blood dripping down my leg and only one squashed tissue in my pocket to do anything about it, we continued on.

We left the main road and turned up a dirt road that seemed impossible for a car to drive on. The pot holes would hide a small child and the road was very narrow as the sides were filled with brush, some of it being burned as is the practice here for getting rid of it. Unfortunately, no importance seems to be placed on the pollution factor caused by this burning and we had to walk around the black smoke snaking up the side of the road.

We arrived at the House of Hope. The women were all in groups at tables working on jewelry that they would ultimately sell. We walked around a bit and sat down to talk with a volunteer that Mariel had met on her previous visits. Shirley gave us some eye-opening information. Apparently, the woman and her husband that run the facility do so with an iron fist. They do not have a Board of Directors, all decisions are made by them so they can’t be a legitimate non-profit organization, a 501C3, in the US. And most distressing of all, we were told that whenever a mission group comes to offer help or aid (and apparently there are many), the director of the facility, April, parades the girls out in front of everyone to tell their “story”. Despite the fact that these girls have already been victimized, some of them sold into sexual slavery at the age of 8, they are made to stand their silently among strangers while their stories are told.

It definitely sounds like this facility is not being run well and while they might do some good work, their methods are very suspect. I had planned on helping with money for uniforms as we had been told that they were in dire need but now I’m not so sure. After what I heard today, I hesitate to give them any money for fear that they will not spend it wisely. We came away feeling that this woman and her husband are benefiting in inappropriate ways from the generosity of others and at the expense of these poor women and their children.

We are gathered now for dinner and I’m starving. I’m also dirty, dusty and tired. It will be an early night for all of us. End of Day One. Tomorrow I’m off to Juan Pablo and to see my Alison.

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