Volunteer experience as a retired couple

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My husband and I became aware of the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) organization over 20 years ago through our Catholic Parish in Washington State. Our pastor brought his love of this wonderful organization to our parish and the parishioners embraced it wholeheartedly. At first, we became sponsors (Padrinos) to a child in Haiti. Later we had an opportunity to visit the NPH orphanage in Mexico during a retreat with fellow parishioners. This was the first NPH established (in 1955) and we were impressed with the safe and loving environment of the over 400 children housed and cared for in a converted sugar plantation. After the retreat, we became more involved in NPH, attending local fundraising auctions and providing housing for NPH staff coming to Seattle for leadership training. We learned that NPH had spread from Mexico to include Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

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10 Jul 2024

Somewhere along the way we became interested in taking a more active role in supporting NPH by becoming in-country volunteers. We wanted to become more fully a part of this program. The timing seemed right shortly after retirement as we had the time, health, and energy to “Give a year, gain a lifetime of love” (motto on the NPH USA website).  We submitted our application by January 1, 2023, were interviewed by the US Volunteer Coordinator and in March were offered assignments. We accepted the roles of Maintenance Assistant (Allen) and Sponsorship Assistant (Marcel) at NPH Honduras. We were also notified that we would need to enroll ourselves in Immersion Spanish before our starting date as our Spanish skills were very basic. Thus, our assignment included an initial 5 weeks in Copan, Honduras to begin to learn Spanish.

The NPH location in Honduras where we serve is called Rancho Santa Fe and is a large ranch covering several square miles and located about an hour northeast of Tegucigalpa. The ranch is in the mountains and consists of open woodlands among hills and streams. We are grateful for the elevation as it provides a climate with lower humidity and cooler nights than what we had expected in Honduras.

We were also surprised and delighted with the size and layout of the ranch. Buildings are spread out among the grounds with dirt roads and walkways connecting them. Buildings include the “hogars” which are homes for the children and support staff, a school, kitchen, administration buildings, visitor housing, and clinic. There is even a One-World surgery center co-located at the entry to the ranch that provides medical services for the children and the neighboring community. In addition, a farm on the ranch provides a substantial part of the food served. The ranch is secured with a central gate and security staff that work around the clock to protect those inside the ranch from dangerous elements in Honduras.

The children are housed in smaller groups in a family-type atmosphere. Typically, four houses grouped around a courtyard with around a dozen children in each. This arrangement provides a family with friends close by to play with, which to me seems an ideal way to grow up. They have chores, school, and loving caretakers called “Tias and Tios”.

On a normal day we wake up to sunrise which comes early in Honduras and does not change much over the course of the year as Honduras is relatively close to the equator. Often, we take advantage of the cooler morning air and go for an early walk around the ranch, followed by yoga.  Then we get ready to work. The workday is from 7:30 – 4PM with an hour off for lunch. We normally have a few hours off after work before joining our assigned children’s home for dinner and evening activities with the kids.

As you can imagine, Allen’s workday with maintenance takes him all over the ranch performing a wide variety of activities such as checking and repairing the water system, correcting plumbing, fixing appliances, trimming trees, cleaning debris off the rooftops, etc. Although the jobs can be difficult, tiring, and dirty, Allen enjoys learning about how the ranch systems work and is well known among the children and staff as they see him everywhere.

Marcel’s workday is primarily in the Padrinos’ office, but she also has the opportunity to interact with the children when she collects and delivers letters from sponsors or helps to take different groups of children on special birthday outings which are arranged monthly by the Padrinos office. She sometimes acts as translator for visiting sponsors and their godchildren and, when requested, gives sponsorship presentations to visiting brigades of medical staff working at One World Surgery for the week. One of the things she loves most about her job is being able to see the connections between the children and their sponsors. The love, encouragement, prayers, and support offered by sponsors and in return the love of the child and feeling that they are special to someone.

In addition to our regular jobs and daily involvement with the children, we also help with many of the special celebrations on the ranch. Over the Christmas season, the volunteers acted as Santa’s elves wrapping the gifts and making a post-midnight delivery. The volunteers also put together a dance routine to entertain the kids on New Year´s Eve. As a couple, we were asked to play the roles of Mary and Joseph in the re-enactment of the trip to Bethlehem. The volunteer group is also called on throughout the year to manage and/or support celebrations such as Children’s Day, Padrinos’ Day, Easter activities, and Family Days which are held quarterly.

It has become even more apparent to us that NPH has a huge impact on the children, providing a place where they can be safe, housed, fed, educated, but most of all loved. NPH has been in Honduras for almost forty years and many former pequeños have become success stories to lead and inspire kids on the ranch. This is a large community where the children belong to a family that cares for them, and we are happy to be a part of it.