Today was the day many of us were looking forward to (besides our trip on Friday), our day at the orphanage. It was another early start for us, with a breakfast of ham and cheese sandwitches (again!) with ketchup and a side of cantaloupe. It was an early start because they had physical labour in mind for us and it was best to get it done in the early hours of the day.
Mark - an NPH volunteer from Oregon
It was into the bus with Wally our driver and we were taken to Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (loosely translated to our little children (sons)) it is a group of orphanages with many locations throughout South America. They have a home in the DR and one in Haiti. At NPH we were introduced to Mark a volunteer from Oregon who just arrived to work there with their sponsorship program for the next six months. This was his second time working at an NPH orphanage, his last placement had been in Honduras. He ended up helping out in the DR after asking if he could help out in any way with Hati's recovery. Much of the aid for the Haiti location is coming through the DR NPH location. His mother, a nurse was in Haiti at that time helping to co-ordinate some of the medical needs there. It must feel amazing to know you're doing something that will really make a difference.
The concept of NPH is pretty cool and something I strongly agree with. Children who are brought into the orphanage come in with any brothers and/or sisters they may have and they are not seperated. NPH does not adopt out or foster out their children, they are raised in the orphanage as a family unit. The children are a family, raised in homes (not a large dorm facility or building) of 15-20 kids with volunteer caretakes assigned to that home. The caretakers live there in the house with the children. The children are educated at NPH, and are also taught a trade. After high school (a level of education many Dominicans and Haitians don't receieve) each child at NPH is required to give one year's service to the orphanage. If the child wishes to go to, and meet the requirements to go to university NPH will make that happen. After graduation they will owe the orphanage two more years service in payment. We were told that many of their children return as adults to work for the orphanage, that once you're an NPH child, you're always an NPH child. That you are always welcome to come back.
Working hard, raking up the dead growth in the gardens
The fruits of our labour
Today we worked in the gardens for the orphanage. They have large gardens, a way to make themselves self-sufficent. We were divided into two groups, my group went to one of the gardens and raked up all the dead growth into one large, long pile to be burned later. It was hard work, as it was sunny and hot. After two hours of work we were brought back inside to cool down and watch a video all about NPH and how it works.
Collin, explaining how we were going to unload the truck
Folding up the packaging which will also be used in Haiti
Unloading the second truck with iced tea
Our next task, which was unplanned but to me was cool to get to help in this manner. We were asked to help Collin, a volunteer from California. Two trucks had come in from the airport in La Romana which were overloaded with aid from Italy. They needed to be unloaded, so that the cargo could be better distributed before taken to Haiti (from the sounds of it, the orphanage there lost about 100 kids in the earthquake). We agreed to help in a hearbeat. The first truck was loaded with pasta drying racks, the second was bottled ice tea. I don't think I've ever felt such as sense of "right" while doing a job. The sobering thing we learnt while helping out is we were told to set aside and fold all the plastic and cardboard the loads were wrapped in. This is what they're using in Haiti to wrap the dead in when they are buried. Yes, the situation is that bad. It was really neat to help Haiti with my own hands, though it was just such a small job.
While we were working... guess who I found working hard as well, Robert mowing the lawn of one the of NPH houses
Finally it was time for lunch, guess what we had? Sandwitches and fruit ... again! Pretty much what we had for breakfast.
Visiting the special needs orphansThe first home we visitedwas for the children with special needs. This is where we discovered that in the DR people with disabilites are hidden away and not seen. There was some very touching stories about the children in there. One was quite disturbing, this one girl all she did was yell, and grunted when I walked by her she reached out and grabbed me, pinching my arm quite viciously. It turns out she started life as a normal kid, but was traumatized after witnessing her father kill her mother violently with a machete. She has never been the same nor spoken since. Many of the studnets on the trip were very touched by these kids.
The second home, we only quickly stopped into. It was one of teenage girls, these girls, being older didn't need as many care-takes as the younger children. At this point they are starting to become self-reliant, cooking and cleaning for themselves. The older girls look out for the younger ones in the house.
The thrid home is where we had the most fun! It was a large gruop of young girls and boys about age 4-8. Here we got to play with the kids, they were so excited to see us, play and have their pictures taken. Everyone had so much fun. But it was all too soon to move onto the final home.
Playing with the kids
This little boy wouldn't come and play with us and the other kids, I went and just sat quietly with him. I wonder why he was so sad?
The new additions to NPH
Our day ended with reflection at the NPH facility. Many of us were moved by the stories of the children, especially the special needs kids.
Dinner that night was our family's favourite meal, a Dominican dish. It was either ground beef (which has a stornger flavour than what we get at home), or ground chicken that was encased in mashed plantain. It had been wrapped in some sort of leaves and steamed or boilled. It was surprisingly good!
That evening we were picked up in a taxi by Robert (he does not drive on his own at night, doesen't feel safe). We went back to the project house where he Domingo and Gerald live, also the programs offices were housed. It was a relaxing eveing of sitting, talking, and a few beers until we were struggling to stay awake! It was great to have a long, honest chat!