Visit to Nuestros Pequiños Hermanos orphanage

Trip Start Sep 06, 2008
Trip End Nov 25, 2008

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Thursday, September 18, 2008

A few days ago, I was able to pay my first visit to the nearby orphanage between Consuelo and San Pedro.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I what I discovered was more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.  The orphanage is called "Nuestros Pequiños Hermanos," and is one of seven around the country.  I guess you can consider it a sort of orphanage "chain," as they have founded orphanages in Mexico (where it originated), Bolivia, Haiti, Peru, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and one other country that has escaped me! 
Behind the large wall that surrounds the compound is a large haven in the middle of the countryside...a little pocket of wonderfulness!  Currently, the orphanage has 150 children, but it is building to accommodate 500 - which is amazing.  It is run by a man from Ireland named Keenan, who originally started working to establish one of these orphanages in Haiti, where he still has a house.  He and his wife (from Mexico) split their time between the DR and Haiti.  There is a large administrative staff, including social workers, who assess possible candidates for entry and provide counselling for the children once they arrive.  They just built a brand new administration building, which is beautiful.  The orphanage also has a board of directors, and much outside interest and donations - especially from Ontario.
There is a school on-site, where all children can go until grade 8, and then they go to school in San Pedro for high school.  Eventually, they will also have a high school, as well as a technical school, on-site.  They are in the middle of building the technical school right now.  The school was built with all-Canadian donations, and there is a dedication plaque on the front of the school to Canadians, and inside, all of the classrooms are named after cities in Ontario who donated money for the school (Guelph, Toronto, London, Waterloo, etc.)  The school is brand new, and it has an English language lab, and they want to put in a foreign language lab as well.  There are counsellors available at the school as well, and from what I could gather from the staff meeting that I saw, there are 40-ish teachers in the school.  The grounds are very spacious, with swings, teeter-totters (fun!), a basketball court, etc.  The external wall marks the boundary, and it is covered in colourful murals.  On the outside of the school, flags of all of the different countries that have donated money to the orphanage are painted on the wall. 
The kitchen is a separate gigantic building, and it has just been equipped with something very special...2 weeks ago, some Italians came over from Italy and installed wood-fired pizza and bread ovens, and gave a training session to the employees on how to use them!  These ovens were (obviously) donated from Italy. 
There is also a new medical clinic on-site, where there are doctors, a dentist, and a physiotherapist, who is from Austria.  When the children first arrive, they stay in the clinic for a few days, to be washed and to get rid of any parasites, fungus, or other contagious things that they may have, before they are sent to their new houses.
The houses are like out of a storybook.  They are all one-level with vaulted ceilings, and the floors are completely covered with ceramic tile.  Each house has the same layout, with furniture appropriate to the ages of the children (they are housed by age group and gender).  There is a spacious living/play room, large eating area, large kitchen with new appliances and marble counters, and 2 large bedrooms at either end of the hallway.  Each room can accommodate 10 to 14 children, depending on their size, of course!  One wall is a large multi-layered closet, where the children keep their clothes.  The other walls have bunk beds along them, and they are brightly painted and decorated, with large windows.  Each house also has a little backyard, with a gazebo and various play things.  There are 2 large bathrooms (one for each bedroom), and they are all marble and stainless steel, complete with toilet stalls, sinks, and showers.  Each house has 3 "tias" or "aunts" that look after the children - there are always 2 there at all times, and they rotate their days. 
And then there are the children...although some do have a hard time adjusting (the most recent entrant has been acting out - throwing the food away, crawling onto the roof, etc.  However, he came from a place where he was dragged to the bar every night with his father, and then CHAINED to the floor when he was at home), most of the children that I met were loving, cheerful, happy, and pleasant. Here they are clothed, fed VERY well, and they learn personal responsibility, such as folding one's own clothes, doing various cleaning chores around the house (one boy was mopping when we visited), and they all have to do their homework - which they are VERY proud to show off!  I reflected on all of this for a while, and after having seen how my students in the bateyes are living, one could almost say (or in some cases, could definitely say) that a child may be better off not having a family, so that they may live in this wonderful place where they are sooooo well cared-for.  I know that it seems like a horrible thing to say, but I guess one has to see it to believe it.
My pictures really don't do it justice - it truly is a little secret haven tucked away in the countryside.  After my tour, the PR rep who took us around presented me with an array of volunteer possibilities...I can pretty much get involved with or start any project that I want, whether it be in the school, a project with the older kids, something in the pre-school, painting murals, etc....I am really going to have to spend some time thinking about what would be most useful and sustainable - and if anyone has any ideas, I would love to hear them!    
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donnamci on

Heather, Thanks for the detailed commentary. Orphanages have had a bad rap in the spoiled modern world... in some historical contexts and in locales where children may otherwise be in dire straits, orphanages can be very reassuring and provide really positive prospects for kids. Furthermore, not all those who run orphanages (including churches) are perverted or malicious - so glad to hear your account of such a fine one.

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