I forgot to take my camera with me! Sorry. One of the things I had read about in the area was an orphanage. I mentioned them in another post. I had looked them up online and emailed about going for a visit with the kids. One of the things we have hoped traveling does for our kids is to shape their understanding of the world around them. We have been blessed with many things. Aside from the material blessings of “stuff”, we have a lot of family around us. We have food, clothes, plenty of the necessities of life as well. I feel that my kids are often sheltered from how little so many in this work have. So with travelling we have tried to provide the experiences to help them be aware of all that is around them. It is easy for us to forget that not everybody has a washer and a dryer, or a refrigerator, or floors in their house, when everyone we associate with has all of those things. My kids complain if they have peanut butter and jam 3 days in a row for lunch, could they know that some kids ONLY get rice and beans, every day for EVERY meal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I received an email from the orphanage letting us know we were welcome to come for a visit at anytime. The orphanage is more than an orphanage, it is also a boarding school for the kids in the surrounding villages whose families are too poor to take care of them. They get to go home to their families about every other weekend and on holidays. This week is holy week, Semana Santa, in conjunction with Easter, a big holiday week for Guatemala, and so only the actual orphans were left at the school.
If you look up their website like I did, if you are interested in that sort of thing, it doesn’t seem like things are that bad. It seems like they are pretty well funded. They support a lot of kids, close to 200 kids, and that is a lot to manage, but they have a nice website and it doesn’t quite depict an extremely dreary place. Maybe that is to show their donors that they are spending the money wisely, and to help attract more donors and volunteers? I don’t know.
But, they do not have as many ophans as their website says—they do have a lot of kids from the villages, so they are still taking in a lot of kids. Adoptions in Guatemala have increased over the last few years, and so the volunteers there said they think that is why they do not get as many orphans as they use to. There were about 15 kids there between the ages of 3 and 14 when we visited. They have more that are older, but they live in town at a hotel/restaurant owned by the orphanage. They work there and it pays for them to attend the high school in town.
There were about 7 volunteers there the day we visited. They told us that they pay the orphanage $300 dollars to come volunteer for 3 months. Most leave after 2 months. The orphanage is remotely located outside of town with access by boat. There are villages all around, but they are extremely poor. They work 7 days a week and get to go into town one morning a week for a few hours to run “errands”
The grounds consist of half a dozen buildings. There is a boys building, a girls building, a school, a dining building, a gym area, and a few other buildings, like living quarters for teachers and staff. They have 15 teachers for all the kids. The volunteers jobs include taking care of the kids in the morning before school and then after school. So they sleep in the boys/girls buidlings, get them up, make sure they shower, dress, do their morning chores. Each child gets 3 sets of clothes. They send off clothes into town to the hotel for laundry everyday. Each child has a bed and a mosquito net and shares a dresser cabinet with their bunk mate, as the beds are bunk beds. The volunteers said they are often woken in the middle of the night by a child crying for their mom or dad, or because of abuse and traumatic events in the kids lives.
There is no power; they run a generator for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. They have a small battery bank that provides a little necessary power through out the day. They eat rice and beans, 3 meals a day. Sometimes they get tortillas. Sometimes a cruise ship docks at Puerto Barios, 20 miles down the river, and does tours up to the RIO DULCE, and they will bring in extra food and donate to the orphanage, then they may get a meal with veggies or fruits. But it was pretty rare. The volunteers said that after a few weeks with the heat, and the lack of nutrients they can feel their bodies being depleted. Add to that the trying circumstances of taking care of the kids and they just get worn out, so they rarely make their 3 month commitment. There are a few that have been there a while. We met 2 that had been there at least 6 months. We asked them how they found Casa Guatemala, and they all said online. And that it was one of the least expensive volunteer experiences in central and south America.
We enjoyed our visit there. We took our dinghy the few miles down the river to the orphanage. Savannah said it looked like a summer camp, and it does. After we arrived the kids were going to play a game. Our kids were a little shy just thrown into a new situation. Along with not knowing how to speak Spanish. One of the volunteers introduced them to a few of the kids. The game was sort of a spin off of hide and seek. The kids had to find the hiding volunteers and collect a card for points to be tallied at the end. We joined the ranks of the volunteers and hid around the grounds. Our kids started to warm up to the other kids as they came searching for us and collecting point cards. Soon enough our kids were running around playing tag with a few of the other kids. Even Benjamin was playing with a cute little 3 year old girl, Shana, who was following him around.
David and I toured the buildings and chatted more with the volunteers before it was time for us to go. Our kids were wanting to join everyone else swimming in the river, so we knew we’d better leave before they jumped in fully dressed. I’d like to go back during school and see the place with all it’s kids.