It will soon be a year since I began doing projects at the Angelitos Felices children's home here in Copan. The needs are so vast for children in Honduras that at times it's difficult to gauge whether anything you do is having any impact, but at least I can take in the completed capital projects at Angelitos on days like that and think, yeah, that's a little better.
The kids have hot showers, the place no longer smells like sewage, the water (mostly) flows. The toilets flush, the new ceramic floors at least have the potential of looking clean. OK, the interior walls already look almost as bad as they did before we painted the place just two short months ago, but you can't win 'em all.
While I was away over Christmas, a U.S. traveller had ceiling fans installed, and that has really improved the air quality in that stale place.
Other than the twice-monthly swims at the pool with the kids, which I really like, one of the projects I had the most fun with was buying everybody new head-to-toe outfits last month. I swear, some of those kids had never before had a pair of shoes that fit.
The four-year-old boy who struggles to walk, Jose Manuel, proudly shows me his new shoes every time I go up to Angelitos now. There'd been a time before he got them that he was barely allowed to go outside, let alone on outings, due to not having shoes.
And the kids' excitement over a new pair of underwear or jeans that don't have to be tied at the waist with string to hold them up was both heart warming and heartbreaking. The whole thing cost about $600 to outfit 24 children, such a bargain that I think we'll do it all over again in June. Next week, I'm taking the 16 school-age kids downtown to get outfitted for school uniforms before they return to class in February.
|... and after|
I've been doing fundraising for various causes for almost 10 years and know that people will be generous if a project moves them. But I've still been happily surprised at the amazing support I've had from friends, family and acquaintances back home in B.C. for the projects at Angelitos.
My position with Cuso International has been key to me being able to do this work as well, as the stipend I get for working in communications full-time for the Comision de Accion Social Menonita pays for my new life in Honduras. That means that every cent of the donations for Angelitos can go directly to the work.
All in, we've raised $16,000 in less than a year and spent about $11,000 of it. That leaves $5,000 for this coming year. And while I'd initially contemplated using it to build an indoor jungle gym at Angelitos, I'm now thinking every kid in Copan would benefit a lot more if I put some of it toward a public playground, something that Copan is decidedly short on.
There's a scruffy metal playground up at a school on the hill that's locked up tight on weekends and another at the private bilingual school. I know at least a couple other people here in Copan who'd like to be part of a playground project, and hopefully my CASM buddies can give me some ideas around municipal contacts who might have some land to donate.
Travellers continue to visit Angelitos bearing gifts, as the place was renowned as a worrisome, poorly funded, rundown and controversial children's home long before I first laid eyes on it last April.
The best of those gifts have been things that improve the structure of the place - the ceiling fans, the bed repairs done by a Christian mission out of Illinois in November - or that put better clothes on the backs of those poor, shabbily dressed kids. Gifts of basic medicines are also really helpful.
People have an understandable instinct to want to bring toys for the children. But I've never seen a toy last more than a day or two without somebody either breaking it, hiding it away, or sneaking it out of Angelitos to give to some other child. You can get mad about that latter practice, but the truth is that there are so many Copan children whose lives are no better than the kids at Angelitos. Can you blame somebody for wanting to give them toys too?
I can't even get mad when I hear that some of the older Angelitos girls have taken donated clothing down to the centre to sell. Everybody up there is in survival mode. It's not about being ungrateful, it's about getting by.
I continue to pin a lot of hope on Emily Monroe, the young American woman whose dream to open a better orphanage continues to move forward. Her Casita Copan project has reached a new and exciting stage now that she has taken over a former hostel, fully furnished.
That gives Emily the ability to expand her daycare into a residence for abandoned or abused children once she jumps through all the legal hoops (and she will). She's determined to start a better children's home, and I continue to be impressed at her commitment and dogged success.
It could be too big a dream to hope that the Angelitos kids will one day be able to move into the series of small family-style group homes that Emily envisages. But at any rate, I believe she's going to pull off her project, and that many other vulnerable Honduran children will benefit from that regardless.
So I'm also looking for ways this year to support her work, while still finding ways to make life a little better for the Angelitos kids. For the moment they don't have the option of relocating to a better children's home. We'll just have to see what we can do to brighten their lives in the meantime.