UPDATE: June 17, 2019
Hello from Mexico!
My name is Oksana.
I spent time volunteering at Nuestros Hermanos Pequeños in Cuernavaca, Mexico as a communications officer and youth companion.
Nuestros Hermanos Pequeños is a home and family network for abandoned and orphaned children in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Mexico there are four homes - one for children (located on a gorgeous farm in a town called Miacatlan), another for youth (who attend high school in the city of Cuernavaca), a third for university students (in Monterrey) and the fourth is a transitional home for those leaving the home and “moving on into the world” on their own.
I lived in Mexico City some time ago and had been looking forward to returning to live in the country again. I love the food, climate, culture, celebrations - and most of all the flora and fauna. I missed the sound of cumbia, the sight of bougainvillea, the smell of tortillas …
I arrived at NPH in Cuernavaca in January. I spent my first two weeks “orienteering” with three new volunteers - young women from the U.S.A., Costa Rica and Germany and the volunteer co-ordinator.
We attended Spanish language school in the mornings to improve our Spanish and spent the afternoons immersing ourselves into the home, city and way of Mexican life. We became acquainted with the youth and staff who we’d be working and living with. We lived on the property in our own house. The children, called Pequeños, teenagers at my home – about 200 of them – lived dormitory-style in other buildings on the property. Think of the property as a compound – behind walls, with numerous buildings – dormitories, kitchen/dining room, activity areas, chapel, the padre’s home, doctor’s clinic, administration offices (public relations, accounting, logistics, maintenance, etc.), soccer pitch, gardens, and a big court yard. The homes are vast and carefully managed.
I signed on as a communications officer at the NPH Mexico home. I spent the mornings in the office or out on assignments and the afternoons and evenings with the kids.
The role of the communications officer is to liaise with the home one is assigned to, gather information and report back to NPH International, which overseas all nine country homes.
I wrote articles, took photos and documented events. This was then shared across the world via internet and print to the other NHP homes, NPH International and all its sponsors, donors and stakeholders. Each month reflected a single, fascinating theme: water, agriculture, education, etc., and followed issues and goals aligned with the United Nations.
I researched and collected data about the homes: how much corn was planted a year, how much was harvested, how many tortillas were eaten a day, how many new children started the new school year and so on. All sorts of bits and bites to document, share and analyze.
I interviewed fellow volunteers and staff about their duties.
Volunteers come from around the world to fill the roles of English teachers, physio, recreational and art therapists, project managers, farming assistants, counsellors, etc. During my time there were about 10 volunteers in total.
The farm director who over sees the property in Miacatlan, Dr. Morales, is a permaculture practitioner. He tends to the vast farm by applying best practices that benefit both humanity – the Pequeños and staff of NPH - and the environment. The farm provides food and operates in a sustainable manner. On the farm one finds corn fields (for tortillas), citrus fruit and mango groves, vegetable gardens and greenhouses, and animals: chickens, rabbits, pigs and tilapia.
Yes, NPH farms fish!
All this helps fill the bellies and sustain about 1,000 people – the average number of all the children and staff at NPH in Miacatlan and Cuernavaca. The corn also feeds the animals. The animal’s poop is used as biofuel to help power the property water pumps. In turn the water used is recycled to water the corn fields and fill the fish ponds. At the farm nothing is wasted, everything is transformed. This is permaculture. An article I wrote about this:
The farm at NPH Mexico supersedes part of the UN's Zero Hunger Challenge
In Miacatlan “a complex network of energy flows between all.”
I also interviewed teachers and the school principal. Article I wrote about this: Pure, Simple Sustainability
This is how NPH defines success in its schools.
Volunteers spent time with the Pequeños, who attended school from morning to mid afternoon. Volunteers play an active role in their daily life. They help in the kitchen to serve lunch and dinner, with homework and after-school programs (soccer, volleyball, traditional folk dance). I took one group to boxing classes every week at the local athletics facility. I’d also take Pequeños to their dental appointments.
On weekends we had Saturday night movie nights! A big screen was raised in the outdoor courtyard and we'd watch movies under the stars while roasting marshmallows by the bonfire. On Sundays we'd attend mass. Every other Saturday morning I took the girls to Girl Guides. Every few weeks there would be a big fun outing – to the movies, a carnival, water park, etc.
On a personal note: I played Frisbee with the kids during downtime, had my hair braided or cellphone hijacked by selfie-taking girls. We’d go out to the markets or on nature walks to see waterfalls. We practiced English and swapped words - exchanging and learning new ones in all the languages we spoke – I speak Ukrainian as well and some of the Pequeños speak indigenous languages. We talked about food. Or we'd just chit chat about life, where we came from, where we were going. We were all curious about one another.
I had no idea what it would be like living and working at an orphanage. I had no expectations …
It felt like summer camp to me. The warm weather, the bunk beds in the dorms, the communal living … and the overarching goal being the welfare and well-being of children.
The life, education and values provided to the Pequeños at NPH Mexico is invaluable. Some more articles I wrote and am more than happy to share:
"Whoever doesn't want to play soccer comes to plant!"
An older pequeña takes a group of younger girls under her wing and shows them how and why to respect the land
Teach a Man to Fish and You Feed Him for a Lifetime
The tilapia fish farm in Miacatlan is one super sustainable operation.