From the outside, Hogar de Pan orphanage looks like a normal house. There is no sign and nothing remarkable about it. But inside, it is a remarkable story.
The orphanage was started by inspirational couple Victor and Melba. Their son was extremely sick 30 years ago and the doctor told them that he wouldn’t make it. While Melba was taking care of her sick child, there was also an orphaned child battling the same infirmity. Melba and Victor adopted the orphaned child. Miraculously, both children survived and Hogar de Pan was born!
Hogar de Pan = Home of Bread. I asked if it was a play on words since Peter Pan was also an orphan, but no, it’s just a coincidence.
The house has an astounding 40 children of all ages and abilities disabilities. Many children come from heartbreaking circumstances such as abuse, sexual assault, and more. Melba is “mama” and Victor is “papa” to all the children. A concerted effort is made to provide a family-like structure despite the quantity of children.
Unfortunately, I was only able to volunteer for a couple days as my world got turned upside on Thanksgiving, then I was given the run around at another orphanage, and then on my first day of volunteering here my plans for December and January changed completely as I decided to add Venezuela to The Happy Nomad Tour.
Still, it was a wonderful experience.
As I’ve said before, kids are kind of alien to me. I didn’t grow up around many little kids and they still intimidate me a bit. Thus, being around them is definitely a way of challenging myself. Plus, if I ever want to have my own kids someday, I should learn the basics!
I helped out with random tasks. The scarcest resource in the house is attention, thus the best thing a volunteer can do there is offer his or her attention. Luckily, they partner with several European organizations and there are always volunteers in the house. The volunteers often stay with in the houses of Victor and Melba’s grown up children.
I helped cook lunch with Melba’s daughter-in-law one day. What a process! They made mondongo soup – a soup made of vegetables and the stomach of a cow. I tried it in El Salvador. I live by the motto of trying everything in life at least once. I already tried this once and I didn’t go back for seconds..
But yes, for 40 children, we peeled and chopped vegetables for what seemed like hours! And interesting vegetables too. The pink vegetable is called camote and the green one is called choyote.
It takes a couple hours to prepare each meal and it would be impossible without the help of volunteers.
Some the kids seemed to get attached to me. I was very surprised since this almost never happens normally. But then again, my life is not normal anymore and I’ve changed a lot. Maybe one of the consequences of that is a better connection with kids!
One of these kids was Luis. I don’t know what his disability was exactly, but he couldn’t speak or communicate. But he and I share a similar passion – walking. He came up to me, grabbed my hand, and pointed at the front door. So we went out for a walk in the neighborhood. Most of the time he was running in place because he was so excited to be outside.
He has a fascination with things in motion, so a bridge with water passing below is heavenly for him.
Below is a video of him enjoying the site of the running water in the river.
As I watched him express his joy, I wondered if, despite his disability, he could see things more clearly than I could. I saw nothing fascinating with the river nor the scenery. Maybe Luis sees something I can neither see nor appreciate. It makes you wonder.
Below are some more pictures of the orphanage.
It was a short but great volunteering experience. I wish I could have spent more time there, but so goes the life of a wandering nomad with last-minute plan changes.
If you have any interest in volunteering at an orphanage, I found this list of many orphanages located all over the world.
June 2013 Update
More than anywhere else I’ve volunteered, Hogar de Pan has elicited lots of interest and emails from others who would like to share their time, energy, and love with these wonderful children. Until now I had no contact info or address to share. Now I do.
First, they have moved to San Jose, so they are no longer in Cartago.
They have a facebook page you can see here: https://www.facebook.