Friday, January 22, 2010

The NPH Guatemala Philosophy

Yes, you know I'm working at an orphanage, but there's more to it than that. NPH is not your average orphanage. At the very least, life here for these kids is probably a lot different than what you're picturing in your mind at this very moment.

Well, allow me to set the record straight...and let you in on life at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos Guatemala.

NPH Guatemala began in 1996, the year the Peace Accords were signed to end the 36-year Civil War in Guatemala (the longest civil war in Latin American history). The Civil War nearly ruined the country, leaving 200,000 dead (in a country only the size of Tennessee) and another 50,000 missing (or fleeing the country).

Today, NPH Guatemala is home to roughly 350 children between the ages of infant and 26.

When new children come to NPH, the home must accept all brothers and sisters under the age of 16, no matter how many children are in the family. If it's a family of 10, they all come together. No one is refused.

Once in NPH, children can never be put up for adoption. The idea is that stability is what's most important for success. NPH believes that you can't feel safe if tomorrow your younger brother or best friend might be taken away. When they enter NPH, they are told that this is their family now.

During their three years of middle school, each student is required to study in one of our five talleres, or workshops, and graduate with a certificate in their trade. The five talleres are the panadería (bakery), the carpintería (carpentry), the herrería (iron or welding workshop), the belleza (beauty salon), and the cosería (sewing workshop). The belief is that while higher education is priority #1, it doesn’t always guarantee you a job (even in first-world countries, thanks economy). NPH wants each of its kids to have a trade they can fall back on if needed. The talleres also exist to keep the NPH house self-sufficient. All bread (to feed all 500 children, volunteers and employees) is made daily in our bakery. All furniture (beds, desks, benches, lamps, even toy trucks) for the home is made in our carpentry and welding workshops. Anyone can get their hair cut, colored and done up for free in our belleza, and clothes – from the school uniforms to pajamas to extravagant quinceañera gowns – are made in our sewing workshop.

NPH will provide all children with free schooling (including university level), as long as they want it. But in between school levels, the kids are required to complete años de servicio (years of service). After finishing middle school, they have to serve one año de servicio before they can attend high school. After high school, they must serve two años de servicio before they can attend university. The idea is that NPH will provide kids with top levels of schooling, but they have to earn it. An año de servicio must be spent doing some kind of work that gives back to the NPH Guatemala house, helping run the very place that raised them. Many students work as caretakers for the younger kids, help teach in the classrooms, or work in the talleres. The año de servicio students are some of my favorite to see around the home. Watching the 17 year-old girl run the entire bakery herself or the 18 year-old boy tote around two infants all day long and look like he’s loving it makes it clear to me that these “orphans” might be way more prepared for the real world than any of their privileged American counterparts.

And finally, many of the children here still have regular contact with their biological families. I’ll admit, this is still one of the harder things for me to grasp. Children come to NPH not necessarily because they are orphaned, but often because they cannot be fed, clothed, and educated properly by their own family; Guatemala still remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America. NPH believes that it’s important to allow all children to keep these familial ties if they want to. The home hosts two or three days a year when family members can come visit NPH, and nearly two-thirds of the children here leave during Christmas break to spend three weeks with their biological families.

So there you have it, a little insight into the unique philosophy that is NPH.

It’s really hard to put into words, and I know it sounds incredibly cliché, but when you’re here, you don’t feel like you’re at an “orphanage.” On average, these kids seem happier, more responsible, and more competent than kids their age in the U.S. So without even thinking, my mind just decides they must have had a "normal" upbringing – just like me and everyone else, right? It sounds stupid, but sometimes I look around and think I’m just working at some Guatemalan boarding school or something.

It literally is a daily thing for me: to remind myself where they’ve come from, to realize I really can’t even fathom it, and to just sort of be in awe.

1 comment:

Mallory said...

Wow...what a wonderful organization, Carrie! It's so neat that you're able to be a part of something like that.

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