A few years ago, a 12-year-old girl ended up in the Hogar Del Niño orphanage. Her father was in prison and her stepmother was abusive, so she ran away to live on the streets. She was found by a police officer and eventually ended up in the home.
A 6-year-old boy was abandoned in the home after his aunt and mother said they didn’t want him. One young man has spent about 12 years of his life in the home. He’s now studying to become a teacher and hopes to become a doctor.
There are more than a dozen children in the home, most have been abandoned. From a young boy who was left in the park shortly after being born to a 10-year-old girl who was left in a police station. They have found a home at Hogar Del Niño.
“We receive children that are usually sent by a judge, either orphans, abandoned. They come out from families with violence or children that have been abandoned at a hospital,” said Lydia Garcia, who runs the orphanage.
The Oklahoma Connection
We arrived at the building in Lemoa, Guatemala on a clear Thursday afternoon. Several girls from the local community were standing outside, giggling as we drove up. Bill Brewer had talked about Garcia several times before. He knows her well.
The native Guatemalan was a translator for missionary groups before she got a scholarship from Oklahoma City University.
Garcia graduated in 1994, majoring in psychology. When she returned to Guatemala, she began to volunteer at the orphanage and took over last year when the director moved on.
At the orphanage children are surrounded by trees. Pears and limes are ripening on trees behind the building and the children help take care of the animals. Chickens and turkeys help feed the children and they sell some of the produce.
Garcia was all smiles when we walked in, showing off the classroom where they help kids with their homework. In the back, a small apartment had been built so volunteers have a place to stay.
The children who are there at the time are all smiles, a trait common for Guatemalan children, apparently even those who don’t have a family. I smile at one girl who is doing her chores. She says “Hello” to me, something that caught me off guard.
The children are put into private school and are even taught some English, two things not common in this part of the country. The six paid staff run and operate the orphanage from donations and money they can make selling produce from the outside garden. The children help where they can, doing chores and learning to take care of the animals.
The orphanage was founded in the 1980s by the National Methodist Church of Santa Cruz Del Quiche. The civil war in Guatemala had taken its toll and many children had been left orphans. Since then, private donations, including several large donations from the US, including several from Methodist churches in Tennessee, has made Hogar Del Niño into what it is today.
The practice of allowing foreign couples to adopt Guatemalan children was stopped by the Guatemalan government, although at least one of the children who was adopted in the past few years went to a family in Tennessee. Garcia said that was because the paperwork had been filed before hand. She also said that she is hopeful that the government will begin to allow it again.
More and more I’m amazed at how happy the children we have met on our journeys seem to be. It doesn’t matter where they are or what they have or don’t have. We didn’t see all the children at the orphanage, likely because some were still off at school for the day, but what we did see was something special. The orphanage gave the children an education and opportunity a lot of the other children we saw wouldn’t have. Despite what they had been through, they all seemed happy for it.