Thirteen people returned earlier this month from Hoboken Grace’s annual trip to Mexico, where they visited the staff and children of Casa Hogar Alegre orphanage. The team helped out in almost every aspect of the children’s lives, from painting and cleaning, to playing and helping out with homework.
“We basically love and serve the kids there,” said Amanda, who was visiting Casa Hogar for a third time. Originally reluctant to go on the trip because it fell on a family holiday over Memorial Day weekend, Amanda eventually told herself she would go regardless of the circumstances. The dates have fallen on Memorial Day ever since, but Amanda hasn’t stopped going.
“It is awesome and totally worth it,” she said. “We’re definitely impacting them beyond the week that we’re there. Every year that we go back we see something new, some other way that we can help support the kids there. You’re feeding them the Holy Spirit, and you’re feeding them the skills they need to succeed in the world.”
The orphanage is located in the Mexican state of Chiapas, which shares its southern border with Guatemala. As such, it is a common stop for Central and South Americans traveling north toward the United States. Along the way, families become fractured and children are frequently left behind.
Recognizing the dire needs of these children, Elizabeth Noguera — now affectionately referred to as a “Mama Liz” — felt called to take them in. While caring for her husband and family, Mama Liz did what she could to feed, clothe and educate many of the children who needed help. Finally, in July 1993 she became the official guardian of what is now the Casa Hogar Alegre orphanage.
The children at the orphanage attended classes from roughly 8 a.m. to noon. During that time, the team helped put finishing touches on a new two-story school building. Groups took turns disposing of leftover wood and bricks before finally painting the inside and outside of the building. In the meantime, others helped out in the nursery.
Once the children were done with classes after lunch, they split up into four groups according to age and attended classes taught by the team. Subjects included a Bible class, music, arts and crafts and sports. Language is a common barrier for both parties, but it never became a serious obstacle.
“The kids are so welcoming. They don’t care if you don’t speak Spanish,” said Amanda.
“Really all they wanted was to be loved,” said Kara, who went on the trip for the first time this year.
“They were so incredibly happy,” said Kara. “Just how happy these children were was unbelievable to me. This is their home. This is where they’re loved. And then when we come, they just loved to spend time with us.”
Finally, after dinner the children were free to play with one another. One day, the group watched a movie in the library. On another, the kids were treated to a day at the zoo. Impromptu dance parties via cell phone speakers were a favorite pastime. And on the team’s last night, the kids were treated to a pizza party, complete with a pinata.
“We were never bored,” said Kara.
But even on days when there wasn’t a special trip or party, the kids found ways to have fun. Soccer and basketball were both popular, as was coloring and playing with sidewalk chalk. The children were especially fond of taking pictures and videos of themselves on team meembers’ phones, a novelty of modern technology.
“They’re just like any other kids,” said Amanda.
One of the joys of returning year after year is developing bonds with the children there. Amanda now keeps in close contact with the family that runs the orphanage.
“Having that, especially with the older ones — watching them grow and seeing how much faith is instilled in their lives — is really cool,” said Amanda. “It’s awesome to see how far some of these kids have come.”
The group was led by Amy, who has been traveling to Casa Hogar for almost a decade.
“Amy really did a great job as leader of the group,” said Kara. “How she did it is unbelievable.”
Anyone who is interested in serving on the annual trip is welcome to join. Men are in especially high demand to help out with the heavy lifting that often comes with the job. Many of the boys also look up to and admire the guys in the group. One volunteer, Johnny, has been visiting the orphanage for several years and has developed a strong bond with the boys there.
“He makes it a priority to go on this trip,” said Amanda. “It’s cool to see how the boys of the orphanage look up to him.”
Others who wish to help Casa Hogar can donate via their website. The home receives little aid from the government, so donations are welcomed. All contributions directly support children at the orphanage.