On our tour of the monastery grounds, we were able to see just how much work has been put into this home to be as self-sufficient as possible. Madre Ivonne has a mushroom lab, where she makes all sorts of tinctures and natural remedies for not only the children, but the local community. Over the years, they have had some HIV+ children, and by her medicinal mushrooms and the grace of God, some of them were cured. Their doctor of course accused her of witchcraft. The children are given daily mushroom supplements for extra immunity. In return, they rarely get sick!
The grounds are also home to coffee and fruit trees, a tilapia farm, rabbits, welding and work shops, and much more that I know I’m forgetting. It’s a very inspiring operation they have going on! Again, can you imagine if we in the US had more orphanages like this? Instead of children being sent from one questionable foster care home to the next, they would have a safe, clean, self-sufficient environment they could call home until hopefully adopted. A girl can dream…The one day Big Guy and I ventured into the kitchen to see what was going on. The staff were so sweet. The freshly made cookies and bread were amazing. The food everyday, although often simple, was always delicious. Rice and black beans were served at every meal, and I didn’t mind one bit. We planned ahead to bring down a simple craft for the women to do with the girls, and the men to do with the boys. We did chalk art, while the boys made paper airplanes. Both were a hit. It truly is amazing that even though we can hardly understand each other (besides some of the teenagers who can speak English), we thoroughly enjoy the time spent together. Love is the easiest language to communicate.
My mom had a great idea to draw hopscotch in the gravel during playtime with the younger girls. Not a bad backdrop for a game of hopscotch…
Our team member, Olivia, turned 15 years old while we were in Guatemala. There, turning 15 is a huge deal, like our Sweet 16. It’s referred to as a Quinceanera, and typically involves a dress-up occasion with at least a mariachi band, food, cake, and dancing. I was fortunate enough to experience two of these during my first trip! Since it is not as big of a deal for us Americans, we celebrated simply by surprising her with Guatemalan cakes and singing. One of the first days we were in Guatemala we took the younger girls for a walk down the mountainside toward Lake Amatitlan. We walked so far before heading back up to get washed up for dinner. Later in the week we finally went all the way down, and didn’t realize how much further we had to go! Once to the bottom it was one of those moments where you’re hiking and hiking and all of a sudden you come to a breathtaking view that literally stops you in your tracks. This is what it was like. All of a sudden we were on this lake surrounded by beautiful landscaping and in front of us was a… castle? It was this hidden gem that we had no idea about!
After checking it all out, we then had no choice to hike back up the mountain. It was hot and humid and tough. I would be lying if I said some people didn’t make it to the church service that evening from exhaustion. Knowing that the children make that hike so often really made us realize how out of shape a lot of us were!
Our last full day we celebrated the Divine Liturgy with the children and nuns. Fr. Daniel was able to give a wonderful Sermon in English that was translated for the children and staff, and even attempted some prayers in Spanish too. Afterwards Mother Ivonne told us how special it was to watch Big Guy go to Communion, since it has been a few years now since they’ve had babies. One of the highlights to their day was watching the nannies bring all the babies to the Church to receive Communion. The youngest child while we were there was four years old already, and was a more recent addition to the home. Because of the ban on international adoptions given by UNICEF and the government, it has complicated logistics, so they are unable to receive any more children, unless they are literally dropped off at their doorstep by their parents. The hope is that, by the grace of God, the ban will either be lifted, or the government will be more cooperative so more children can have such a loving home as this one.
Following church we had brunch together and then we performed a play for the children. Father Daniel played the guitar while we acted as mimes depicting the story of creation. The children really seemed to get a kick out of it. Afterwards they presented us with gifts of gratitude and hugged each of us goodbye. Such a bittersweet moment.
I’m so grateful to have been able to travel to and visit with the children, nuns, and staff twice now. Both visits were unforgettable, and completely different. I can only imagine what my next visit could bring. As it usually is with volunteer work, I often leave feeling like I took more out of it than I was able to give. Our society is only able to grow if the individual is willing to grow first though. We must begin by looking, healing, and growing within, before we are able to transform without. Thank you for supporting me on my journey to grow.