Parishioners assist Honduran orphans - Catholic Courier

Parishioners assist Honduran orphans

A number of Catholics in the Finger Lakes are hoping that by selling used books, they can raise enough money to buy new books for a soon-to-be-constructed library in a Honduran orphanage.

This effort is the latest incarnation of the Casa del Nino Project, which is intended to improve the quality of life for the young boys living at the Casa del Nino orphanage in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Through this project, an individual can sponsor one of the 25 boys at the orphanage and send a monthly donation to be used for his care.

The project’s roots go back to 1998, when a group of volunteers from Rushville traveled to Honduras to provide medical relief in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. One of those volunteers, a young man named Eric Lewis, decided to bring his fellow volunteers to Casa del Nino, a place he’d become very familiar with during the past five years.

Lewis was a student at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford when he made his first trip to Honduras in 1993 as part of a national program sponsored by the Capuchin friars. Lewis and the other program participants spent four weeks in isolated Honduran villages, where they learned about poverty and other issues affecting the locals, he said.

“I enjoyed my time there so much. I just fell in love with the country, so I decided that while I was there I would try to make some contacts so I could come back,” said Lewis, who belongs to St. Stephen Parish in Geneva.

At the time Lewis was studying to become a teacher, and he went back to Honduras to complete his student-teaching requirement. He taught at a local elementary school in the morning, and in the afternoons he volunteered at Casa del Nino, where he bonded with the young orphans. When he returned to the orphanage in 1998 and introduced the boys to his fellow hurricane-relief volunteers, several of the volunteers were moved by the boys’ situation, he said.

Casa del Nino is located in the center of San Pedro Sula, which is the second-largest city in Honduras and is home to both extreme poverty and extreme wealth, Lewis said. Casa del Nino doesn’t receive a lot of funding, so Lewis and several other volunteers decided to set up a formal program — the Case del Nino Project — to help support the orphanage and its residents.

“We set up a program where people sponsor a child, sort of like Christian Children’s Fund. All of the money goes to the orphanage,” said Patricia Curtin, a member of the project’s 10-member planning committee.

The project was originally founded by members of St. Andrew Parish in Dundee, which is now part of the six-parish Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community, to which Curtin belongs. Although many of the sponsors are from St. Andrew and another Our Lady of the Lakes parish, St. Michael in Penn Yan, Curtin said others are summer visitors to the Finger Lakes and hail from as far away as Long Island.

Sponsors and their children also write letters to each other, and the boys are always very excited when they receive news from their sponsors, said Lewis, who has visited Honduras 12 times. The boys love to have visitors, so each time he visits the country he makes sure to spend a lot of time at Casa del Nino.

“Having people as a permanent part of their lives is important because there is little permanence in their lives. People come and go too often,” Lewis said.

During his most recent trip to the orphanage in July, Lewis noticed that the boys aren’t receiving adequate mental-health services. Most of these boys are in the orphanage because of extreme poverty and violence in their family or because their parents died of AIDS, so these children have endured much trauma in their short lives, he said. American children who had lived through similar situations would probably receive counseling and possibly even psychiatric help, but the Honduran culture doesn’t place much emphasis on such things, Lewis added.

“Death and poverty are a part of everyday life for a lot of people there,” he said. “With our help, hopefully that attitude will change.”

Sponsors’ donations can hopefully be used to provide mental-health services and to increase the boys’ access to health care and education, both of which are limited because of the boys’ poverty, Lewis said.

“In Honduras, even if you’re a public-school student you have to pay a tuition fee and buy uniforms and shoes and supplies. Most kids do go to school, but some only attend for two or three years,” he said. “Having access to good, quality books, especially if you’re poor, is next to impossible.”

Committee members are hoping to change that reality, at least for the boys at Casa del Nino. When they learned a new orphanage building was being constructed to replace the current building, they asked orphanage officials to include space for a library, which would be furnished by the Casa del Nino Project.

The committee is trying to raise $10,000 by next spring, which will be used to purchase at least 1,000 hardcover books written in Spanish, Lewis said.

“Our main focus is to give them a better life, and to prepare them for a better life,” Curtin said, noting that the current building’s “library” consists of a bookcase at one end of the orphanage’s large recreation room.

Committee members have been collecting used books at Our Lady of the Lakes parishes, and they plan to hold a used-book sale Aug. 19 at The Windmill, a farm-and-craft market located on Route 14A between Penn Yan and Dundee. Also that day they’ll be selling Honduran crafts and homemade bookmarks and gift baskets, and the committee plans to hold several larger fundraisers in the fall, Curtin said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the Casa del Nino Project, visit www.casadelninohonduras.org or e-mail the project’s committee at casadelninohonduras@yahoo.com.

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