Homestead Home for Girls
I don’t think I have ever seen more of a change in one year than in the girls of Homestead Home for Girls or in the staff. One year ago, when we inaugurated our newest OSF program in Kingston, Jamaica, there was an air of desperation. The girls of Homestead have led incredibly difficult lives and, for many of the newest arrivals, their pain was very recent. They looked at the shipping container that was completely reconstructed into a computer center as if were something alien, and were uncomfortable with the computers to which they had never had access.
What a difference a year makes. The computer center was further improved to be state of the art in the year and classes started. The girls started learning the basics of computing and the world open to them through the internet. Girls who had trouble stating what they wanted to do with their lives are now anxious to get into University; they want to be doctors, lawyers, engineers . . . you name it.
When I first arrived at Homestead two years ago, I went to hug the girls, as I hug all of the students we serve, and was met with shrugs, coldness and, at times, refusals. They didn’t know me well, didn’t know what we could bring, and didn’t know my heart. This time, there were hugs, there was laughter, there was trust.
I would be remiss if I did not thank Sister Grace for taking us across the island to Charles Town to meet the Maroons, the descendants of the slaves released by the Spaniards who fought off the British. They only exist in Jamaica and Suriname. They are so proud of their culture and their traditions and were so pleased to show all of them to us. Andy dancing like a Maroon brought laughter to them all. Their first magic show and first balloon animals brought delight to the children. After the fun, they took us to the only school for the Maroon children, one in danger of closing without assistance. They asked for our OSF to help deliver four laptops so that their children would have access to the internet, access to computer learning and would be able to eventually enter the workforce, while always maintaining their culture. We agreed and this will be a small OSF program in 2018.
La Romana, Dominican Republic
Ninos y Ninos De Cristo
“Tío Andy Is Here!” As I pull up to the orphanage for the 12th year and countless visits, this is all I hear. When I enter the orphanage, I am “attacked” by dozens of children who start climbing all over asking for magic and “Pica Pollo”.
One of our longest partnership orphanages has seen its share of development and changes. The boys moved twenty minutes away to an orphanage developed by another non-profit. New dormitories and offices were built on the grounds. New faces have appeared. But the spirit is still the same: a love of learning, a love of music and dance, and a love of chicken. Every time I come to this home, we have a Pica Pollo party (their local Kentucky Fried Chicken). These are the only times they get to eat this “delicacy” and you have never seen children enjoy eating more than these children savor every bite. They keep pieces for days to flavor their other food and to remember the day.
I brought two guests. The first was a wonderful executive formerly of Cisco Systems who will get Cisco involved across all the countries of OSF. Randi has studied and protected against sex trafficking in her business roles and was so pleased to see programs designed to help give skills to these girls so that they never had to be trafficked.
The second was a Dominican: a successful businessman and former basketball sensation. Felipe never had less than ten children surrounding him as he spoke to these children in their accent about life, politics, business, relationships, the works. Most special was the appreciation of these children in seeing a successful Dominican show them love and care about their opinions. Then we got to the two on ten basketball games to the delight of the athletes amongst the girls. My back will never be the same.
This is also home to one of our beautiful partnerships with Just Hope International in teaching life skills on the OSF computers. On Sunday morning, the oldest girls get up early and attend class to learn how to live on their own outside the orphanage. Today’s lesson was budgeting to start a business and learning all the ins and outs of running their own businesses. Watching our insanely talented teacher Joanna engage with the girls, arguing over how to save costs and make a profit, was a true joy to behold.
I leave this blog with the beautiful Nicole, a fourteen year old star of our program and apparently La Romana. When I asked her how things were going with the computers she answered in flawless English: “I am number one in my school in English. I am number one in my school in Spanish. I am number one in my school in everything. I want to go to Harvard University. Will you support me when it is time? I love you.”
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