By Kelly Shank –
When news broke about the horrific Guatemalan orphanage fire earlier this year our hearts sank. The fire at Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asuncion orphanage in San Jose Pinula, outside Guatemala City, on March 8, 2017 impacted the lives of everyone who cares for children in Guatemala.
Although a government-run facility, Virgen de la Asuncion was deeply connected to Forever Changed International. For more than 6 years our mission teams visited each week and fostered deep connections with many of the children who lived there. Many returning trip participants knew the names of the children there just like at Dorie’s Promise. You could always count on David to give you a hug, Iris loved to dance with teams, and the Princesas enjoyed making jewelry. Despite where they lived, these children were just like our own. After the fire, we immediately knew that we wanted to help in any way possible.
In the weeks following the fire, we accepted several children into our home. During their transition each of them faced different challenges because of their individual background and the conditions that they had lived in previously.
The government orphanage was a large facility that housed hundreds of children and the caregivers weren’t able to give the level of individual care that we would expect in our home. The ensuing investigation brought to light a history of abuse, mistreatment, and neglect resulting in several people being charged with various offenses related to the facility and fire.
Moving from those conditions to our home after such a traumatic event has been difficult for the children but we are happy to share that six months later, we are seeing great progress. Cecilia, our staff psychologist, is excited to share the growth that she has seen in these children.
Christina was very scared when she first came to our home. After leaving her mother and living in the government orphanage she didn’t have the ability to trust anyone. Instead, she clung tightly to her few belongings and built a wall of protection around herself. She didn’t want to be hurt or disappointed anymore. Our staff was determined to show Cristina how they loved her, despite her rejection. Slowly, after they repeatedly loved her, showed up for her, and did what they promised day after day, Cristina began to change.
She’s now learning how to have healthy relationships with our staff and the other children. The girl who didn’t even want her clothes washed because she was afraid they’d be stolen now creates gifts for her Special Mothers and enjoys playing Uno and checkers with the other kids. Hearing her say “I love you” to the Special Mothers makes our job a success.
Manuel came to Dorie’s Promise because he has several medical conditions that require specialized care other orphanages couldn’t provide. Luckily, Doc and Mirna have experience handling difficult medical conditions. Like many little boys, Manuel is quite active. Adapting to our home, our daily schedules, and our expectations was hard because his previous life wasn’t structured in the same way as Dorie’s Promise. Managing impulse control when he was upset or frustrated was one of the biggest challenges during the transition.
Cecilia is very proud of the changes she’s seen in Manuel. He is a different little boy. His self-esteem is higher, he’s respectful, and he has learned how to be caring towards the other children. Instead of acting out, he’s now using his curiosity to learn new things and enjoy being a kid.
Myra was the first child we received after the fire. For a while after she came, she was very skeptical about living in our home and worried constantly about how long she would be with us and if she would have to return to the government orphanage. Instead of trying to transition she chose to be self-reliant so she didn’t make any connections that would have to be broken.
We are so proud of her. She is resilient and we have finally been able to gain her trust. As the months have passed and she experienced our love, she’s started to engage with our staff and the other children. Most importantly, she’s started to dream again. Myra wants to become a lawyer so that she can help children like herself. From what we’ve seen so far, we think she will do great things in the future.
We are so thankful for the opportunity to impact these children and help them thrive after experiencing such a great loss. Please continue to pray for all of the children affected by the fire and the officials who are responsible for creating a system to care for the forgotten children of Guatemala.