Who Cares if it’s a Square?

Today is Friday -the final day of our Monday, Wednesday, Friday English class schedule.   On each of those days we teach 3 classes to the children of Manos de Amor Casa Hogar.   These children are living at Casa Hogar because their parents or caregivers need a helping hand.  A few have no parents.  Many have 1.  Lots of grandmas have stepped in.   They have all experienced great trauma in their young lives – abuse, prostitution, alcoholism. And poverty.  A lot of poverty.

So 3 days a week we arrive at the home with our bag full of worksheets and crafts and videos and songs and tablets.  We have divided the groups by age.  The 6-9 year olds have learned about colors and families and counting to 20 and greetings and this week we learned about Day and Night.  We are working on vocabulary but also trying to learn some sentences.    “I have 4 shoes”. “Touch something red with your nose”.  They love songs and sing them REALLY LOUD.  I expect the whole neighborhood now knows the days of the week.  They especially love the English learning apps we have on the tablets that we use once a week or so.

20170906_163354The oldest children – those 10 and over – use the Duolingo language learning app.  We don’t really have to teach them – we are there to help when they are stuck and to do group review from time to time.  We are also there to stop their little fingers from ‘accidentally’ going to the App store and ‘surprisingly’ downloading games.  “I don’t know how that happened Karen”.  Sure you don’t.  We do reward them with a few minutes of game time to keep them coming back.  I love using this app because each child moves at his or her pace and new students can join at any time.

20170922_145605The funnest class is the littles, the 4-6 year olds.  They are hilarious and are actually learning quite a few words.  They are the ones who speak to me in English every chance they get.  “Hello, my name is Azbeth, how are you I am fine and you?”  They just run it all together and are so proud.   This week they learned shapes and today we finished the week by making Shape Guy heads.  They practiced shapes and face parts and colors on one little craft and they were pretty excited with the final product once they had added some butterflies and dogs and family members.


We are having fun but I have to admit that some days I look around at the needs and problems in this country and I wonder what possible difference it will make if Jose knows the difference between a square and a rectangle.   Will knowing their colors keep 12-year-old girls from getting pregnant and will greeting gringos in English stop boys from becoming trapped by alcohol?  Today after our final class we drove children from 3 families to their homes for the weekend and as I am every Friday, I was saddened by what I saw.  How can we think our little classes can make a difference?

But as I held babies and hugged toddlers, and stepped in poopy diapers littered on the ground, I smiled.  Yes, if children here learn English they will have an opportunity to secure a better paying job in the tourism industry.  But these 4-year-olds aren’t out looking for jobs.  What they are looking for is acceptance, confidence, affection, hope, safety and security.  For LOVE.  I watched Jose show his sisters and his niece Lupita his Shape Guy and I realized that for a few minutes today he felt proud of himself.  For at least an hour he experienced confidence and creativity and joy.   I remembered the look on Jorge’s face when he told me he had finished 8 Duolingo lessons.  The cheer Mareli let out when she finished a whole section of today’s learning app.

Our English class is not going to change Pricila’s life.  But maybe it will bring a tiny bit of healing to her broken heart.  Her mom isn’t there for her – but on Monday and Wednesday and Friday I can be.

As we left each of these children at their homes today – I really hate doing that – I did what I do each week.  I opened their little hands, tapped my fingers to their palms and then touched their palms to their hearts, “Okay, here is Jesus.  Don’t forget he’s going to be here with you all weekend.  You’re going to be ok”.

I realized what our class has to offer these little ones. – it offers US.   Our hearts.  Our acceptance.  Our love.  And really, that’s all any of us have to offer.

Learning a Language

The more time we spend here in Mexico, the more we realize the importance of shared language to build relationships and experience success.  Every day we struggle to explain something we need or want – to express an idea or an emotion.  We are fortunate because there is a lot of English spoken here in the Bay – it is a big tourist area and we really could live comfortably if we never tried to speak Spanish.  But we don’t want to live life on the outer edges – to be tourists in our own town.  We want to experience life in the center of the community, to be able to speak to our neighbors and especially to communicate well with the children at Manos de Amor. duolingo2 So we are doing our Duolingo every day and slowly getting better.  Grant is way ahead of me in the program – he has a bigger vocabulary and has done many more lessons.   I am more willing to just start talking, even if I sound ridiculous and make no sense.  We are each learning within our own personalities – the introvert and the extrovert –  and we are slowly making progress.

Using the Duolingo app every day gave us an idea – why not use this same type of fun technology to teach the children how to speak English?  The children at Casa Hogar are already one step ahead of many of their family members and peers because they are regularly attending school.  They receive help every afternoon with homework from our tutor Jezebel.  They are all bringing home good report cards.  If they stick with it, this will definitely help them get a job when they graduate.  But we live in a tourist zone – if they learn English another door will swing wide open for them to work in the hotels and restaurants.   We have volunteers throughout the year who come to the home to help with English, but many are in the area temporarily and we have not been able to set up a long-term English program.

Last summer my friends from Bloom Church came to Bucerias for a week of service – working with the local churches in several surrounding communities and of course working at Manos de Amor.  At the end of the week there was around $1200 left from the money they had raised and we didn’t really know where to use it – so they told me to hang onto it until I saw a good place to use it.  One day a few weeks ago Grant and I decided this might be it – let’s buy some tablets and combine fun technology with language learning.  It’s working for us – surely it can work for children.  We went shopping and bought 5 tablets.We downloaded Duolingo for the big kids and a few English learning apps for the little kids.  And we jumped in.  Obviously, they were super excited to use the brand new tablets – and I am impressed with their progress.

We are just getting started.  We have had 4 or 5 classes using the old and very slow computers in the homework room and now we have switched everything over to the tablets.   We will have 2 classes a week for the big kids and 2 classes a week for the little kids.  They will work through the apps at their own speed and at the end of the class there will be some time for game fun.  At first Grant and I will supervise and we hope to figure it out enough that volunteers can step in and work with the children.

Thanks to those of you who donated money to Bloom last summer.  We would love to buy more tablets – if that is something you would like to donate to, you can do so by giving online.  You will receive an income tax receipt if you donate using the Canadian or American link.  Go to www.manosdeamor.com and click on Give Online tab.

Stay tuned for a progress report!  I suspect it’s going to be a bumpy adventure.

Raising Some $$$

It has been a whirlwind, but the fundraising season for Manos de Amor is almost over.  In the span of 5 ½ weeks, we have held 3 major events: a Cocktail Party, a Hamburger Fest and last weekend was a GIANT event called Rhythm and Ribs where 1500-2000 people sampled food from almost 30 restaurants, drank beer and danced under the stars to the music of a local band.  It has been fun – and exhausting – and I’m pretty sure that all of us on the steering committee are happy that this part of our job is finished.  We have auctioned off almost 150 items, given away 70 raffle prizes, and split a pile of 50/50 money.  We have sipped wine and danced on the beach, flipped burgers and sang Karaoke in the middle of a street and gnawed on ribs in a big empty field.  Most importantly, we have raised a lot of money which is essential to keeping our home running and keeping our children safe and educated.

Dancing Under the Stars

Hamburger Fest

After picking the short straw, I had the privilege of chairing this last big event and I am so grateful for the dozens of volunteers who worked hard helping this greenhorn pull this off.   I have led a LOT of events, but this one was certainly unique in so many ways.


Although we have not seen rain here in Bucerias for months, my biggest fear was the big black clouds that began to spit just as we started.  To my great relief, instead of rain we were given a beautiful rainbow.  I took that as personal encouragement!  At the end of the evening, we were treated to a fireworks display by the nearby hotel.   Pretty awesome start and finish to a great event!

I have been in charge of venue setup for many gymnastics meets, and my friends Lorne and Barry have often teased me (you were teasing right?) about how I bossed them around during equipment setup.  (I want the vault runway there…. No there….. no 2 inches to the right…. I mean 3 inches to the left….).  Well I have to say I get much better service here (now I’m teasing).  I mentioned that we really needed to get someone to move a car that was parked in a bad spot, and instantly I had 8 Mexican men literally pick up the car and move it out of the way.  I picked up a table to move it and a nice Mexican man told me ladies don’t have to lift tables.


She said she wants the car moved…..


steps.jpgSo my inauguration into Bucerias fundraising is over.  I met many very cool people, counted a LOT of pesos, sampled ribs and tamales and ceviche, and shook hands with Mexican politicians.  I translated spreadsheets with income and expenses (I can truly say I have never had a line item for ‘Bano revenue’ before), cooked 120 pulled pork sandwiches and walked a LOT of steps.  I can’t say it is my favorite part of charity work – I’d rather just play with kids-  but I do know that raising funds is super important and I am grateful for the many snowbirds and other tourists who supported our children.  GRACIAS!

Introducing Alison Naomi

I’d like to introduce you to Alison Naomi.  Her mom is named Irandi and she is fourteen years old.  This isn’t Irandi’s first pregnancy – she had a miscarriage at twelve so Alison was born by Caesarean.   That’s tough for such a young teenager.  Alison isn’t the only baby to be born to a young mom in this family.  Irandi has twin sisters – Ivon who had baby Lupita when she was thirteen and Ibet who gave birth to Kevin at fourteen.   Besides these 3 daughters, this family also includes Nasabid, Laurentino, Isabel and little Jose. The 9 of them live with their mom in a one room home made out of tarps.  Now that Alison is here, Irandi has gone to live in the next town with her boyfriend and his mom.   Laurentino and Jose go to Manos de Amor Casa Hogar each Monday morning so they can attend school and be cared for throughout the week while their mama works 11 hours a day to earn $5 or $6.  Isabel who is now twelve has recently decided she no longer wants to live at the Children’s Home – she wants some freedom and she wants to dress ‘sexy’.  Although she tells me she is still going to school in her neighborhood I am terrified for her and for her future.

We arrived here in Bucerias on Friday and after stopping at Manos de Amor to say hi, we went to the new store in town to buy a dolly and some baby clothes and headed to San Vicente to meet Alison.  As always, Lupita, Kevin and Jose ran out to meet us.

We did not know Irandi and her new baby had moved away but Ivon agreed to help us find her new home.  7 of us piled in the car – and a dog which we kindly removed.  It has been rainy season here which means the normally crappy roads are now crappy mud holes and our little car struggled to get through.


img_20160930_191838The area where Irandi now lives is called Primavera.  Kind of ironic that primavera means “spring” in Spanish but it did not feel like a place of new beginnings or growth at all.  It is different in that the homes are made of concrete and the one Irandi lives in has 3 rooms instead of 1.  The roads are definitely just as bad and poor Azulita (that’s my little blue car) bottomed out in some of the mud and water filled potholes.  But eventually we found the complex where this new young family lives and as we got out of the car we yelled for Irandi.  We climbed the stairs to the little home and met the cutest baby I have ever seen. She looked healthy although her young mom looked tired and in a lot of pain.   One day in the hospital after a C-section seems harsh and Irandi looked worn out.  But happy.  And proud of her baby.  And really happy to see us and share her story with us.  6-year-old Jose lovingly kissed his little niece.  Lupita stared in amazement at her new cousin.  Kevin ignored it all and wandered outside where he promptly closed his finger in the door of our car – setting off the alarm and screaming down the neighborhood. The idyllic moment was gone and life with a bunch of toddlers resumed.  Because they do not own band-aids, Irandi took a piece of Kleenex and tied it over his bloody finger with a string.

After our visit we headed back to San Vicente.  Isabel joined us so we had 8 people in our tiny car – a new record!  4 in the front and 4 in the back.


The neighbors laughed and waved and I realize that even though this life doesn’t look at all familiar to me, every person in it is trying to live their best life and my role is just to walk alongside them and let them know they are loved.  Before we left I asked Irandi if I could pray for little Alison.  I took her two tiny hands in mine and prayed that she would know love, that she would know God, that she would have a hope and a future.  Whatever that might look like.




And now another piece of my heart is missing.

A New Job

Today was the start of a new volunteer role for me! Those of you who know me won’t exactly be surprised that I have dipped my toes into the management of my favorite organization here in Bucerias. A few weeks ago Veronica asked if I would join the Steering Committee of the Manos de Amor orphanage. She already has a great committee but they all go back north to Canada or USA for ½ of the year so she liked the idea of me being here year round to lend a hand.

I have been at many committee meetings over the years – in offices and homes and boardrooms – but I have never had a walk to a meeting like this one which ended around a table on a patio under palm trees. Grant had to take our car to finalize our license plates (there’s another blog post for sure) so I walked to the meeting across town. It was so awesome as I walked to be greeted warmly by everyone I passed – and realize how many people I now know in this town. Many people who I have met – vendors, restaurant owners or waitresses, workers from the orphanage or people from the church – calling out “Hola – Buenas dias Karen”. Waving at me with huge smiles. I realized I was walking by myself – down the cobblestone streets, across the beach – with a really silly grin on my face.


Walking to a meeting – better than any boardroom I’ve ever been in!

Like most meetings I have attended over the years we talked about finances and fundraising events and websites (guess who is creating the new webpage ??) but we also talked about how to teach values to children who have never had role models, how to provide the best possible nutrition on a tight budget and how to bring love to children who have been abandoned or even sold into prostitution.   It was sobering …. and exciting and while I hope some of my experience can benefit these children that I love, I recognize this will be a place where I will be the one to learn and grow and be humbled and ultimately receive much more than I can possibly give.

Job skills + education + experience + God’s assignment = JOY.

You can’t really ask for a better volunteer job than that!

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