Simple Deeds Make a Big Difference

On March 26, 2010

LOVE IN ACTION

Simple Deeds Make a Big Difference

I will be moving to Ajijic in June 2010.  My sister and brother-in-law already live there.  Moving into a new phase of life, without the daily rhythm of a career or the close family and friends, brings the challenge of filling the time meaningfully.  There are only so many hours that you can spend at the market, on the golf course, on the tennis courts or dining with friends!  One thing that has really impressed me about Ajijic is the commitment of the ex-pat community in charity efforts.  This is undoubtedly a very positive side effect of having untapped human resources with time, skills and money, and a value set focused on giving back to the community and helping others.

One of my biggest advantages in having a relative already living there is that she can do all the research for me in a number of areas, including meaningful activities.  It was through my sister, Elaine, that I learned about Love in Action (LIA), a center that cares for children and needs not only the money of sponsors but also the valuable time of volunteers and the enthusiasm of godparents who can provide affection and warmth to the children.

Love in Action was established when Anabel Frutos began to provide breakfast to the children in her neighbourhood in 2001, after finding out that they attended school without eating.   LIA became an official center in 2003. The Mexican government places children who have been abused or are in high risk environments with the center so that they have a safe haven.  The center now cares for 62 children ranging in age from 1 to 18. They are victims of abuse, abandonment, violence, and negligence or very low income homes.  In Mexico it is not necessarily the case that all children are accepted into school.  There is a cost element attached to this (registration fees and uniforms), and as a consequence some children never get the chance to get proper schooling.  If a family is poor, then they might only be able to pay the registration fees once the child is a bit older and if they have several children this may not happen at all.  It is important to give them new goals, a sense of security and hope so that they can make more out of their future than what their parents did.

Some people may have the impression that Love In Action is not in need of the money because of the new center that was purchased.   The truth is that this center, purchased through two large donations and the proceeds from a fund raiser earlier in the year, is much more costly to maintain and there are now 25 more children than at the old center.    Other additional expenses have cropped up, such as an unexpected tax bill and outstanding water bills. Ongoing expenses are estimated at US$120.00 per month as the cost per child to cover the cost of schooling, clothes, food, care, medication and a portion of the overhead (water and electricity).

 

Currently there are 6 paid employees at Love in Action and 45 volunteers.  The paid jobs are secretary, psychologist, two teachers who tutor in the evenings, a maintenance man, and a cook for breakfast and lunch.  The majority of volunteers are ex-pats, however, some key roles are fulfilled by local Mexicans volunteers.  They act as house parents and their “pay” is room and board.  Duties of house parents are to be in charge of educating children in how to keep their area clean, help with homework, cook dinner, wash the clothes.  (By the way, if someone would volunteer to take on the task of doing the laundry, this would allow the house mothers more time to focus on the children.) Boys only stay at the center up to the age of 8 and after that are sent to an all-boys center.  In the boys’ dorm there is a father, mother and two sons.  The 18 year old son is a tremendous help as a chauffeur and he runs errands and acts as a big brother for the boys.   The intent is to give the boys a stable idea of what a family is really like and the nice aspect of having a male in the family, who they can look at as a role model.  As a result of many fathers leaving their wives and children, a warped perception of family pervades.  By giving them exposure to an intact family, the boys have a better sense of what it is supposed to be like.  There are three women who act as house mothers in the  girls’ dorm, separating the duties based on the age of the children:  a single mom with 3 children of her own helps and assists the house mother in the nursery (0-5 year olds);  a married woman, with children,  manages the 6 to 10 year olds and Anabel (the founder and director) has the 11-18 year olds.

The Director (Anabel), Assistant Director (Dina), Fund Raiser head and Treasurer are all volunteers, as well as the people who do the financials.  Language is a barrier for some who would like to volunteer for administrative tasks because all correspondence is in Spanish.

Many of the volunteers provide educational programs such as dance class, arts and crafts, embroidery, computer skills, music and English.  There is also a librarian, a doctor who donates his time twice a week, a nurse who helps him, and some people bring a lunch on Monday.  There is also the Loving Arms program, made up of retired women who act as grandmothers for the children and giving them hugs, looking over the little ones and playing with them.  This grandmotherly warmth and affection has had a very positive impact on the children.  There are also volunteers active in the Club de Niños which reinforces the pre-school lessons, teaching them colors, shapes, sizes and numbers as well as singing songs, drawing, and giving the children a snack.  This is a two  hour program on Mondays and about 6 people work with approximately 8 children, so each one almost gets individual attention.

There is an excellent sponsoring and godparenting program at Love In Action, which was established in November 2008 and has grown rapidly.  The center not only needs money, it also needs the time of people and that’s when the godparenting comes in.  The expectation is that the godparents will take the child out for a day on the weekend and show them something other than what they experience at the center.  This contact helps the children to feel a connection and develop their social skills.  Currently there are 41 sponsors including godparents.  Of that total number, 19 are strictly sponsors, so they do not visit the children because they are out of the country.  The remaining 22 sponsor one and sometimes two children.

The children get so much out of having a sponsor.  Of course, people are usually very generous and provide the children with gifts of clothing or toys.  More importantly though is the attention that they shower on the children.  The opportunity for them to get to go out and do activities they have not been able to do before is really something special for the children.

Of course, sponsors also derive benefits from the program. Basically it boils down to a love for children and fulfilling the desire to provide the children with a good education and an opportunity to live a better life.  The sponsorship, no matter whether time or money, is extremely valuable for all concerned.  Godparents pay Mexican Pesos 1,500 for a year and also give of their time.   Perhaps this would be something that you could commit to.  Think about it and call Love In Action or visit their website for more information (www.loveinactioncenter.org )

Understandably, not everyone can afford the added expense of a sponsorship or might not feel that they would have the patience and energy to be a godparent.  There are other ways that you can help.  Buying basic food staples and bringing them to the center is a huge help and relieves some of the financial burden.  There is a list of what is needed besides food.  Please remember that every little bit helps; the helping is the important part.

More volunteers are needed to help provide additional activities for the children, which could range from reading stories, teaching them a musical instrument, teaching them a sport or helping them with a school subject.  It is also a goal to be able to extend help to these children into their university years.  (they want them to succeed and do something with their lives and not repeat the mistakes)

When I was speaking to Dina and she mentioned the fact that there have been  newborns in the nursery, it piqued my curiosity and I asked for more details.  She told me a few heart wrenching stories that I’d like to share with you.  Many of the children come to the center from women who have had children from 3-4 different men and the new man treats the children terribly.  About one and a half years ago LIA received their most recent newborn.  A mother had abandoned her four children:  an infant boy 1 month old, a 6 year old and 3 year old box and a one year old girl.  A neighbor heard a baby crying and investigated and discovered they had been left by themselves for a full week!  The eldest had done everything in his power to take care of his siblings and was so stressed by the situation that he broke out in hives from head to toe and had to be taken to the hospital.  A big problem was that each of the four children were from different fathers and the grandparents only wanted to take their own grandchild, if they came forward at all. Two of the grandmothers were allowed by the state to take the two eldest boys.  Because the paternity suits were held in Guadalajara, the children were moved to a different home and the two youngest are still there.  The good news is that the 6 year old is doing well.

There was another case of a 1 month old little girl who was abandoned with her four siblings in July 2008.  The mother is now pregnant again!  Child Protective Services contacted the center to say that five children were abandoned and needed a place.  At the time the boy, Javier, was 5.  His four sisters were 1 month Yuliana, Fatima was 1, Claudia was 7 and Aracelli was 10.  They all have godparents, except Javier.

The key challenges in running the home are meeting the monthly budget and keeping the volunteers.  One huge impact on the number of volunteers is the fact that some people only stay in the Chapala area for half of the year.  Also, many volunteers leave for vacation or the holidays  -Thanksgiving and Christmas are the typical times when they go back to US or Canada and stay longer.  The impact is that a program is started, then stops and the center is not always sure when or if it will restart.

Love In Action’s goals are focused on giving the children more than just a place to live.  It’s just as important to prepare them for the future by providing them with a skill which will give them an advantage over others when they go out into the workplace.  LIA has some success stories to tell.  Jocelyn had never attended school when she entered the center at the age of 9 and was then able to advance three grade levels in one year.  She is now at the proper grade level for her age.  Angelica has cerebral palsy and was dragging herself on the floor when she arrived at the center almost 5 years ago.  Now she walks with a walker and is able to communicate verbally.

Written by Collette  Clavadetscher

“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”    Bette Reeves

 

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