Yesterday we had the privilege and opportunity to visit one of the few orphanages here in Belize. **Caution: LONG Post!** It is located a few miles outside of Belmopan on the Western Hwy.
A couple from our church in Placencia had raised money from the States to purchase some much needed food for the home. We were able to help deliver it and meet some of the children. We met Leoni, the founder of the facility. A passionate, sincere woman that has a genuine love and compassion for the children. She started out 25 years ago out of her home and just kept adding on as she took in more children. She now has help, but for many, many years, she filled all of the roles. She says her passion comes from having been one of those children herself.
Volunteer in the toddler room
Playground in the main court yard.
Every dollar, every waking hour, she pours herself into the growth and development of these children. This home is not funded by the government. It is solely operated from donations, and the generous hearts of people that see the good she is offering these children. Some come from broken homes of abuse, abandonment, or merely the inability to provide basic necessities for the children. This is not a business for Leoni, she truely wants to see these children have an opportunity in life.
2 years ago, the existing facility was built. Every dollar was donated for materials and supplies. Leoni, spent months in the States, asking for donations and telling of the need to help these children. Slowly, the facility became a reality. First the foundation, then the roof, then finally the walls were added. It is a beautiful facility.
We carried in 5- 100 pound bags of flour, enough to get them through about two weeks of baking for the 86 children housed at the facility. The ages range from unborn up until 19 years old, although one staff member confided, that Leoni would never make the child leave upon reaching a certain age. Beans, rice, and cheese were also delivered, along with special boxes of Rice Crispie treats. You can imagine how much it takes to feed 86 children, many of them teens, 3 meals a day!
Some of the older boys helped carry in the food.
Currently, there are 10 staff members, and several volunteers that help with all that is involved with raising the 86 children (down from 116 before Christmas). Volunteers have helped establish a truely self sustaining facility. A chicken coop offers both laying, and eating chickens, a barn is being built to facilitate raising a few cows, to produce milk, and meat. With rice and beans the main staples, it is important to offer protein of chicken or beef to their diet.
We were shown around the facility initially by Leoni, but soon she had to have a staff member finish the tour, as she was in pain. She had just undergone surgery, however, she was right back working at the facility. The needs never go away, even when she is not feeling well. She is dedicated. A recent mission group came and built a basketball court for the kids to play. Even more exciting to me was to hear that two local men had volunteered and have been working with the older boys, teaching them trades, such as auto mechanic, auto body repair, and woodworking. These are invaluable life skills that are being taught where these kids wouldn’t ordinarily ever have the chance to be exposed to this.
Most of the children were at school when we arrived, however there were younger kids not yet attending school, that greeted us when we walked in the door. Their smiles lighting up the room. I was hardly able to enter the door before two little boys were hanging on me. I guess at 6’5″, I do look a little like a jungle gym! I sure got my workout, playing, wrestling, and carrying the kids as we walked along touring the facility. AJ, was especially attached to me. He loved wrestling and just hanging on me. Once he calmed down enough from playing, and wearing me out, he would not let go of my hand. I was trying to take pictures and he wanted to do the same. I let him try his hand at the camera. Notice, I made it 3/4 into the picture that he took. Not bad considering the perspective from which he was taking the picture! Angela equally had her hands full, kids wanting to play with her. One little boy, hurt his foot on a closing door, and immediately came to her crying for her to comfort him.
All in all, this was a pretty amazing day. It helps to really open your eyes to the needs of facilities like this. It boggles my mind the amount of food needed to just provide the basics. We were told that flour is one of the main needs. It can be bought here, but it requires alot. They did have someone donating a few bags a month for the past few years, but that stopped this year. Our church in Placencia provides rice and beans as much as possible. They do not have any other regular food donations. They also expressed a need for bed linens, and towels.
We are going to begin collecting as much food and donations as possible to try and help out in the immediate areas (food, and bedding). If you would like to be a part, please feel free to contact me. 100% of any food or donations will be given directly to the home. A 100 pound bag of Flour costs $91 BZ. (it takes about 10 bags a month), 100 pound bags of beans cost $130 BZ, and 100 pounds of rice is $85 BZ. We will make the next delivery before the 1st of April. If you ever get a chance, stop by and meet Leoni and the children. It is an experience not to be soon forgotten!
New Chicken Coop
New Gift Shop on Site will sell arts & crafts made by the children.