How to Change Your Life – Volunteering at Casa Aleluya

 It’s taken me a while to start writing this post. Activities, spotty Wi-Fi, and general procrastination have all contributed. However, this gave me plenty of time to reflect on my volunteer experience at Casa Aleluya.

As I was planning my trip, I knew I wanted to volunteer and take Spanish classes. It would have been easy for me to volunteer with a construction or agriculture project. However, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and chose Childcare.  I don’t enjoy the idea of having someone’s life in my trepidatious hands.  To say I have limited experience caring for children is an understatement…

With baby Jackson…neither of us seems very happy

Stepping into this unknown experience was exciting. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that these 3 weeks would change my life.

Casa Aleluya is an orphanage, children’s home, school, hospital, residential housing, and so much more. My time there was to be spent working with Los Angelitos (aged 0-6 years old), but mostly working with babies and toddlers.

Orientation day was a bit daunting to say the least. As soon as I walked into the complex, I was greeted with leg hugs and wide smiles. They love seeing new volunteers and people in general. As we walked into the baby room, the strong scent of dirty diapers, baby powder, and baby wipes overwhelmed me at first. I tried to mask the look of fear by awkwardly waving and saying ‘Hola’ as I gently patted a few babies on the head. They were waking up from their afternoon nap so they looked at me with similar awe. What had I gotten myself into?

My spiritual guides and the best caregivers, Blanca and Hezba. They are also graduates of Casa Aleluya!

To save you the trouble of reading about each day (which I can certainly talk about in length), I can tell you I survived the literal shitstorm.

As the days went on, I got more and more comfortable. The key was to be proactive. The nannies won’t ask for help, but they will certainly accept it. Blanca and Lezba are true heroes. They themselves are ‘residents’ of Casa. They’ve grown up there and like many of the other nannies, are getting their degrees in university.

I could’ve sat in the corner and scheduled snuggling sessions with each child for the entire time (I wonder if they knew how to use Google calendar). Usually, the babies were just finishing breakfast when I arrived at 8 am. I would help feed the last few or clean up afterward. They would get a bath every other day. So I helped to undress, cleaning up the POOP, bathing, and putting on new diapers and clothes. [I changed my first diaper, folks!] One particular toddler was deathly afraid of the water. She would scream and cry for the hour up to bath time and during but would be all smiles immediately after. And that smile was worth the world.

After baths or changing, they would get a chance to go out and play on the playground. We would try to set up activities such as coloring (kids eat crayons btw), playing with the big parachute, or various sports. My personal favorite was simply helping some of the smaller babies go down the slide.

This tired the kiddos (and me) out…

I also got involved with making lunch.  The ladies there are amazing even though they gave a hard time. They let me make lunch for all the 80 children and 20 adults. That was certainly a stressful 2 hours, but everyone was super grateful and appreciative.

The lunch crew
Fried rice for 80?

The real eye-opening moment was when I was given a tour of the entire facility from Brandi, one of the dorm parents. Brandi, like many of the “employees”, started off as volunteers and made the decision to move down and really have an impact.

Casa houses about 500 children and teens. They provide education from kindergarten through high school. The ones near graduation will either learn a trade or have their university fees paid for. Casa is currently building its own dialysis center/hospital. An alarming number of children are malnourished, leading to kidney failure [If there isn’t a cow or a goat in the village, a child is fed coffee].

The complex is huge as it also holds houses for families and dorm facilities for the numerous volunteers that come down.

It’s a global community

Overall, this experience was incredible but it was also very moving. Most of these children come from broken homes. They were beaten and abused and taken away by the courts (I was told 80% of the girls and 40% of the boys have been sexually abused). The ultimate goal is to be reunited with their families or extended families once the court knows they will be safe. However, until then, this place provides a safe haven where they can be loved and nurtured as they deserve.

Casa Aleluya is run entirely on donations.

I strongly encourage you to browse their website (http://casaaleluya.org/). You can sponsor a child, make donations, or even organize a trip to volunteer.

This was truly a life-changing experience. Every morning, I looked forward to walking into Casa to see their smiling (or crying) faces. This wasn’t a job or a volunteering experience, but a privilege. I am honored to have spent time there and help in any way possible. The program tells you to not let the kids get attached as you only spend a limited amount of time there. For the kids, they’ll have other volunteers that they’ll love and forget. But it was me that truly grew attached. I’ll remember each of their faces and names (which took a while to learn since they didn’t speak) for the rest of my life.

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