In 2000, my husband Ethan and I moved to NPH Honduras to volunteer for a year, just a week after our wedding. Our friends joked that it was our “left wing honeymoon” and wondered if after spending a year with 600 children we would ever want to have our own. As it turned out, spending a year at NPH has broadened our family in ways we could not have predicted.
As volunteers, we each had jobs during the day- Ethan as an English Teacher while I worked in the Vocational Workshops. Each night we spent time with the 13-15 year old girls in the household called “Hermanas de Jesus”. Those evenings were where we really learned to be parents. We ate dinner together, helped to clean up, and then assisted the girls with homework, played games and listened to music, talked and sang and watched movies. There were challenging times – arguments and disagreements, times where kids pushed our boundaries, needed discipline, and moments where we questioned why we had travelled so far and given up our jobs and our own families to serve at NPH.
We were lucky to have Wendy in our household, when she was just 15. She was outgoing and friendly, and she jokingly insisted that we call her “la princesa”. Even as a teenager, Wendy was a great kid. She studied hard, helped with chores and was well liked by the caregivers and other volunteers. She was a bright spot in our year at NPH, and when we came home, we were delighted to become her sponsors.
In the first few years I’ll admit that we weren’t the best sponsors. We were swept up with our own children, who were born soon after we finished our volunteer service. Wendy’s photo was always on our refrigerator, and our boys have grown up thinking about her and talking about her. They know that she loves dolphins, but they aren’t always sure about exactly how she is related to us. Once I overhead one of my boys say “My parents lived in Honduras and they liked it so much that they adopted a daughter there”. Hmm, clearly they knew she was important, even if they got the details wrong.
These past few years we’ve been better about sending Wendy photos and letters, and even more recently we’ve been able to communicate over emails. We were thrilled when Wendy was selected to participate in the leadership program. What joy to have her just up the road for the whole year! We excitedly drove up to Seattle for the welcoming mass and dinner, and earlier that day were able to sneak off with Wendy for several hours.
When we spent the day with Wendy, I was surprised by how motherly I felt toward her. Maybe it’s because I am a mom now, and I was not the last time I saw her. Or maybe it’s because I am surrounded by boys in my family and it feels great to have a daughter! Anyway, we had a great day with Wendy, mostly because she feels like family. She is family. My boys were immediately comfortable with her, and she very sweetly refers to them as her “hermanitos” (little brothers). Throughout the day she and I talked- about how she loves to learn more about her sponsors, her career goals, balancing a career and family, relationships, having kids, her education, the opportunities available in the US, and on and on.
Next month she’ll join us for Thanksgiving, and I can’t wait to hand her an apron, roll up our sleeves and cook together. I look forward to having her in our home, to share her smile, her blooming English skills, her stories of NPH Honduras, and her love of children. We will welcome her at our Thanksgiving table basking in joy of being with family.