Recently I took four boys from an orphanage out for the day and we had a wonderful experience.
Among the other things we do, for over eight years my wife and I have volunteered at an orphanage in Guatemala. We have consistently worked to disciple the children, teach them vocational and educational programs and prepare them for life.
In our workshop, we focus on teaching woodworking, engineering, and entrepreneurial skills through the production of wooden pens, bracelets and Christmas ornaments which they design, manufacture, sell, and earn 100% of the profits.
The students in the program progress through a year of woodworking classes before they can enroll in a six month engineering course that enables them to work with the Shopbot CNC router. They must then create a business plan, invest their own money in purchasing materials needed, negotiate prices for the supplies at the market, sell the items, prepare the orders, ship them out, and finally, calculate the profits and divide it between themselves equally. Quite a process.
While we have 15 students in various stages of our woodworking program, this year we had four boys in who had advanced to the final stage of the program and it has gone amazingly well. We were in the final stages of the project which required them to purchase gift bags and bracelets to package the 500 “Peace Angels” they had made and sold.
I set aside a morning to take them to get it done and, not surprisingly, they were thrilled to skip a day of school to do it. What was supposed to be a quick trip to the market in downtown zone 1 of Guatemala City, turned into a day that ended up being so much more.
While on our way there, we passed by a street overlooking the airport runway. There is a street overlooking the runway with a view of airplanes as they land and take off. As we passed by, a plane came in for a landing and boys let out a big “Oooooo”. I asked if they wanted to stop for a few minutes and see the planes and got an enthusiastic “YES!”
I pulled over, they climbed up onto the fence, and we spent almost an hour there. I answered their questions as best I could about the different planes, what it was like to fly, which ones I had gone on, what it was like, how things worked at the airport and if it was scary to fly.
After seeing how interested they were, I asked them if they had ever done this before, and they said no. As the realization of that sunk in, I realized just how much they were missing out on in life. An orphanage, even a good orphanage, is still not a family. These boys were 14 and 15 years old, lived 45 minutes from the airport, yet had never done something that most fathers would do for their sons.
At that moment I realized the opportunity I had, so I cancelled my appointments and freed up my day.
We headed to the market to do our shopping. I told them what we needed and let them look for it, they were extremely timid and shy as vendors were hawking their goods on all sides and it was intimidating. But, slowly and surely they overcame their fear and started engaging with the sellers. Finding the products we needed wasn’t that hard, but getting them at the price we wanted was another matter.
Along the way I explained to some of the shopkeepers the reason for our visit, that this was part of an entrepreneurial program and showed them the products the boys had made. One extremely kind Christian store owner named Sara offered to work with us, not only getting us the quality and quantities we needed but offering us a fair price. She then took time to explain to the boys how her business works, how to negotiate and to always count money and change you receive, never trusting someone else to do it.
After leaving the market, I decided to head to a nearby walking street to get some lunch. When you are part of a group of kids in an orphanage, often times just going out are rare. Most times the trips are extremely planned and if they do eat out, it’s often a predetermined menu. So I took them to a small food court with traditional “commodores” or restaurants and told them to pick one.
After checking them all out, they decided on one that had a picture of giant tortilla. The waiter came by to take the order and they expectantly looked at me waiting for to tell him. I told them to look over the menu, make their own decision and tell the waiter.
You see, when you live in an environment where most of your decisions are made for you, you are robbed of the chance to learn how to choose for yourself. Everyone’s life is scripted to some degree, but when you are raised in an institution, it is even more so.
As I write this, Alison, my six year old, came downstairs to get some breakfast, even at her age she has the choice of which kind of cereal she wants to eat, how much, which cup to use to make her hot chocolate, and how much chocolate powder to put in it. Making choices is a life skill so basic, so important, yet so overlooked for children in an orphanage.
Even though they ended up ordering almost the same thing, a giant meat stuffed tortilla, they were able to choose the kind of meat, cheese and salsas they wanted. When the waiter mixed up their order and they didn’t say anything, I explained to them how to politely ask him to fix it.
While eating their food, one of them noticed a shop across from us selling superhero shirts and the conversation turned around who was the best superhero. Ironman, Batman, Superman, you name it.
After the meal I figured, what the heck, why not let them go into the shop and browse the merchandise. Seeing how thrilled they were about the t-shirts, I told them I would advance them part of their earnings if they wanted to get one and another ½ hour passed while they chose what they wanted.
Upon leaving the shop I asked any of them if they remembered where the car was. They all assured me they did, so I told them to lead the way. That led to an hour long adventure as we traipsed through downtown looking for the car. This was another new experience for them. Most of the places they go are with a group following a teacher. Someone just tells them what to do and where to go, and they don’t have to think it through.
After walking around in circles, we finally ended up back at the market. I pointed out that they should try and find which entrance we came in at, and think about the turns we took to get here. Five minutes later, we were at the car.
On our way back I asked them if they knew how the city was arranged, what the numbers on the houses meant and how the streets and avenues worked. Not surprisingly they said no. I took the time to explain, taking a longer route home so they could learn more.
We were driving on Avenida Reforma, when one of them asked me about a statue. There are statues on every block on this street, and it connects to the Avenue of the Americas where there are plazas dedicated to countries in the Americas.
It’s one of the most important streets in the city, and only one of them had ever been there, so we drove down that street as well, talking about the statues and monuments on the way.
The road ends at Berlin Park, where pieces of the Berlin wall were placed along with an explanation of its history. It overlooks a beautiful part of Guatemala and we spent time there admiring the beauty.
On the way home we stopped for doughnuts and when I dropped them off, all proudly wearing their superhero shirts, the importance of the day dawned on me. It wasn’t about taking them out and spending money on them. It was about giving them the opportunity to experience the little things in life that children get to experience with a family. It’s about showing them what a family is like.
I’m not their father, and never will be, but I will try and demonstrate what a father does, and treat them as a father would, so that, one day, when they are fathers, they will have an idea of what they should do.
I love them with the love of a father, because my heavenly Father loved me, in the hopes that they will love their children as He does.
An article on the Lifesong for Orphans website titled “3 Reasons Orphan Care Needs Testosterone” made the following points and I have found them to be incredibly spot on over the 15 years I have been involved in orphan care.
When men draw near to fatherless and vulnerable children, they exercise a unique and incredible impact. Raising children–whether biological, foster, or adopted–is an eternal investment. Tony Mitchell said, “As men, we have more influence on the family than anybody can. We can have a significant impact on children. Most of us have been impacted by a man in our life–a coach, or a boss, for instance–and we know the impact a man can have.”
When men get involved in orphan ministry, they obey the Biblical command to care for the fatherless. Contrary to what some may think, orphan care involvement does not necessarily require adopting or fostering. Phil Goad explained, “Everybody can do something. I haven’t been called yet to adopt or to foster a child in our home, but I’ve learned that there’s something that everybody can do–that we men can do. Guys, we can use the lessons learned in life and business to make something happen. We have to do something to help with the vulnerable children in our backyard and around the world.”
When men care for the vulnerable, they set a powerful example to their home and church of Christlike love. God designed men and women to serve different functions. As such, according to Tony Mitchell, “We are primarily providers and not nurturers. Many times we are task-oriented, focused on the task of conquering the mountain of work–of our mission and our ministry–and sometimes that gets in the way of providing for our family. So we may not be as open to inviting someone else into our family.”
Blessings, Tim and Sharie Martiny