The First Five Years – Part 2

Read the first part of the founding story of Casita Copán here.

So how did I end up here in Copán Ruinas anyway? To be honest, it was a bit of an accident. I was working in my hometown of Pittsburgh at a small nonprofit, learning a ton and enjoying time with friends and family. But I was looking for more of an adventure. I found a job posting online for a school in Copán Ruinas, and I arrived here in the fall of 2010, knowing little about Honduras and even less Spanish. I loved teaching, but I knew it wasn’t a career for me, and I was already looking around for something else to get involved with. A friend convinced me to tag along with her to the town’s orphanage to volunteer and I reluctantly agreed. I didn’t know then that fateful Saturday would change the next five years of my life.

I have to admit that I entered that orphanage with “gringa vision.” The first thing that I noticed was the penetrating stench. All I wanted to do was go out and buy a bunch of cleaning supplies and soap and then scrub the whole place down and give everyone a bath. I admit, I actually did that one or two times! But as I learned, that layer of surface dirt was just that – the surface. I started reading all of the research I could find from UNICEF and the Better Care Network about the realities of children living in orphanages. I learned that most of the children living in orphanages in Honduras were there not because of abuse or death in the family or even illness. The majority was there because of poverty. And the attachment issues they would face by not growing up with a single dedicated caregiver had the potential to negatively affect the rest of their lives.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that fact. As my Spanish got better, I started asking the children at the orphanage in Copán about their backgrounds and I learned that most of them only spent their days there while their mothers were at work. Their mothers didn’t have anywhere to leave them and on a roughly $100 monthly salary, couldn’t afford to pay someone else to watch them. Other children who lived there permanently had met their mothers once or twice but they weren’t quite sure why they didn’t live with them. Others didn’t know at all.

This is how the idea of Casita was formed. It was clear that we didn’t need to just renovate the existing orphanage. We needed to toss out the whole orphanage model and start at the beginning, building a structure that would address the root causes of child abandonment in our community – poverty and lack of support for single mothers – and then create families for orphaned children rather than more institutions. And over the past 5 years, we’ve brought this idea to life.

Casita Copán started as a daycare center for 12 children. We now serve 54 children ages 2 – 18 in our center. Services have expanded to include better and more protein-rich meals, regular pediatrician and dentist visits, daily tutoring, and a structured learning environment focused on social and emotional development. Casita Copán started while some children still lived in the poor conditions of the local orphanage. Fourteen of those children now live in family style homes or “Casitas” and are thriving in their home environments. The former orphanage is now closed. Casita Copán started as a center for small children, but we have expanded to include high school age children who have grown up in our organization and now work as interns at Casita while earning an educational scholarship. Casita Copán started as ten people sitting around a table at a coffee shop. Now we serve as coordinators of the city-wide Child Protection Committee as we expand our efforts to improve conditions for children in our community.

But we’re not static. We have always been and continue to be a flexible organization that evolves based on the changing needs of the community and the growing research on childcare, education, and health. We pride ourselves on listening to the children and mothers we serve and trying to offer services that are both needed and wanted, rather than designing programs in remote office spaces far away from the cultural reality. We adapt our programs continuously, removing activities that aren’t effective and adding new activities. But our focus always remains the same – to prevent child abandonment caused by poverty and to provide the best possible care to children who cannot be reunited with their families of origin.

Join us today to keep Casita Copán going for #theNextFive years and more. It’s easy to help. Just make a donation or sign up to create your own fundraiser and spread the word about the work we’re doing here at Casita. Thank you so much for your support!