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Why we shy away from the orphanage label… in a story

“GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL”, yelled out the sweaty girl at the top of her lungs, the whole neighborhood being able to hear her celebration. Katherine wanted everyone to know that not only her team was winning 7-5, but that the other team was losing. Soccer fans out there know there’s a huge difference between a celebratory cheer and an in-your-face 30 second gloat. Needless to say, Cristian and Alejandro were livid.

For the last 10 minutes, a slow 1v1 match had turned into an serious match with thrown elbows, no-regard-to-life type tackles, and nonstop kicking, but it was all part of the game. It didn’t matter to the kids that their “field” was hot concrete or that their neighbors started spectating their performance, laughing every time Alejandro would claim a foul to the non-existing referee. It certainly didn’t matter that the street was downhill, and that one team had an unfair advantage, their only inconveniences were the intermittent breaks due to traffic.

Even Estrella, who claims to dislike soccer spectated the match

“Pause!” would scream out a kid as soon as a tuk-tuk would head their way. Manuel would protect the thin plastic ball, and everybody would clear the road, but as soon as the bumper of the tuk-tuk would cross the goal line, they would jump right back into it. At one point the boys rejoiced when one of their neighbors, a boy of the same age, joined them and tied the game at 10 all, much to Katherine’s disapproval of course.

Like many matches in Copan Ruinas, the result was unknown with both sides claiming victory and everyone leaving more somewhat upset. It might even seem that there is no point to a story were there were no winners, no losers and no major takeaways, but for us, this brief telling of a soccer match exemplifies why our Casita Program exists and why we shy away from the label of an orphanage.

When we describe what we do to our friends and to new people to Casita we sometimes get the “so you’re an orphanage” reply, an answer that almost always leads down a 5-minute rabbit hole of clarifications and awkwardness. From personal experience we can say that hearing this, stings a bit.

Yes, orphanages do amazing things and without them millions of children would not have a home. For the most part, they provide a safe environment for kids, however they can also have the unintended side effect of isolation from the wider community, increasing the social isolation of already stigmatized children.

And while our Casita’s model isn’t by any means a one-size-fits-all solution to a complex problem, our kids are very much integrated into their community. Our boys and girls are known by name by their neighbors, they walk to their classmate’s homes everyday on their way to school and every now and then they let everyone know when that a GOAL was just scored.