Matador contributor Dominic DeGrazier visits a Mexican orphanage and finds nothing that he expected.

Photo: Dominic DeGrazier

Run-down. A cold atmosphere. Dirty. Desperate.

Apart from being a bit preoccupied with the swine flu, these were my images of a Mexican orphanage before visiting the Door of Faith Orphanage (DOFO) in Baja California, Mexico. Arriving with a group organized by the all volunteer-run network, Be the Cause, we were 10 individuals ready to help a needy establishment full of less-fortunate children.

But the weekend would be giving us a surprise.

Our first insight to this orphanage’s character began immediately after entering its gates. In between brightly colored modern buildings resides a brilliantly built basketball court surrounded by swings, slides and more playground fun. Run-down? My previously-held thoughts had quickly begun to be challenged.

Kristy, an American volunteer living at the orphanage, guided our group through the buildings and layout of the site. We learned that the orphanage currently houses 105 children ranging from ages of four months to 23 years old. Each dormitory sleeps no more than 15 children, and has a mother and/or father figure living within each building (whom the kids call “Mom” and “Dad”). The rooms and common areas feel like a kid-hotel with their bright walls, drawings, and comfortable-looking beds and couches. My “cold atmosphere” vision happily expired.

Another of the colorful buildings we passed had 30 or so articles of clothing hung up outside. “That is our laundry facility. We have just recently hired a lady to wash the kids’ clothes– about 80 loads a day.” After walking through a litter-free playground area, a few spotless mini-kid hotels, and now learning that a person was employed on site to do nothing more than wash clothes, the dirty thought had become entirely extinct.

At this point, I was confused. Here was a barber shop, a medical facility, an aerobics class, a full dining hall and kitchen, a new nursery being built, and more. “What have we come to help here?” went my selfish, silent thoughts. Kristy then explained that in Mexico, it’s costly and takes a tremendous amount of time to adopt children, especially if they are with siblings. Most of the kids remain at DOFO until they’re 18 years old.

This orphanage is not a conduit for foster parents-to-be to meet their future children. This is a home, a family.

Administrator DJ Schuetze described DOFO’s purpose:

1. Family: With the small dorms housing children and parent figures, the aim of DOFO is to provide a family environment, to raise these children knowing that they are loved and provided for.

2. Education: DOFO believes it’s important for children to attend school outside of the orphanage. This way, the children can learn from another social setting and gain invaluable educational knowledge to hopefully guide them for further studies.

3. Service: Once a month a charity service is performed, with the children reaching out to others who are in need.

Beyond learning about the solid structure of DOFO and its purpose, the children who live here are extremely welcoming and made the trip worth the time.

“Do you have any gum?” I was asked by five year old Juan. Despite my, “No, sorry,” he promptly grabbed my hand and lead me to the swings to enjoy a few minutes of horsing around. The kids value contact with people who come to them to spend a day, or longer, together. A few of the volunteers confirmed the children have memorable connections with visitors who they remember for years. The word “desperate” had faded now as well.

Photo: Dominic DeGrazier

DOFO requires a healthy amount of funding to operate for its 105 little citizens and their community. 70% of DOFO’s funding actually comes from individuals sending in small donations.

If you’re in Baja California and would be interested in donating time or money to DOFO, contact the organization through its website.

And no one in the group experienced any flu-like symptoms, in case you were wondering.

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