Visit to Casa Amparo Orphanage
By Michael Price
The diminutive nun broke into a welcoming smile on seeing the drivers of the two vehicles arriving unexpectedly in her driveway on January 3. Mother Natividad, “Mother Navi” to her colleagues and charges at the orphanage, knew the travelers were due sometime soon, but a glitch in cross-border communication prevented her from knowing exactly when.
“Feliz Nuevo Ano,” she said as she hugged Stephan and Sonia Shepherd, Fr. Antonio Perdomo and his two daughters, Ana and Cristina, and Mike Price. “Welcome, welcome.”
Mother Navi is the Mother Superior of a group of Catholic Sisters of Charity. They operate a girl’s orphanage and shelter in Reynosa, Mexico. While the official name of the place is “Casa Amparo de la Mujer”, Mother Navi calls it “La Casa de Milagro,” because its existence today seems like a miracle to her. She said, through various Spanish-speakers in the group, that the ground the orphanage sits on belonged to the Sisters once, but was taken away from them after the Mexican Revolution.
Twenty-five years ago, the Mexican government returned the property to the nuns with the stipulation that they must build at least one building within the next year or lose the property again. Despite being a very poor order with no money available, the Sisters succeeded in building a small, one story building with a tiny kitchen. Most of the kitchen was outdoors, including the oven.
Today the orphanage, which cares for over 80 girls ranging in age from 4 years or younger to 23, includes dorms for little girls up to 10 years old. It also has dorms for big girls who are 11 years and older, dining halls and kitchens on the first floor of each dorm, laundry facilities (much of it outside), for each dorm, an area with some playground equipment, computer and sewing classrooms, and a bakery.
Another example of a miracle Mother Navi cites is the group itself. Rev. Perdomo is the pastor of St. George The Great Martyr Orthodox Church in Pharr, and with the exception of Price, the rest of the travelers are church members. The reason for their visit is to deliver the food, clothing, school supplies, sewing materials and Christmas candy filling both Rev. Perdomos truck and the Shepherds car. These items and other donations are collected by church members throughout the year and delivered whenever there is enough to justify the cross-border trip.
“We always make at least one trip around Christmas time,” Rev. Perdomo said, “and we accept donations all year ‘round.’
“We have built and sustained ourselves on the Providence of God,” Mother Navi said. “We depend entirely on the donations of many winter Texans and good people from McAllen and the rest of the USA.”
In addition to the generosity of winter Texans and ‘good people from McAllen, some people from Kansas have provided a school bus, sewing machines and construction projects over the years. In fact, many of the buildings in the compound exist only because of the donations of labor and materials of winter Texans from the Rio Grande Valley and other volunteers who have given of themselves over time.
The purpose for all this is, of course, for the girls who live here. The nuns make good use of all the donations of things, material, work and love from strangers. They provide a structure and direction for their charges.
In addition to regular schoolwork, each girl is responsible, according to her age, to learn and perform all the chores required to take care of herself. These include learning to cook and clean up after herself and, under the Sisters strict supervision, every girl must wash all her own clothes.
“If it is not done well enough to pass the nuns’ inspection, she must go back and wash her laundry again, Mother Navi smiled. “We try to teach each girl how to take care of herself, give her an education and a trade while she is here so she can have a chance when she leaves us.”
So in addition to school, the nuns use the bakery to teach all the girls commercial baking. The products they make are sold to nearby factory workers and others. With the sewing machines, materials and supplies that have been donated over time, the nuns set up a large sewing room where the older girls learn how to sew. In addition to clothing projects, the girls designed, cut and sewed matching bed covers, pillow shams and other accessories for the dormitories.
A donation of computers from the USA allowed the Sisters to set up a computer classroom/lab where the girls are becoming literate, and lately the nuns have begun teaching some of the girls English.
“If they can speak English,” Mother Navi said, “more doors are opened to the girls.”
When asked what is the most needed thing the orphanage does not now have, Mother Navi smiled and motioned to follow her. She led all the group into a tiny store on the edge of the property.
“We recently opened this second hand store to serve the neighborhood with an affordable place to buy things and to give us a small income to cover costs donations don’t,” she said. “I would ask the good people from (the Rio Grande Valley) for any good, used items they could spare for our little store.
To donate money, food or items to the orphanage, or for more information about other community-based projects supported by St George Church, contact Rev. Perdomo at 781-2388 or Padreantoniop@aol.com
To see photos of our recent 2005 Winter Youth Retreat visit to Casa Amparo Orphanage, look at: http://stgeorgepantry.org/orphanagevisit.html
To see more photos of various visits to Casa Amparo, see: