Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Casa de Paz, Preparing Baja Children for a Successful Transition to Adulthood

By Mary Ellis, Rosarito, B. C.

Many people in the Rosarito to Ensenada area are familiar with the Casa de Paz Orphanage in the quiet small town of El Porvenir in Baja’s Guadalupe Valley, Mexico’s answer to the Napa Valley in California. 

However, some may not know that Casa de Paz currently has 52 Children ranging from 2 to 20. All are children who have been orphaned or are there under the auspices of the Mexico Family welfare organization abbreviated as DIF. On any given day, the population of Casa de Paz can abruptly rise by 3 to 7 children when DIF unexpectedly brings them to the orphanage. Some of these children will stay for a few weeks; some will be there indefinitely. DIF often takes children to nearby orphanages when the children’s parents no longer are able to feed and care for their own children properly.

In addition to having a large number of children at its Orphanage, Casa de Paz is one of the very few homes that will take special needs children. Presently, there are 11 such children and young adults being cared for around the clock in the special needs house. Their care is remarkable at CdP mainly because of the dedication of the house parents in the Special Needs house.

The orphanage, or preferably referred to as Children’s Home, is relatively unique in that the directors, Jonatan and Marisol who themselves have 5 children, have always made it a focus to prepare all the children for a successful transition to adulthood. No child is ever forced to leave due to age as long as they are advancing their education through primary school, secondary, high school, technical, or College. This focus has been made possible in part by the generous and continuing donations made by and through the local LaMision’s Children’s Fund (BECA) which allow Jonatan and Marisol to make school and learning a true priority, rather than having to concentrate all their energy on figuring out how they will feed the children or pay the electric bill.

In late June, CdP graduated 11 children from primary school, 3 from secondary and one from high school. All of the graduates were at or near the top academically in their classes. 

Three weeks ago, my husband, Steve and I were at Casa de Paz for Sunday services in the small chapel on campus where we were privileged to witness a pure and real miracle. One of the special needs children is a 20 year old boy named Marco Flores Campillo. Marco has been at CdP since 2007 and in orphanages nearly all of his life after being abandoned by his mother as an infant. He has many mental challenges and multiple physical disabilities. In the 4 years that we have known him, he has never grunted more than simple single words and often is unable to pronounce even the sound he is attempting. His physical challenges make it impossible for him to hold still and often cause violent head movements. Still, he always greets those who call him by name with a broad smile and high five.

On that Sunday near the end of the Church service, Marco unexpectedly, to us, stood up, shuffled to the front, smiled, and in a clear unfaltering voice, sang. Not a note, not a word but a complete Gospel Song lasting almost an entire minute. His voice was clear; the words pronounced exactly. It was the sound of an angel. He was animated, inviting the congregation to join with him in song as was appropriate. There was no shaking, no jerking head movement, just focus and clarity. When he finished, there was a brief pause as all in the congregation tried to comprehend what we had just witnessed. Then the congregation all stood, giving him a standing ovation as Marco shuffled back to his bench, with shaking head lowered, but with a smile that was incandescent.

The staff at CdP over time discovered that while Marco does not function as most of us do, even with his mental and physical handicaps, he can memorize Bible verses and Gospel songs and becomes so focused when he repeats them that other disabilities are put in abeyance. The house parents and Jonatan and Marisol don’t simply “warehouse” Marco and the other special needs children at Casa de Paz together they have spent thousands of hours looking for, finding, and perfecting whatever skills he may have and skills of others like him. All of the children at this special Children’s Home are treated the same way with dignity, respect and admiration for simple and sometimes complex achievements.

My husband and I have been going to this special Children’s Home in Guadalupe Valley monthly since 2008. Sometimes we stay there for a week or more. We have become so attached to the adults and children that we moved from Idaho to Plaza del Mar this year. Often, we will take over the kitchen for a day or several and sometimes we just hang-out with the children. We have also arranged work groups to visit from as far away as the northern tip of Idaho.
We would like to encourage each and every person to visit this Children’s Home and spend some time there. You will find it truly rewarding. We hope to see you there soon and so does Marco. This is truly a House of Peace; it is what the goodness of the collective peoples of the Baja can achieve.

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