Pequeño tour brings Central American orphans to Arizona

Orphans from Nicaragua enjoy one final rehearsal before performing for U.S. supporters and sponsors Sept. 28 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Orphans from Nicaragua enjoy one final rehearsal before performing for U.S. supporters and sponsors Sept. 28 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

SCOTTSDALE — Fourteen Nicaraguan children without parents or other relatives to care for them are making their way through Arizona and California to meet and thank their distant godparents whose financial support helps meet their basic needs.

The children, ages 9 to 25, are all part of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. The nearly 60-year-old nonprofit, started by an Arizona native turned priest, is led by staff and volunteers who are raising some 3,300 children in nine countries. Another 17,000 are alumni.

The pequeños, as they’re called — Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos translates to “our little brothers and sisters” — brought folkloric music and dances to Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes in Scottsdale and Glendale Sept. 28-Oct. 6. They also provided most of the vocals for the weekend liturgies and visited classrooms at both schools.

Classrooms at 10 local Catholic elementary and high schools sponsor one or more NPH children. All told there are 1,800 sponsors in the southwest region.

The children stayed with local families during their visit. And though it’s a short trip, there are tears when the kids leave, said Belinda Roda, who oversees child sponsorship in the southwestern U.S. The experience shows them what a family is and what a loving environment is, she said.

“To have that individual adult attention for them is so encouraging,” Roda said.

Marlon Velasquez, who grew up in a NPH home in Honduras and now directs the home in Nicaragua, also noted the relationship that often develops year-round between the children and their godparent or sponsor. They exchange letters several times a year.

“Some of them are coming from very stressful situations,” Velasquez said of children entering an NPH home. “They find a place where they can be kids again.”

Velasquez found that he suddenly had 360 younger siblings when he joined NPH. The children learn responsibility and take pride in their contribution to the household. They give a year of service back to the households as adults and then have the support for college. Velasquez studied in Yarnell and Flagstaff.

Massgoers at both learned about Antonio, a current NPH orphan during the homily. He found his first real home with NPH. He had already been bounced around by age 10. His mother was unable to sell him as a baby, so his father put him in a landfill. Another woman found Antonio then sold him for two bottles of soda. He ultimately went from a state-run orphanage to the NPH home. Antonio is now studying business in Chicago.

They saw the faces of dozens of others on display boards after Mass and read their short bio. All of them and countless others are awaiting godparents.

“We are home to children who lost their parents to death, were abandoned in the middle of the night, whose parents used to abuse them,” Deacon Jim Hoyt, southwest regional director for NPH USA said during a Sept. 28 homily at OLPH in Scottsdale.

He also talked about the importance of taking care of family members at all cost so they don’t suffer. It takes an average of $6,000 per year to clothe, feed, educate and provide health care for an NPH child. That’s less than $17 a day. Those services are vital for all of the orphans, but especially in a country like Nicaragua where 40 percent of the population has no access to health care.