Our Kids
In Mexico

 

 

JLB FUNDRAISING CHALLENGE


The boys of San Martin des Porres


The girls of Casa Hogar don Bosco

 

 

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

The Story Of The Candy Store And The Mexican Orphans

Our little tale begins a number of years ago. I won’t bore you with the details, but, suffice it to say that Judy and I played host to a young , teen-age Mexican boy whose parents wanted to send him to Canada to be immersed in the English language, so as to be better able to succeed back home knowing English.

Guillermo (Gui) arrived in February 1994, lived with us for 4 months, learned the language very well and went back home in June.

Over the succeeding years, we kept in touch via telephone and mail (this was before we finally broke down and bought a computer). Gui would repeatedly beg us to visit him and his family in his home town (city) of Comitan, Chiapas. As neither of us knew any more Spanish than ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘2 beers please’….we were very hesitant to embark on such an adventure. Not to mention the cost.

Well, early in 1999, we received a letter from Gui along with an invitation to attend his parents 25th wedding anniversary celebration coming up in June of 1999. As fate would have it, Judy and I were celebrating OUR 25th wedding anniversary in June also. So we threw caution to the winds and began making arrangements and bought tickets to Mexico. After getting our passports, all our shots, arranging my medications and working A LOT of overtime to have some money to spend, we left Canada on June 23rd, 1999 on Mexicana Airlines. (in the case of an emergency water landing, your goat my be used as a flotation device……..just kidding….GREAT airline…highly recommend it)

We arrived in Mexico City, met our buddy Gui at the airport and were whisked away to an uncles’ home in one of the barrios in the city. (everybody has an uncle or aunt wherever you go in Mexico, and they ALL put you up). The reason we stopped first in Mexico City was that his parents, Miguel and Nelly, were repeating their vows in honour of their anniversary in the same church in which they originally got married.

Anyway, we witnessed their wedding in the traditional Mexican way. Very beautiful.

We spent several days in and around Mexico City and then, accompanied by Gui, we flew to Tuxtla Guttierrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas in Southern Mexico. From there we were driven, by Gui, to his home in Comitan.

We enjoyed their home, local sights, Mayan ruins, wonderful food and great company.

One day, during our stay, Nelly said that she was going to visit the local Alberge (orphanage) to see if the boys needed anything. Miguel and Nelly are what you might call ’benefactors’ of the two orphanages in the city of Comitan. They have a loose network of friends who help out the orphanages whenever possible. Albergues or orphanages in Mexico are run, at least in this instance, by an order of Dominican Nuns. They receive little or no funding from the church and, in the case of the boys orphanage (San Martin De Porres), since it is located outside of the city limits, receive no funding from the city. The girls’ orphanage, which is located inside the city, receives a little money (not much). The nuns are almost totally dependant on donations and whatever they can make to sell at the Mercado (market).

Between the two orphanages, they house and care for anywhere from 50 to 100 children, ranging in age from 18 months to 18 years old. The boys are taught a trade, the girls are taught how to make crafts to sell and all receive some education.

Miguel and Nelly keep in close touch with the nuns and if any of the children are in need of medical attention or if something is needed, they make a couple of phone calls and it is provided. At Christmas time Miguel and Nelly gather gifts of used clothing to try to provide each of the kids with a shirt or pants or dress and also take one or more of the kids into their home to celebrate Christmas with them.

They also see that the two orphanages are provided with tortillas and milk regularly. For instance, this month Mr. Rodrigues provides enough milk for the kids, while Mr Gonzales provides the tortillas.

At any rate, we accompanied Nelly to the boys orphanage. We met a number of the young boys and the nuns and toured the facility. Of course, we immediately fell in love with the kids, who insisted on holding on to our hands for the entire time. We spoke no Spanish and the kids spoke no English…. It really didn’t matter. The nun told Nelly that three of the boys were in need of glasses, each pair costing about 500 pesos ($50.00 U.S.). Of course Judy immediately pulled out $50.00 and gave it to the nun as a donation. Nelly said she would see what she could do for the other pairs of glasses. (FYI.. Nelly made one phone call upon returning home and got another 500 pesos donated. When Judy asked her about the third pair, Nelly just smiled and said “I’ll talk to Miguel when he gets home from work” Needless to say, the kids all got their glasses.)

As we were leaving the Albergue, Judy asked Nelly what else the kids could use. Nelly immediately said that they could always use food, since they usually only get to eat meat about once or twice a month.

So, we made a visit to the Mercado (open air market). We bought meat, cheese, tortillas, fruit, vegetables, milk and a bunch of candy, literally FILLED the trunk of the car and only spent around $40.00 U.S.

As we were enjoying ourselves on our shopping spree, we happened to run across the Nun from the girls’ orphanage who knew Nelly. She invited us to visit the girls’ orphanage also while we were in Comitan.

We took the food back to San Martin De Porres and presented it to the nuns. The nuns and the boys were thrilled. Since they can only afford meat occasionally, it and the cheese is a real treat….not to mention the candy. I can’t count the number of times we were thanked and blessed by the nuns (ever been KISSED by a nun?!)

That evening we made plans with Nelly to visit the girls orphanage (Casa Hogar Don Bosco) which is located in the heart of the city. Nelly suspected that we got the invitation from the girls’ nun when she saw us buying food for the boys orphanage. We were more than willing to duplicate our shopping spree for the girls (Hell, we could fill the car for $40.00!) The following day we made another trip to the market and loaded up and took everything to visit the girls. We were, of course, warmly greeted by the nun and some of the girls and once again were thanked and blessed by the nuns. While we were there we also bought a bunch of stuff that the girls make in order to raise money. Things like crucifixes, baskets, prayer beads, jewellery, bracelets and the like. They made excellent, and very inexpensive, souvenirs for family and friends upon our return to Canada.

On our flight home from Mexico, Judy and I discussed how we could further assist these two orphanages.

When we got back to work we told everyone and anyone who would listen about our trip and especially about the kids. Judy set up a couple of boxes in her department to solicit donations of new or used toys, school supplies or anything else co-workers might like to donate. After a few weeks we had three large boxes stuffed with various and sundry donations. One of our co-workers even donated the postage costs for one of the boxes. When we went to the Post Office to mail away the packages, we were shocked! In order to send these boxes to Mexico, cheapest rate available was a staggering $110.00! In addition, the Post Office would not insure the packages and could make no guarantees that they would reach their destination, since it was Mexico. The contents of the three boxes could not have been worth any more than $50 or $60 TOPS!

Well, we made the decision to mail them anyway since people were expecting their donations to actually get to the kids. But we thought at the same time “How much good would that $110.00 Canadian have done to help those kids?”

The boxes DID , in fact, reach Comitan, although they took over a month to arrive. They just happened to arrive about the same time as some of the kids first communion. So, the toys and school supplies and such were used as gifts for the communion festivities.

Judy and I then made the decision that any further donations would have to be in the form of cash. I got the bright idea to go to Costco and pick up a couple of large bags of candy, transferred that kilogram of candy into individual sandwich bags and put them beside my desk to sell for $1.00, all profits to go to the kids.

It immediately became a success. That fall, another of our co-workers wished to donate a 6 foot wooden Santa to our cause. We sold tickets on the Santa and if memory serves me, we raised $350.00 from that draw alone. We received a few cash donations that fall and I sold a bunch of candy. In December 1999, we sent via Western Union $850.00 Canadian or $4760 pesos to our friends in Comitan. No money raised was used to pay for the transfer fee at Western Union. I paid for the transfer out-of-pocket. In that way we made certain that every dollar raised went to the kids.

We asked that the money be used to buy each boy and girl a Christmas present, give each child a Christmas dinner and for any left over money to be used as the nuns saw fit. We received a phone call from Gui who informed us that the nuns were speechless with our donation and that the $850.00 was the single largest donation that the orphanages had EVER received. The Guillen family took the money and bought each child a gift. They arranged for both orphanages to meet at a local church on Christmas Eve, which is the big night in Mexico to celebrate Christmas. Everyone was treated to a Christmas dinner and after the meal, the family walked in with bags full of gifts for the children. In most cases, this was the FIRST Christmas present that the children had ever received! Needless to say, this was the best Christmas the children had ever had.

In the year 2000, we continued selling snack bags of candy for $1.00. The orphanage fund was becoming self sufficient. That being we could buy the candy at Costco, using the funds’ money, break up the bags into snack sizes, and make double the cost of the candy. Prior to that, I was buying the candy at Costco out of my pocket mostly. In the fall of 2000, I approached one of our team leaders with the request to possibly hold a few draws to help raise even more money for the Christmas donation. The team leader thought that it was a great idea and a very worthy cause and gave his blessing.

We went again to Costco and picked up a couple of gifty type items (out of pocket) and began selling tickets. We received a number of item donations from family and co-workers. It was successful beyond anything we could have imagined. In December 2000, we wired $1700.00 Canadian or $9924 pesos to Mexico. We had DOUBLED the previous years total!

If memory serves me correctly, the money that year bought, besides the toy, dinner, clothes and whatever , a small TV for their enjoyment.

As the year 2001 rolled around and due to the relatively large amounts of money being raised, we decided to start sending donations twice per year, at Easter time and at Christmas.

Due to the continued success of the candy sales, we were able to wire $500.00 (2889 pesos) just before Easter. Then, in the spring of the year, a number of our co-workers got the great idea to produce a cookbook, filled with family recipes, ethnic recipes and, of course, Mexican recipes. The ’Manna For Mexico’ Cookbook Committee, consisting of Elma Renders, Jean Setler, Larraine Henderson, Heather Vadovic, Cheri Palin, Margaret VanDaalen, Marlene Bellamy and Judy Puskas, was formed.

Through their hard work and perseverance, 200 copies of the Manna For Mexico cookbook were produced and sold for $8.00 each. The cookbook proved an overwhelming success. After all production costs were taken care of, the ladies presented me with a cheque for $886.00 for the kids. We again held draws in the fall of 2001 and accumulated an additional $720.00. Several people during the year insisted on making cash donations (one person continually saves her change and gives us a jarful 2 or 3 times a year). We received $114.00 from donations. The profits from the candy sales that year were $610.00. Since the Easter donation, we had acquired a total of $3000.00 or $16,812 pesos which we wired to Mexico in December.

Taking into account the initial $500.00, we had sent $3500.00 that year. We had DOUBLED our donation once again!

Just as a sidebar, when we visited Comitan back in 1999, Gui had taken us down to the town square, where we had a drink at a small outside café. While we were there, we were approached by a particular young shoe shine boy. This young lad happened to be a favourite little guy of Gui’s. Gui would always make a point of getting his shoes shined by this little fellow and would give him maybe 10 pesos instead of the usual 1 peso for a shoe shine. Judy remembered the shoeshine boy and suggested that we ask Gui if he was still around and if so, to use some of the donation to buy the kid a Christmas present from us. Gui informed us that, yes, Vincente was still shining shoes and that he would do something for the boy. In fact, what Gui did was to find the boy, go with him to his home (a converted garage type structure with dirt floors), meet his parents and present his parents with $1000 pesos ($100.00 U.S.) which was to go towards giving this boy an education. The father wept. Gui had told us during our visit that many years ago his own father started out as a shoe shine boy and because he was taken in by the priests and educated, that he became a successful accountant Gui hoped that this gift might make the difference in Vincente’s life as it had his fathers.

We received word from Gui and his parents that, in addition to the usual dispensing of the money, that the nuns were able to afford to have the orphanages painted and even were able to have a basketball court constructed for the kids. We received a letter from Gui telling us how things were going at the orphanages and also received a TON of artwork, photos and ’thank yous’ from the kids, which we posted outside of our cubicles at work for all to read and see.

In February of 2002, we again played host to another member of the Guillen family. Rafael (Raffa) is Gui’s youngest brother, and he was 19 years old. Miguel and Nelly contacted us and wished to know if we would take Raffa into our home to learn about English the way we had Gui. We, of course, said yes. We had met Raffa when we were in Mexico. He arrived and surprisingly spoke very good English right away. We got him a tutor and he joined the choir at the local Catholic church. In May, Nelly, Miguel and middle brother Miguel Jr (Mike) flew to Canada for a visit and we showed them the sights. Niagara Falls, Skydome, CN Tower, Bruce peninsula, etc, etc, etc. Raffa talked his parents into allowing him to stay in Canada for an additional year and attend St Clair College in Windsor, where he graduated from his English course with his TOFL, which is the certificate to TEACH English internationally.

At Easter, we sent another $800.00 or $4395 pesos. We received a phone call from Gui, thanking us again for the money. He told us that the nuns considered the donation to be a miracle because it just so happened that the orphanages were in some sort of financial crisis at that particular time and the money arrived just in time to solve whatever problem they had.

Also, there was enough money left over, that they were able to have two additional bathrooms installed, complete with showers. Apparently, prior to this, San Martin De Porres had ONE bathroom which had to serve for up to 50 boys and the nuns! Now, $800.00 or the leftovers after the financial crisis was not a lot of money to build two bathrooms. This is the great thing about Miguel and Nellys group of benefactors. One benefactor might be a plumber, another might be an electrician, while still another might be a builder. In this way, donating their time and getting professional discounts….a little money accomplishes great things.

Since we had hosted Gui, lo those many years ago, and had visited Mexico in 1999, we had really grown to love Mexican food. Since Judy is a great cook, she has been cooking Mexican a great deal and has shared a lot of recipes with co-workers. During the year, Judy thought it might be fun to hold a Mexican cooking class for a few people. The 6 week class was a great success with the people learning how to make their own tortillas, refried beans, etc, from scratch. For the class, we made up on the computer a small cookbook for the students called ’Judys Cocina Mexicana’. After the class was over, several of the people suggested that we make up more of these booklets and sell them to raise more money for the kids. Great idea!

We ended up selling $102.00 worth of Mexican cookbooks that year.

In August, Raffa went back to Mexico to visit his parents before the fall semester was to start at St Clair College. We went to the Dollar store and bought up a bunch of Canada souvenirs and toys for him to take beck with him to give to the kids. We also let it be known at work that if anyone so chose, they could donate some small toy or souvenir for us to send on their behalf to the kids. Raffa ended up taking back two additional suitcases full of various souvenirs, toys, school supplies etc. The gifts were greatly appreciated by the kids, who sent back letters and artwork in thanks.

Also during the year, I came up with the idea of contacting Samaritans’ Purse organization with the thought of putting the orphanages names up for receiving shoe boxes from Operation Christmas Child. I contacted , by E-mail, the organizations’ Canadian representative. Jorge was most gracious and obtained all of the information on the orphanages and forwarded it to his Mexican counterpart. At Christmas 2002, each of the kids received a Christmas gift box!

 

We had $119.00 in cash donations, $744.00 in draws and profits of $735.00 in candy sales. In December 2002, we wired $1700.00 or $10,760 pesos to the kids. Again, that year, $1000 pesos was given to Vincente, the shoe shine boys family for his education. We were now at a grand total of $8,550.00 wired to Mexico since the inception of this venture.

We received word from Gui in January that in addition to everything else our donation provided , part of the money was used for an operation for one of the young boys. This little guy had something wrong in his chest (Gui was not able to explain fully the medical condition). At any rate, the child HAD the operation, which was fully successful, and he was recovering nicely.

Once again we received Christmas greetings from the nuns and the kids which we again posted on our baffles. We also received an E-mail from Sor Sofia Laura Rangel Salazar who is the Mother Superior of the Hermanas Dominicas De Maria (the Dominican order who oversees the orphanages). She happened to have been one of the nuns we met when we visited the girls orphanage in 1999. She had since been promoted (?) to Mother Superior and was stationed (?) in San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato. She REMEMBERED us and our visit and had, of course, been informed of our donations over the years. She was very gracious and thanked us for everything. Translated, she wrote “We are very grateful to you for all your help and your work for our children. You are always in our minds and prayers, we hope you the best for this new year and God bless your family.”

Once again, at Easter time of 2003, thanks to ongoing candy sales, we send another $1000.00 Canadian or $9550 pesos. This time, in addition to the usual things the money went for, the kids were able to purchase a VCR. During the year more draws were done, in December a co-worker had a Mexican themed Christmas party, borrowed some of our Mexican paraphernalia, and put out a donation box with the idea that guests could make a donation instead of exchanging gifts. We were presented with over $100. Also during the year, another co-worker experienced the loss of a loved one. This co-worker stipulated at the funeral home that donations could be made to us for the orphans, since the loved one was a great supporter of our cause. We were humbled by her presentation of several hundred dollars on behalf of her dearly departed.

We rounded out the year by sending a donation of another $2000.00 Canadian or $16,396 pesos. This year, when Gui tried to locatr Vincente, he was told by Vincentes mother that he had moved to northern Mexico to work. The money earmarked for Vincente went to the orphanages and we only hope that Vincente is doing well.

We had sold $263.00 in cookbooks, had cash donations of $313.00, draws totalling $941.00 and candy profits of $384.00. Our running total now stood at $11,550.00 Canadian or $73,089 pesos !

In January of 2004, I was stricken with a couple of very serious medical problems. After a 27 day stay in London hospital, we decided that I would have to retire medically. Through the welcomed assistance of a couple of co-workers, the candy store operation still operated. I had pretty much resigned myself that our fund raising campaign was going to have to come to an end since I no longer would be there. However, the day that I came into the office to clean out my cubicle and bid farewell to everyone and announce the end of the fundraising, our co-workers insisted that it would continue with their help. Tania also very graciously gave her blessing to the continuation of the candy store. We were still in business!

When we received photographs of some of the children in January, we had noticed one little girl who was wearing an eye patch. We wired our Easter donation of $600.00 Canadian or $4903 pesos and when we contacted Gui with the details, we asked that some of the money go to medical attention for the little girl in the photo. If she needed surgery or something to correct her sight problem, then that’s what she would get.

Gui got back to us and informed us that , unfortunately, the little girls eye was permanently damaged. She apparently had been abused and beaten by a step-father, which was why she was at the shelter. However, Gui told us that the eye patch which we saw in the picture was a very hard plastic one and that they had purchase an more expensive, comfortable cloth patch and she was very happy with her new patch.

In the summer of 2004, a new ’Candy Man’ came into being.

When DSB moved into its King St location, and did not have any pop or candy machines available at the site, it was suggested that we branch out a little and start supplying bottled water, full sized chocolate bars, chips and microwave popcorn. Sales increased greatly.

In late fall, we were asked if we were going to have our traditional Christmas draws. The ‘Candy Man’ formed a small group of helper elves ( Julie Stoffyn, Jeff Millington, Christiana Hawksworth, Jeni Powell, Agnes Bloxham, Diane Guyett and Stephanie Rossi) who worked, not only in DSB, but at the other sites and the draws began and were very successful . Also in late fall, Judy, who was currently working at the Post Office, was asked if she could set up the candy store at that location. After approval from management, ‘The Candy Store Annex’ was created and is doing great things, so far.

On December 10, 2004 I wired our Christmas donation to Gui. With the success of our fall draws, we wired $1600.00 Canadian or $14,042 pesos to the kids. The breakdown for this year is: Cash Donations of $179.00, Draws bringing in $785.00 and Candy Profits of $636.00

Our total donations to Casa Hogar Don Bosco and San Martin De Porres now stands at $13,750.00 Canadian or $92,034 pesos.

Judy and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tania and the management team for their permission to carry on this project, Vicky White for her invaluable assistance, and his little band of merry elves without who, this cannot have carried on. Most of all, we would like to thank all of you who are reading this for your kind words and thoughts for the kids, your generosity in donating money and items for draws, and finally, everyone who has that ’sweet tooth’ and can’t resist the goodies!

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo

 

Barry & Judy Puskas

December 10/2004

Below are some links to news stories that have been graciously done on our little venture in CKTIMES internet newspaper based out of Wallaceburg, Ontario, editor John Gardiner. Thank you so much, John

Be sure to visit CKTIMES often at http://www.cktimes.ca/

http://www.cktimes.ca/view-article.php?StoryID=2974&type=2

http://www.cktimes.ca/view-article.php?StoryID=887&type=2

http://www.cktimes.ca/view-article.php?StoryID=874&type=2

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In December 2002, we were awarded the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal for our efforts in support of these two orphanages.

Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal

Background

Commemorative medals are struck from time to time to mark important anniversaries and other great occasions. In keeping with that tradition, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal was created in 2002 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ascension of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. The Medal was awarded to Canadians who have made outstanding and exemplary contributions to their communities or to Canada as a whole.

The award focuses both on the achievements of those people who, over the past 50 years, have helped create the Canada of today, and on the achievements of younger Canadians who are actively contributing to our future.

In order to ensure all regions of Canada were represented, various organizations were invited to propose candidates, including the federal, provincial and territorial levels of government; national professional, educational and cultural organizations; the military; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; veterans’ groups; sports associations; and philanthropic and charitable bodies.

Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal

Description: a circular gold-plated bronze medal with a thin raised edge:

  • on the obverse of which is an effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, wearing the King George IV State Diadem, circumscribed with QUEEN OF CANADA . REINE DU CANADA, and
  • on the reverse of which is a large stylized maple leaf, with CANADA inscribed at the bottom, and 1952 and 2002 inscribed on either side of the Royal Cipher and Crown
  • the Medal is worn suspended from a broad royal blue ribbon, with red outer stripes, and double white stripes with a red central stripe
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal

 

 


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