The next day, we went to two more orphanages, New Dawn and Gabriel House. New Dawn is a fairly new orphanage, and not quite established yet, so we spent most of the day cleaning the grounds. The men got to work fixing up the playground with new hardware for swings and a tetherball court. The next orphanage, Gabriel House, was much smaller and was for children with special needs. The occupational therapists who were with our group really worked their magic here. Although many of these kids could not communicate verbally, they had fun playing cards, smacking the pinata and playing with bubbles. It was all about stimulation. This was a very new environment for my kids and me, and we watched and learned. This is where I got to really understand how each of the people involved in Baja Love make a difference.
By Kelly Mitchell
January is behind us and what a tumultuous month it was! We started off 2017 with a lot of change and lot of passionate views coming to the forefront. I’d like to believe that people’s passion comes from a good place and is driven by love. So now that February is here, the official month of ‘love’, we should focus on just that. There will be tons of articles in your news feed about love. Some will be about romantic love, some will hip us to most romantic restaurants in the area, and some may focus on unconditional love such as parenting. All fun reads, but I wanted to write about another kind of love, one that goes beyond hearts, valentines and parenting. I am talking about love for each other, mankind, across the globe. In this particular case, across the border, a mere 100 miles away. How can we really make a difference? Sometimes it’s as easy as making a new friend who can point us in the right direction.
On the first day of my daughter’s kindergarten class this year, I met a fellow “kinder-mom” named Chappell Ferrin. After a few conversations, I came to learn that she and her husband Kent help run a non-profit organization called Baja Love Outreach. It provides supplementary aid to five orphanages in Baja California, Mexico between Tijuana and Maneadero. The money goes not only toward every day essentials such as backpacks and school supplies, but also toward big improvements at the facilities, such as replacing kitchen appliances so that they are able to provide healthy meals to their children. Their ultimate goal is to provide these orphanages the means to become the best institutions they can be. But for Chappell, it is the personal relationships that drive her the most. “I am invested in truly knowing each child. Learning who they are, needs that they have and what their dreams are,” she told me. “One of the orphanages has 5 kids graduating from high school this year, and we would love to be a vehicle to help those orphans receive scholarships, go to college, trade school to empower them to live to their greatest potential.”
I immediately asked how I could help. What skills could I possibly have to offer? Chappell said, “Well, you speak Spanish for starters, so you should come to Mexico on our next trip!” She assured me it was a family friendly trip and that there would be other children going, all of whom have been going down for years. A few months later, my mom, my kids and I were in a caravan with other volunteers crossing the border, heading toward Ensenada. Our main goal for this trip was to deliver over 120 Christmas gifts to the children in the orphanages.
While I was on board with taking my kids down to Mexico, I still didn’t quite understand what exactly we’d be doing other than delivering gifts to needy kids, but they had a detailed itinerary completely which filled us in. Chappell and Kent have done this trip dozens of times. As a matter of fact, Kent, a Huntington Beach police officer, has been involved in this for over 28 years. His first trip was with his church, who had asked for volunteers to help an orphanage called Kids Kingdom (El Reino de los Ninos). He said one trip was all it took to know he wanted to do more. He went down every month with a truck load of food and supplies.
When Kent married Chappell, they discussed ways to do more with the orphanage. Their trips continued to gain momentum and more people wanted to contribute and come with them. They added a second one day trip in August where they delivered backpacks, money for uniforms and school supplies, since that was a major expense that no one else was meeting. That continued until 2016, when they realized they wanted to reach out farther and find ways to really impact these kids’ lives in a more meaningful and empowering way than simple material needs. In June 2016, Baja Love Outreach was born. Less than a year later, they are currently serving five orphanages.
Now that we had the general idea of what we were heading off to do, we were ready to go. We arrived at our house where we would be living for the next four days, got settled in then headed off to the first orphanage for a BBQ. I had no idea what was in store. In my mind we would be swarmed by hundreds of small children, crying and clinging to us begging us to take them with us. My kids would feel uneasy, perhaps. I couldn't have been more wrong-embarrassingly wrong! We walked into Kids’ Kingdom and were enthusiastically welcomed by a group of the most polite and confident kids, many of them teenagers. We were greeted by handshakes, big hugs and proud introductions in English. “Hello! My name is Omar, I am fifteen years old. Welcome to our home!” And just like that, we felt totally welcome. I looked to see if my kids were feeling comfortable, but when I turned to ask them, they had already been grabbed by the hand, were jumping on the trampoline and playing basketball with their new friends. It was amazing. I watched the children bear hug Chappell and the others that they have gotten to know over the years. I could feel the love like a wave sweeping over me.
Chappell had told me how rewarding it is to bring her kids down there, and I got to see firsthand what she meant when she said, “It is such a GIFT to our family to do this work. The most rewarding parts for me are two-fold. Once the craziness and rush of raising money, buying supplies, organizing the trips, etc. is done, I arrive there and get to spend time playing and laughing and enjoying the kids. That is joy for me. The second most rewarding part is watching my children grow up with the kids at the orphanages. They have known the kids from Kids Kingdom since they were little and adore them. They have best friends there. I love that they are not conditioned to see the difference between them, but rather where they are the same. I learn a lot from my kids.” I know what she means, and I feel so lucky that my family got to experience it too. Ironically, even though we had just delivered 120 presents, I felt we were the ones who ended up leaving with the gifts.
If you have been looking to make a difference in the spirit of love for one another, this is a great place to start. There are so many easy ways to help: donate, adopt an orphan for Christmas or donate, buy (very cute) jewelry from Baja Love Boutique, or come on down to Baja! You can find all the info on the website: https://www.bajaloveoutreach.com
I wanted to know them all! They ALL had a story! Chappell filled me in on many of them and how they came to be there. As sad as some of the stories were, I could not quite get past the fact that these kids did not seem sad. They had a sense of contentment and happiness about them that I admired. I watched them look out for one another like a true family. They barbecued dinner for us, made s’mores and sang campfire songs. The kids continued to play together speaking in their universal languages: play and laughter. We were their guests and they made us feel special. But wait, weren't we there to make them feel special? It turns out they have known for quite some time that they have always been special and they have a lot to offer.
That night we went back to our compound and had a gift-wrapping party. For months, Baja Love had organized the donated gifts and it was not a small task. Months prior, people were encouraged to “adopt” an orphan and then they were given a wish list for that child. The next day was the day to deliver all of the wrapped gifts, and spend some more time with the kids. Chappell and another volunteer, Sonia, had prearranged crafts all ready to go. The little ones did beading activities while the teenagers created really cool duct tape wallets. We had lunch, read stories, played an intense game of flag football, and then we said our goodbyes. That’s when it got really emotional. One by one, the children got up to thank everyone at Baja Love. Each one said something specific about what they were thankful for, and each child said how much they appreciated the time we spent with them. It was such a good lesson for my kids and me. They valued our time and our company above all else. What a concept!