Long time Dollie lady Darleen traveled to Ecuador to visit friends, and before leaving researched opportunities to serve as a Dollie Ambassador. Here is her story:
The Centro de Educacíon Initial y Albergue Infantile Padre Julio Villarroel Ocaña is located on the outskirts of Loja, Ecuador. Monica Cabrera, the director of the school/orphanage was waiting for us at the gates. She was very kind and welcoming. She explained that the school was started by the Marist order (French Catholic brothers) with the goal of educating young people, especially the most neglected. There are 110 day students who are very poor and get free lunches. They come from the surrounding barrios and in the rainy season they arrive quite muddy from their trip down the hillside. There are two schools: for children aged 5-12 and children aged 13-18, where they learn a trade. The orphanage, which opened in 1987, is for abandoned and abused children. Since 1999 it has been helped financially by a group from León, Spain who want to enhance the emotional and physical environment of the children. There are 32 beds for the 5-12 year olds in 2 dormitories, painted pink for the girls, aqua for the boys. The rooms are clean with nice bedding but extremely spartan. The children have few clothes or possessions. The young children are housed and educated and if they aren’t adopted by age 12 (very few are), they go to the other part of the orphanage where they live until they are 18. There are 40 children in this section. When they leave they have a trade.
The stories about the lives of these children before they came to the orphanage were horrifying and sad.
We visited the premises: the cafeteria, kitchens, laundry room, soccer field, the Kindergarten and First grade classrooms of the day students.
I brought the Dollies and Teddy Bears to the two classrooms for the orphans. In the first classroom the director explained to the children who I was and what Dollies Making A Difference does. We spread out the Dollies and Teddies on a long table so they could choose. The children were in awe that I was bringing them such gifts. They were very calm, taking their time to choose the perfect one. No pushing or shoving, or jumping up and down. It was a sobering spectacle. They were amazingly sweet and thoughtful, very appreciative. No beaming faces, just discreet smiles. And hugging their treasures to their hearts.
In the second classroom there was no space to set out the Dollies, so the director handed them out. I did a fast head count and realized I was two Teddy Bears short. I felt horrible but the two boys were told they would get a toy from the box of donated items. They each got a little toy truck. The children were polite, lovely and so thankful.
It was heartbreaking to see these little ones abandoned by their families. But I felt that here they were being taken care of as well as possible considering the meager resources and the personnel was very kind to them.
I had brought the Dollies in two Dollies Making A Difference canvas bags. I gave one to each teacher. You would have thought I had given them gold. They were very grateful.
Third time Dollie Ambassador (and Dollie member)