PARSONS – During the time between the Christmas and New Year holidays, many folks choose to leave the chilly, sometimes snowy weather of Tucker County and head to a spot with a warmer climate.
Since 1997, Tucker County residents and others have headed to a warmer climate, but instead of going for a vacation, they travel to Sucre, Bolivia and dedicate this time to help orphaned and abandoned children. This year’s group traveling to Sucre returned last week.
According to www.humanium.org, children in Bolivia face many problems. The site says Bolivia is among the poorest countries in Latin America and said extreme poverty affects their quality of life including access to clean drinking water and access to education. It names the street children as an extremely vulnerable group, exposed to risks like exploitation in the workplace, the consumption of drugs and alcohol, crime, human trafficking and sexual and other types of violence. The website also states that up to date statistics are not available, but said recent reports indicate 80 percent of children, girls and adolescents are victims of violence, whether physical, psychological or sexual in nature.
Shalom and Esperanza Children’s Homes in Sucre, Bolivia are where orphaned and abandoned children from the streets can thrive. Children are placed in a home on-site with a small family structure consisting of house parents and siblings. The children are in a loving and nurturing environment, receive a formal education, Christian teachings and many other services, helping insure a brighter future. Those responsible for building and keeping these facilities running report they can see, after decades of involvement, God’s work through the homes. They house more than 100 thriving children who are no longer living on the streets, but in a home with a family to call their own.
Parsons resident Bill Evick said he has been making the missionary trip to Sucre in 1997.
“The way this all began was with a University in Sucre in the late 80s and early 90s,” Evick said. “The first few teams that went down the first few years worked to add two stories on to the University”
Evick said the team continued traveling to Sucre and the next building to be completed was a drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit along with a church.
“The next year, the land was purchased in Sucre where the first orphanage, Shalom, was built,” Evick said. “The first thing you must do when you purchase land down there is build a big wall surrounding the entire complex. That is what we did in the year 2000.”
Following that, the group has built an administration building, six individual houses, a dormitory for the older children and a few other buildings that are not completed that will be used for resource buildings,” Evick said.
He said in each house, there are about 12 kids with parent just like a family.
“The kids have chores to complete each day and they cook their own meals. They go to school each day.”
Evick said the money to run the orphanages comes from local churches in West Virginia and Maryland along with very generous donors.
“The people in Sucre found they needed another orphanage in another part of Sucre and it is called Esperanza,” Evick said. “In that area, we built a church, put another wall around the entire complex and we are building a three-story school. In that area, the kids are so poor their families cannot afford their books, supplies and uniforms. We just finished the second story on the school. Esperanza has four houses in the complex.”
Evick said next year, the team will build the third story on the school. He said the team leaves shortly after Christmas and stays until mid-January. The mission team includes about 25 Tucker County residents, and said the group is based out of the Oak Park Church of the Brethren in Oakland, Md.
“Carl Fike is the head honcho and he is one amazing man,” Evick said. “He took 40 people down there to a third world country and each one did an amazing job. The group included people from Parsons, Oakland, Preston County, Virginia and South Carolina. This year was the largest group we have ever had.”
When asked why he continues to travel to help others, Evick responded, “Why not?”
“We started 20 years ago helping with kids on the street,” Evick said. “The whole thing started with Howard and Jerry Nutt. From there it has just blossomed. A lady by the name of Ana Colque went into the streets of Sucre and saw the ‘box kids,’ kids whose parents have abandoned them. They were seven, eight and nine year old kids and she picked them up and took them to live with her.”
Evick said he goes back every year, and during the Christmas Party, the alumni kids, the first kids helped by Ana Colque and the orphanages come back and share their success stories.
“They tell stories of what they have accomplished by being raised in a Christian school environment,” he said. “One kid is finishing his final year studying to be a civil engineer. One girl is in her third year studying to be a doctor and one graduated this year and is going into dentistry. These kids are survivors and they will lead Bolivia one day.”
Evick said he thought he was going to Bolivia to help the kids. “I am the one who gets blessed,” he said. “It is just humbling. Your life is changed forever if you take one trip there.”
He said one thing he saw on a trip to Bolivia was a child chained to a door while his father went to a ‘beer joint.’
“He had to stay there chained, trying to sell his wares,” Evick said. “The next time we went by, there were boys with a hacksaw trying to saw through the lock he had on the child to set him free.”
Evick said as long as his health is okay, he plans to make the trip each year. “God willing, I will be there,” he said.
Cindy Harsh said she has been making the trip for seven years to Sucre to help others.
This year, she was in charge of the ‘street kid dinner’ which is a free dinner prepared for the poor and street kids in the area. Local women prepare chicken, potatoes, rice and other Christmas food. Normally about 300 people attend the dinner.
“I’ve always been interested in helping others and after hearing the stories told by other team members at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church about their experiences, I was intrigued and felt I could offer my services in some way,” Harsh said. “On my first trip, the ladies of the community did not allow any of our team members to help prepare the ‘street kids dinner.’ But they did allow us to serve.”
Harsh said the next year, they helped plan and prepare the meal for what they thought would be 300. She said the women of the community invited all of women in her group to help prepare the meal.
“As we set up the food, we realized that we had more people attending than we had prepared for,” she said. “Even though the food had been blessed, someone in our team said we needed to pray over the pots of prepared food because we were going to run out. We prayed that we would have enough food.”
Harsh said people kept coming and the team kept serving and they noticed the pots of food were not emptying as before.
“When the last person was served the pots were not completely empty. More than 400 people were served at that meal. At the conclusion of the meal, the mayor of the community called everyone together to express a work of thankfulness and gratitude for the love and appreciation that was shown toward the community and the children. It was just like Luke 9 when Jesus fed the crowd of nearly 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish with crumbs leftover. On the bus ride back that night, there was a hush. Each of us knew in our hearts that we had witnessed a miracle at that ‘street kid’s dinner.’”
Harsh said the dinner had been offered each year during their visit and said this year a donor has made it possible for the dinner to be offered two more times throughout the year. “One of the Americans is paying for the ‘street kid dinner’ to be offered two more times through the year,” Harsh said. “One will be offered in March and one in August and the one we offer in January.”
Work crews on the mission trip included a painting crew, a block laying crew, a sewing crew and shoppers.
“The shoppers go out to purchase new house supplies like pots and pans, silverware and appliances because things wear out,” Harsh said. “We also have a Christmas Party and they purchase Christmas gifts. All kids needed new school shoes and part of them needed new sneakers. Every year we try to get shoes and the normal Christmas things like toys.”
Harsh said she continues to make the trip because she feels like she is making a difference.
“There was a family in a Sucre community concerned about an orphan girl who was taken in by another family,” Harsh said. “This family had the girl take care of their pigs, but they also had her eat and sleep with the pigs.”
Harsh said the concerned family put the girl in a potato sack and secretly put her on the back of a potato truck to rescue her.
They brought her into Sucre and brought her to the founder of Shalom who took her in. Harsh said they officials at the orphanage filed the proper paperwork to transfer the girl to the orphanage.
“The first year I was there, she ate her Christmas dinner and even ate the chicken bones because her body was lacking so much,” Harsh said. “She has continued to grow and thrive and she is happy now and smiles all the time.”
Harsh said the crew takes Sundays off and said she was able to walk the Inca Trail during this year’s trip. She said the walk took about four hours and said it was beautiful.
“It rained on us – there was thunder and lightning and it was good,” Harsh said. “Next to the Grand Canyon, it is the most beautiful and breathtaking view I have ever witnessed in my life. It was amazing.”
Harsh said at one point, the group traveling the Inca Trail stopped to rest.
“The guide fell back to the end with me and told me to move slowly toward him,” she said. “He didn’t tell me exactly why, but we turned around and there was a huge tarantula, about the size of the palm of my hand behind me. It scared me, but it was fun.”
Additional information about the Shalom and Esperanza orphanages is available on Facebook or by contacting St. Paul’s United Methodist Church by calling 304-478-2191 or Oak Park Church of the Brethren in Oakland, Maryland by calling 301-334-2243.