President's State of the Union Address

Fr. Phil Cleary, President of NPH International
February 25, 2009 - Press Release - NPH International

Mexico: middle school students

This is from the NPH International Worldwide Meeting on February 15, 2009 in Nicaragua

Good morning all and welcome! This part of our meeting is the annual President's State of Our Union address.

I begin with an update about a matter of supreme importance (to me, anyway) that being my sleep patterns. Years ago, I would spend often weeks at a time without ever getting a good night's sleep, laying awake wondering how in the world we were going to pay for a new home in Guatemala, or Nicaragua, or El Salvador, etc.

I must admit that I resented the sleep deprivation caused by Father Wasson, and he and I had some bloody battles over some of his expansion plans. But they worked, and NPH is larger and stronger, and obviously the world of children is better off because of him and his vision.

The problem now is that I am losing sleep over our LACK OF serious expansion plans. The reasons for that are the same ones that I used to throw up at Father Bill–the economy, personnel, exchange rates, flat fundraising. The difference now is that I find myself ever more subscribing to Father Wasson's way of doing things–as in that war movie: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."

How do we reach out to serve just as many orphaned and abandoned children as possible, in as many poor nations as possible, but doing so in a way that responsibly provides for the children we already have and their futures, as well as assuring that the most is made of every donor's gift, and all of this in full compliance with local and international laws? That has been and continues to be the goal of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos™ International, the NPH family umbrella. We have lived through difficult financial times in the past (as when Father Wasson was down with cancer several years ago). But we survived those crises and we will survive this one, with faith in God (whose children they are) and because of the love that so many wonderful people like yourselves have for our children and this mission.

Now to our homes...

In Mexico this year, the state of Morelos (where our main and high school homes are located), suffered a devastating teachers strike in the public school system lasting more than 10 weeks. The children of Morelos could not go to school. It got so ugly that when a group of our teachers volunteered to tutor children from town on their own time with no compensation for doing so, they were met by a violent mob of striking teachers who would not even let them provide that small service to the town's children. However, our three schools (elementary, middle and technical high school) all stayed open. We are proud to say that not only did our children not miss any school, but also that we did accept as many children from the surrounding communities as we had room for into our school.

We continue our Milpillas Garbage Dump Outreach Program offering an education, medical and dental services, and nutritional meals to 110 children and youths. Two of them are studying at the university level and another 10 are in our high school during the week, who will then give years of service to NPH before going on to university themselves.

In some countries where NPH serves, university education is not a major part of the program because it is more important to prepare the children in technical careers, and that because of the country's economy. In Mexico however, which is more developed, a great emphasis is placed on university. We are proud to say that our percentage of high school graduates that go on to finish university is at about 25% - which, I was recently told, is not that much lower than the U.S. percentage. And with now a stronger support program for our college kids, we hope to pass the U.S. percentage in the coming years.

The Taekwondo program continues to be incredibly popular, thanks to a dedicated volunteer instructor who was able to take our three top competitors to his native Iceland, where they competed and won tournaments. He also opened an NPH Iceland office which will be staffed by a volunteer and will start recruiting new sponsorships.

Harvesting 100 tons of corn to make tortillas and to feed the animals is tedious work. This year we received a new corn harvester helping us to attain almost 100% self-sufficiency in that area. Overall, a $30,000 investment in the farm this year resulted in $100,000 worth of produced goods. Construction was completed on our new slaughterhouse which has improved the sanitary conditions of our farm.

This past year brought 60 new children to our home in Honduras, six of them, arriving with their grandmother, who after watching her own three children pass away, could no longer provide the care that her grandchildren needed. The children have been integrated into life at the home and their grandmother comfortably lives in our home for the elderly, or the Grandparents of our family, on the premises.

Honduras had three university graduates this year. Suyapa and Arony both graduated with degrees in law, and Merlin is the home's first doctor! He was one of the first pequeños who arrived in 1986. We are very proud of all three of them.

Honduras also officially created a formal public relations department in the capital to promote NPH throughout Honduras and strengthen relationships with other organizations. Hopefully, local fundraising will help pay for part of our own budget.

Sixty-seven youths partnered with 55 businesses through Honduras participating in our Vocational Internship program. Our kids work for nine weeks in their vocational trade which helps them to increase job expectancy and learn real-life skills.

Four hurricanes in one month's time devastated Haiti this fall, leaving an estimated one million homeless and affecting more than 300,000 children. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere was declared to be in a state of "ecological disaster."

The floods damaged most of the country's crops, wiped out irrigation, roads and bridges. School was postponed due to facilities being used as temporary shelters for flood victims. Fr. Rick Frechette and Ferel Bruno assembled teams of pequeños, ex-pequeños and staff to help distribute immediate relief items. In total they distributed over $413,000 worth of food, clothing and medical supplies. The orphanage suffered damage due to strong winds and excessive rain which blew off the school roof and tore up many trees, but our losses, obviously, paled in comparison to the misery of the country.

Just when anyone might have dared to think that it couldn't get much worse, a five-story school near our offices collapsed, killing 88 and injuring 150. An NPFS relief disaster team rushed to the site, helping to dig people out of the rubble and transporting victims for urgent medical care.

The Saint Damien Pediatric Hospital and Public Health Programs continue to offer care to thousands of women and children. Two ex-pequeños, traveled to Italy to receive specialized training as surgical assistants. They have returned to Haiti and are working with an Italian surgeon to prepare the Surgery Center. There are 14 other students studying at the university level in three countries. Also there are 150 ex-pequeños who coordinate and manage the numerous outreach programs such as the street schools, dignified burials and water delivery.

We have opened our third location for helping children with disabilities, Kay Germaine at the Saint Damien Hospital compound. It is a rehabilitation and educational center. We are thankful for the support of NPH Italy in funding a large percentage of this project including the building and equipment. The December inauguration included international guests complete with Hollywood celebrities and a former U.S. Presidential candidate.

The Nicaraguan government issued a decree to close all orphanages and distribute the children into foster care facilities–a model that was tried 30 years ago and failed when I worked at an orphanage in Chicago, which obviously had 1st World resources with which to try and implement it. We are blessed with a wonderful and committed in-country board of directors who have met with the Family Minister and developed a draft of a plan that allows NPH to keep operating, but it is unclear at the present time what the government position will be. As part of this decree we agreed to take in street children. Currently we have 7 such youths. Hopefully the government will see the wisdom of having different models operating for the good of Nicaraguan children at the same time namely, foster care, homes for street children, but also well-run professional and loving institutions like NPH.

The Estudiantina and dance groups finished a US tour to help raise money for their NPH family. Accompanied by Father Ron Hicks, they were wonderful ambassadors for NPH.

Construction of their new off-the-volcanic-island home, Casa Padre Wasson, continues. The new property has four completed homes with the water tower, street improvements and minimum details still in process. Youths are now residing at the new property while they attend high school and vocational school in nearby towns.

A very special gift was received this past year from an anonymous donor to build homes for the children in Nicaragua. The donor's only condition was that the set of homes be named for Ilse Maria Koehler, Reinhart's mother, in honor of the woman who brought into the world such a gifted and loving servant of the Lord, and that on the occasion honoring Reinhart's 25th anniversary of service to the children of NPH. Congratulations, Reinhart!

In Guatemala, after 12 years of service to NPH, National Director, Carlos Viveros and his wife Tere, will return to their home country of Mexico to retire. We are deeply grateful to them for their gifts of life, love, example and service to our children. Later on in this program we will be saying more about them and will ask you then to express your gratitude as well. Currently we are in a search process for a new National Director.

Our technical workshops have been very successful and we have just finished a baking course for all of our caregivers and children who are in their year of service. Sixty-seven students earned their certification in the various workshops which will greatly improve their chances of finding work once they leave the home. I was in Guatemala in December, and decided then that every home should have a volunteer professional baker! This man comes from a German organization that sends retired professionals to serve in underdeveloped countries.

The completion of a water purification project brings everyone clean and fresh water saving of thousands of dollars.

The Briones family from Spain initiated successful greenhouse projects in Honduras and Mexico. They have just now completed the same in Guatemala. The work has sparked interest in agriculture and one pequeño from there has just begun his studies at a prestigious university specializing in agriculture in Honduras.

Guatemala hosted the second annual NPH International soccer tournament in December where girls and boys teams from the Central American countries battled it out in their favorite sport. In the end, Nicaragua girls defeated Guatemala girls in an overwhelming 7 to 0 victory (they were so strong that other teams were afraid of playing against them). Honduras boys faced off against the speedy Nicaraguan team, a game in which neither team could sneak in a goal, leaving them to end it in a shootout where the winner was Honduras. The Mexican teams lost every one of their games, for the second year in a row–but they considered themselves the winners at the end of it all, when it was announced with great fanfare that the site of the 2010 tournament will be at NPH Mexico.

Even better than the soccer and festivities was the electric atmosphere among all the teams from the different NPH countries and the children of Guatemala. This event gives the players and host country children a real life experience of what it means to be a family of so many children in nine different countries.

In El Salvador the 3rd school building was completed thanks to our benefactors and funds that we received during the 2007 international meeting there. The results of district wide testing proved our commitment to quality education. Our grade school in El Salvador ranked 2nd out of the 23 schools in the province.

This was the first year that our sewing workshop was at full capacity, making all of the school's uniforms for the start of the 2009 school year.

Through a local contact at an international bank, the home received a $75,000 grant through a program called Future First. The bank also provides the home with in-kind donations.

Chaplain Fr. Ron is busy. Last year there were 61 confirmations, 87 baptisms and 110 First Communions, and the dedication of the new chapel, made possible mostly by donations from friends of Father Ron from back home in Chicago. In the Dominican Republic, the four hurricanes that hit the Caribbean brought heavy rains and a tornado that downed power lines leaving the home with no electricity for a few days. Thanks to a generous donation of a water filter system, our home is now able to purify its own drinking water.

The baseball program in partnership with the Boston Red Sox continues to develop with training sessions for the children.

The construction of the clinic and administrative offices were completed and the secondary school is about half-way finished with 23 children from the nearby community attending.

Community outreach this past year consisted of building three latrines, two homes, offering reading and writing classes, and medical brigades.

After a major earthquake struck Peru, life was more challenging, but thankfully, our home and children were safe. The European offices donated funds to assist the local community in building four homes for very needy families and prefabricated classrooms for the damaged public school, which our kids also attend. With these classrooms, all of our students could finally go to school in one shift.

At our new property site we still face many bureaucratic hurdles to get connected to the public water supply, sewage and electricity networks. These procedures delayed our construction planning for months. We are currently going forward with drilling our own well and constructing a wastewater treatment plant. Our Friends from Canada have committed themselves to funding and participating in the entire build-out there.

In Bolivia, last January saw the move into Casa Padre William Wasson, our final home site outside the town of Portachuelo in the eastern lowlands of the country, allowing us to take in 15 more children for a total of 61. The completed first phase of construction included our central dining hall, which is where our clinic and offices are temporarily located, as well as six houses.

Road blockades in Bolivia are a common form of protest, used by all political parties as well as other organizations. During the fall, several of these blockades occurred on the highway that connects NPH to Santa Cruz (the nearest large city). The complications that come along with this include food shortages, missed school days and doctor appointments, plus the added difficulty of getting our staff to and from the home, and, obviously, the stress of worrying about the safety of our staff and volunteers, when some of those blockades turned deadly violent and a few weeks when we were all worried about the real prospect of civil war there.

We hope to continue to expand our facilities so that we may accept more children. With our construction plans constantly evolving in reaction to world economies and our local politics, our most optimistic goal for 2009 is to build two more homes.

And finally, as I've told you good folks many times before, and as I always say to our kids at masses when we pray for all of you, none of what I have just reported would have been possible without all of you–our benefactors, godparents, fundraisers, international and local staffs and volunteers–I hope that all of you are pleased with the good work that YOU have done for our children of NPH this past year. Thank you, and God's blessings on one and all!

Fr. Phil Cleary
President, NPH International




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