65 Years of Raising Children, Supporting Families, and Transforming Lives
NPHI President Reinhart Koehler shares his thoughts on our past and our future.
August 16, 2019 - NPH International
|In 1985 Reinhart Koehler works to open an NPH home in Honduras at Fr. Wasson's request.|
Sixty-five years ago, a 14-year-old boy took money from the church poor box where Father Wasson was the chaplain in an impoverished market area of Cuernavaca, Mexico. The boy returned to look for more money and the custodian apprehended him and turned him over to the authorities. Father Wasson, however, rather than pressing charges visited the boy in jail and discovered that his parents had abandoned him and that he simply was looking for means to quiet his hunger. Father Wasson’s love not only moved him to forgive but to seek out the boy who stole from his church, bail him out of jail, and bring him home. Obviously, it was much more difficult than simply taking him home.
And yet, out of this act of kindness, forgiveness, and restoration, the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos y Hermanas Family was born. While Father Wasson relied on Divine Providence and did not have a five-year plan, he knew that instead of creating an institution he was going to build a family based on the Acts of Mercy.
Matthew 25:40 says, “What you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me.” In Spanish, “Lo que hicieron para los mas pequeños de mis hermanos y hermanas, lo hicieron para mi.” This verse inspired the name Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos y Hermanas or NPH.
Father Wasson heeded this 2,000-year-old message by reaching out to children who were hungry, thirsty, sick, and had no place to go. Many hardly had any clothing and were at times, as with the first children, imprisoned. And for the children who joined the NPH family, this became the guiding purpose of their development, growing into adults who would serve their families and communities.
Here we are, 65 years after Father Wasson began his work and 13 years after he died and passed on his legacy. All of us involved with the NPH Family are tasked with living and applying his miraculous mission. In order to do that, we do well to remember Father Wasson’s philosophy and the basic principles with which he created Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos y Hermanas.
Father Wasson knew that love, mercy, faith, and time would heal the children and help them find their place in this world. He knew that children who had experienced trauma and had grown up surviving on their own in the world would not easily overcome the habits that had helped keep them alive. To prevail over these habits, the children needed a stable environment of consistent love, patience, and communication in order to find trust, security, and a sense of belonging.
For this reason, Father Wasson created not only a family, but also a healing community. He based his approach on the principles of his Catholic faith, such as forgiveness, service to others, sharing, learning to care for others, and engaging the children in meaningful tasks with real responsibilities to contribute to the wellbeing of the NPH Family.
This enhanced their feeling of self-worth and helped the children to shift the focus from themselves to the needs of others. He also made sure that among the Pequeños and Pequeñas there was no room for self-pity, or as Father called it “pobre de mi” (poor little me). That is why all children are challenged to contribute and do what they can do for themselves and others according to their abilities and special needs.
In addition, Father Wasson provided the children with opportunities to develop their talents and time to engage in free play with each other. They learned self-regulation, creativity, and got so absorbed in their play that their grief and pain were replaced by the sheer joy they derived from interacting with one another.
As a result, the need for psychological treatment was reduced. While psychological treatment certainly can benefit children, Father Wasson knew that there are also other ways to help children to grow into well-adjusted adults. For example, it is difficult for a child with trauma to share what they are thinking and feeling. Many of the children that I have come to know and who have suffered abuse or neglect at the hands of an adult think it is their fault. The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives them a confidential place to be honest and it gives the priest the opportunity to reinforce that our sins are the ones that we commit and not the things that happen to us.
If a child is struggling and we offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the message is “you are human and God can remove the mistake that you made and give you the grace to try again.” As a priest, Father Wasson felt that the power of love, the sacraments, and Holy Mass were most essential in the healing process of traumatized children.
Since Father Wasson’s death in August 2006, NPH has not moved into more countries. Yet, we have grown and evolved. We continue to respond to the ever-changing needs of vulnerable children and families in the nine countries where we are present. We are transforming and expanding our work through community service and family strengthening programs. In a way, NPH has become a family of families.
We have also increased our scope and effectiveness in responding to the many needs we find in the various populations we serve through strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations such as One World Surgery (www.oneworldsurgery.org). Together, we are now in the process of establishing a second surgery center on the property of NPH Dominican Republic.
Today, NPH is caring for more vulnerable children and adults than we did in 2006. They are the true heroes of this unique mission, the reason why Father Wasson’s legacy continues. We are proud to carry on Father Wasson’s mission by bringing to our mission the values with which Father Wasson started his NPH Family many years ago. We are grateful that we can do so because of the loyal support and generosity of all of you who care for the NPH Family through their dedication, contributions, work, and volunteer service.
A special thank you to Father Phil Cleary and Father Rick Frechette, who also celebrated their 40th anniversary as priests this year, dedicating 36 and 35 years respectively to NPH. Thank you!
President, NPH International
Rancho Santa Fe, Honduras
16 August 2019
President, NPH International