Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Always On My Mind

Hello Supporters of APUFRAM!

I'm sorry it has been such a long time since I have posted on here. If you didn't know, I am now back home in the United States. Although I have been back here for several months now, the children of Honduras are in my heart and mind every day. I have their pictures posted all around my house. Every time I look at the pictures, I smile. At the same time I am smiling, a little piece of my heart is breaking.

As I wake up and start my day, I think about the kids getting up early to do their chores before going to school. As I travel to my job as a special education teacher, I often wish I was traveling to Honduras to teach English again.  When I see soccer and baseball teams practicing in the park, I think about the kids playing soccer on dirt fields with no nets for hours at a time. In the evenings, I think about the many nights I spent watching movies and eating popcorn or having a dance party with the kids at Guadalupe and Margarita Cook. These memories often make me laugh and put me in a good mood. Sometimes, however, I cannot help but cry. The main reason I cry is because I think about the fact that the kids are not receiving visits from volunteers. I know how much they look forward to visits from groups and individuals and how sad they are when no one comes. I wish I could jump on a plane and go down there, but my job prevents that. I do plan on going on my Spring Break this year. However, I hope that in the meantime, other people will find the inspiration to travel to Honduras to experience our kids and give them the thing they need most- love.

I know that not everyone can travel to Honduras, but there are many things that can be done in the United States to help the children. Knowing that some children may not be able to come back next year if there are not enough funds breaks my heart. What APUFRAM does gives children hope and a life that they may have never thought possible. I constantly remember something a ten-year old girl told me after Christmas break- "Back home, nobody loves me or takes care of me. Here, I know that I am loved and that everyone cares about me. Next year, I don't even want to go home for Christmas." Thinking about that girl having to go back home because there is not enough money to keep her in school makes me want to win the lottery. If you can help our children in any way, please do so. There are also many ways you can help APUFRAM International that don't cost anything but time. I continue to help coordiante volunteers. Please see our current newsletter for more ways you can help.

As you go about your day, I hope that you think about the children in Honduras going about their day with APUFRAM and will consider supporting them in any way you can. I know that the kids are praying for all of us, so please keep them in your prayers as well.

Peace and Blessings,

Megan Meyer

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Seasoned Volunteer Reflects

Below is a reflection from Twana, a volunteer who has been to Honduras several time and was here again in March.

  It has been just about 6 weeks since I returned from my fourth volunteer trip to APUFRAM’S site in El Conejo Comayagua, Honduras Central America.

     Each time I must leave to return to the states, it gets harder to say good bye. With each departure, I find that I leave a little more of my heart behind with the Hondurans I have grown to love.

    This was my first return to the St. Teressa of Lisieux Volunteer Center since the Honduran coup that occurred June of 2009. I was deeply saddened to learn that at the time of my trip (March 17-March 26, 2010), I had been only the third volunteer to the center since the coup. It is the children and mothers we serve that are hurt as the result of lack of volunteers since the coup. According to current volunteer director, Megan Meyer, the children stopped asking in January when more volunteers were coming. They had, it seemed, given up hope that we would be returning.

   La Villa-San Antonio de Padua is the site of our boarding facility and school for boys ages 5-14 yrs. The school at La Villa has been forced to close since the coup. The boys are now attending classes at Guadalupe, the site of the school for our girl’s school.

    It is my desire that those considering a volunteer trip to Honduras will understand that it is perfectly safe there. I was greeted warmly everywhere I went. I never once felt uncomfortable in any way.
I was truly loved and welcomed by the local Hondurans as well as those whom are served through APUFRAM’S programs. It was as though a long missed family member had returned home to the Hondurans when they saw their “Su amigo, un miembro de la familia percibida, Twana, que pasa por el camino.” (Their Friend, their perceived family member, Twana, walking down the path).
As a student of Journalism at my college, I covered my Honduran experience for my college newspaper. I had the opportunity to interview local business owners in Honduras as to how their lives have been affected since the coup. As part of my journalism work for my college, I am working on a video of my March trip to Honduras.

     The one constant is and remains the Hondurans are a loving, kind people that would willingly assist anyone in need. One of our children at the Guadalupe site, in her broken English said to me: “Twana no go back to America. You stay here, Honduras be your home now.” How do you hear something like this from an innocent child and not be affected by it?

     Those of you considering a volunteer trip to APUFRAUM’S Honduran sites, listen to your heart. You will be enriched in ways you never dreamed.

Twana Pinskey

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Second Time Around- Words from a Volunteer

Below is the reflection of a Loras College alumnus who recently volunteered with us in Honduras along with six of her friends. They were true blessings for everyone they came in contact with and we were all sad to see them go. Several of the kids even cried on the group's last night here. Even though they left nearly three weeks ago, the kids still ask about them and want to know when they are returning. When I explained that they had to work and study so they couldn't come back right now, one of the kids said, "Well, then just write a note to their teacher or boss and tell them they need to come back to Honduras." This proves that the relationships volunteers form with the kids, even if only for a week, are true friendships that neither one forgets. I see the positive affects those relationships have on the kids and, from Erin's reflection, you can see the affect the kids have on volunteers

I first experienced APUFRAM in Honduras in March of 2008 and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I absolutely fell in love with the volunteer center from the second I stepped foot in it, and knew after that first service trip that it would forever hold a place in my heart.  There is nothing that could have prepared me for what I would see and experience while there.  The kids are absolutely amazing gifts of God.  From the second meet them you feel more than welcome and whole-heartedly loved by each and every one.  It never ceases to amaze me how much joy and love they seem to have in their hearts even when they have next to nothing in their pockets.  They are amazing examples of faith and unconditional love to me.  I enjoyed the trip so much the first time that I recently went back for the second time for 10 days over Holy Week and Easter.  The mission and the kids exceeded my expectations from two years ago.  I was thrilled to remember some of the kids from my last trip and amazed that some of them even remembered me.  Both of my experiences in Honduras were life changing and I would highly recommend the trip to anyone looking for a little faith and love in their lives.  I know I’ll be going back again as soon as I get the chance!

Erin Horst – Dubuque, IA

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Special Day

Yesterday I attended a "convivio" with some of the fifth and sixth grade boys and girls from our school . This is an annual conference for students from some of the Catholic schools in the Comayagua and La Paz area. The students from our school were selected by their teachers to attend the special day. I was there as a chaperon, along with one of the teachers from the school and one of the house moms from Guadalupe.

The students were so excited to get to leave El Conejo and venture to La Paz, which is only about a 10 minute drive. Before the conference started, we explained to them that they were representing our school and needed to be on their best behavior and participate in all the activities. Since none of them had ever been to anything like this, they were extremely quiet and nervous at first. Believe me, this is not how they normally act.

I was so impressed by the behavior or our students throughout the day. They were extremely respectful of the presenter and I never had to tell them to be quiet. The same cannot be said for the other schools. I was appalled at the behavior of some of the students. Even at the break times, we were having fun, but our students were not running around the school causing problems like the other students.

The day consisted of a bunch of icebreaker-type activities- silly songs with actions that we had to sing or games that involved a lot of running around. There was also a song which involved standing in a line and moving together. It was a competition among the schools to see who could perform it the best. While the leader declared a tie, I definitely think that our kids did the best:) After the kids performed, the leader made all the teachers do the same thing. We were much worse than the kids. They couldn't stop laughing at us.

The day also included some reflections on the Resurrection. We broke into groups and the kids were challenged to think of ways that we could live the Resurrection daily. The groups consisted of a few students from each school. I was put in charge of one of the groups. After explaining the activity to them, they all just stared at me. The students from our school were the basically the only ones offering suggestions. Most of the other kids didn't seem to care. I was so surprised by this. I tried to ask them questions to pull them in to the conversation, but they didn't respond. Instead they just walked away. Eventually a few more helped out, but it was not the kind of participation I was expecting.

At lunch, I was discussing with the other teachers what happened in the small group and they said that they had similar experiences in their groups. One of the teachers then explained to me why there was such a difference between our kids and the other kids. She said that these other schools are very expensive to attend and most of the students are children of doctors and lawyers. She said that because they are from the upper class, they have a sense of entitlement and don't respect authority. Our kids are from the complete opposite end of the spectrum. They don't take anything for granted. While what they get in our schools may not compare to what these other kids have, they know they are extremely blessed to have APUFRAM's help. To them, this was such a special day because they hardly ever get to leave the boarding facilities. They really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and enjoy every minute of it.

After she said this, my observations of the way the kids were acting changed. During a game involving forming groups of a certain number with kids from every school in it, our kids were almost always the ones left out. Watching their faces, it seemed like they knew they were not on the same level as the other kids. It broke my heart to see these kids who are usually so outgoing and not the least bit shy, just stand back and watch everyone else. Once I realized this, I tried even harder to get them involved. By the end of the day, they were themselves again. It didn't matter that we had to bring our lunches while the other kids got to buy hamburgers and chips or that we had to cram on a tiny buy while the other schools rode nice big buses. What mattered is that we were having fun with each other and enjoying a special experience. I guarantee that our kids got a lot more out of the day than any of the other students.

Attending this conference is something that neither the kids nor I will forget. We still sing the songs and laugh about things that happened that day. It is also a motivation for the younger students to study hard and behave. Only the students that the teacher thought best represented our school were chosen, so it was an honor. Hearing about the fun the other kids had will hopefully inspire them to work hard so they can attend next year. The overall message from the day- Christ has risen! Alleluia! May He resurrect every part of our lives so we may be better able to serve Him and others!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Great American Pastime- Honduran Style

A couple of weeks ago, Twana, a volunteer from the United States, came to Honduras for the week. One of her main goals in coming down here was to bring baseball equipment to use with our elementary-school boys at La Villa San Antonio.

So one afternoon, we had an "American Saturday" at La Villa. We started with hot dogs and chips. Many of the boys had never seen or eaten a hot dog before, so they were a little hesitant. They looked at it, smelled it, ate pieces of the bun, then finally took a bite. Once they tried it, they devoured it. It was fun to watch them try something new, especially when it is something that almost every kid in the United States knows and loves.

After the hot dogs, the kids were given a new baseball or basketball shirt and a new hat. They all felt "cool" in their new shirts. I really enjoyed watching them pick out their hats. It was a big decision and they wanted to make sure they got the perfect hat. It is amazing to me how something as simple as getting a new hat makes them feel so special. Usually, they are just given clothes, but being able to actually pick out the hat made it really feel like their own. Some of them have worn their hats every day since.

Now that they were properly dressed like baseball players, it was time to "play ball." While the children are all familiar with baseball, very few of them had actually played it before. They play a version called "bate," which involves them hitting a tennis ball with their hands. It's not quite like real baseball. They were very excited to put on gloves a swing a real bat. It took a lot of explaining to get them to put the gloves on correctly and to hold the correct end of the bat. But once we started playing, they didn't want to stop. I did a lot of rule-explaining while we were playing and while they didn't see the reasoning behind some of it (i.e. foul balls), they actually tried to follow the rules.

I was amazed by the natural talent of some of the boys. For having never played before, some of them were able to whack the ball pretty far, resulting in many home runs. Catching took a little longer to learn, but throwing on target wasn't a problem for most of them. Of course, some of the boys didn't catch on so quickly.   But the boys were patient with each other. Everyone was allowed to play- no exceptions. Even though it was hard for some of them at first, they realized the importance of including everyone. We didn't follow the three strikes and you're out rule for some of the younger boys and no one even mentioned it. When one of the boys who was struggling finally got a hit, the other boys were so happy for him. Even the kids on the other team patted him on the back.

Watching these boys play made me reflect on the true reasons that sports were invented and how much of that has been lost in American culture. Sports bring people together. It is a way to pass a Saturday afternoon with your community. Sports shouldn't involve a lot of pressure or cause people to dislike each other. It should be about a love of the game and sharing that love with others. Of course, winning in nice, but in the end it is about trying your best and supporting each other's accomplishments. I think it would do professional athletes or even some Little League coaches a lot of good to come and watch these kids play sports. Maybe we wouldn't have kids crying because they struck out or other kids being left out or sitting on the bench the whole game because they aren't as talented. Maybe parents wouldn't be getting in fights with each other or the umpires. Maybe, just maybe, sports in the United States would return to what they once were and still are here.

In the end, we had a great day bringing a traditional American activity to these children in Honduras. We ended the day with everyone's favorite thing- cake. These kids go crazy for cake. One of the best things about the day was that we gained a lot of new baseball equipment so that we can continue playing. Who knows, we might have the next member of the Honduran national baseball team in our midst:)

Peace and Blessings,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reflections from a Christendom College Student

Our recent trip to Honduras was an incredible, eye-opening experience in many ways.  Although only a four- hour plane ride away, stepping off of the airplane into the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere from the metropolitan DC area was like walking into a different world.  The first thing that hit us while driving from the hills of Tegucigalpa to the flatter region of El Conejo, where we did most of our work, was the abject poverty of the people.  Many were walking from their houses to the towns barefoot, or riding a pony.  The homes themselves were little more than cardboard, with newspaper serving as a covering for the doors and windows.  The children were carrying heavy loads of fruits and vegetables on their backs to sell at little roadside stands to help their families make a living.  All of these things which seemed so commonplace to them were completely different than we in our modern luxurious society had ever witnessed. 

Soon after our arrival, we were able to meet the children we were going to form a pretty tight bond with before our trip was over.  They were the sons and daughters of abused mothers who lived in a home for women established by the APUFRAM founder “Fr. Emil,” as we called this “Mother Theresa” of Honduras.  The home was built on the same site as an all girls’ school, which we were also able to frequently visit and make friends at.  Spending so much time with these simple, yet blissfully happy children was the highlight of our trip.  We did activities with them like making tie-dye shirts, drawing pictures with crayons and markers, and playing soccer and baseball.  One of the boys told us, “We are poor, but our hearts are rich,” which was visibly apparent with all the Hondurans we came across with.  Those who had almost nothing were willing to share with us foreigners even those few things which they had. They had a bigger impact on our lives than we, who came as missionaries, had on theirs.

All in all, it was a life-changing experience.  We are all deeply grateful to have had this unique opportunity, and thankful to Christendom College for providing it for us.  We would go back in a heartbeat if the occasion arose again, and would recommend the trip for anyone who is willing to give a very little bit to receive a hundredfold in return. 

Elizabeth Twaddle
Christendom College

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yay for Volunteers!

Last week a group of 12 volunteers from Christendom College in Virginia traveled to Honduras to work with our children and APUFRAM. This was Christendom's second year coming to Honduras and it was a very positive experience for everyone. For their work project, the group helped with the irrigation system for 200 new banana plants that were just planted. They all said they wanted to do hard, manual labor so that is what we gave them! They enjoyed learning about agriculture from Emin and Roger, the APUFRAM employees in charge of the project. By the end of the morning, they were tired, but felt good about the work they accomplished.

The group spent their afternoons doing activities with the children at the different sites- the Mother's Project, Guadalupe, and La Villa. They brought materials for every kid to have a chance to tie-dye a shirt. It was a very messy, but fun project that the kids really enjoyed. They loved seeing how they turned out when the rubber bands were taken off. When I went up there this afternoon, nearly half of them were wearing their tie-dye shirts. The volunteers commented on the great joy that they experienced when playing with the children. They said that although they have so little, they were much happier and loving than most of the kids they know in the United States. The last evening they were here, it was very hard for them to say goodbye.

I am so grateful to the Christendom College group for being the first group to come since June. I can't even explain the joy and hope it brought to the kids to have volunteers to play with again. When I got here in September, the kids asked me every day when a group was going to come. About January, they stopped asking, almost resigning to the fact that groups were not coming any more. So imagine their surprise when these volunteers showed up! Now they keep asking me when the next group is coming.

I truly think that this trip changed lives. The kids, especially those new students who have never experienced a volunteer group, were shown that people in the United States truly care about them and love them. I tell them this all the time, but it means so much more when they can actually experience that love and care first-hand. I also think that this trip changed the lives of the volunteers. They all said that they want to come back to Honduras some day, some possibly as a long-term volunteers. We look forward to more volunteer groups and long-term volunteers coming in the future. If you or someone you know wishes to volunteer, please go to for more information.

Peace and Blessings,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

School Days

Saludes a Todos!

Well, the school year is well under way and every day is an adventure. I am teaching English class two days a week and computer class one day a week. I teach both subjects to all six grades. This year, the boys from La Villa San Antonio (our elementary school boys boarding facility) are attending the same school as the girls from Guadalupe. It has definitely been an adjustment for everyone now that we have more boys that girls in the class when last year there were a lot more girls than boys.

There are a lot of new students this year and all the teachers were worried that it would cause a problem in the classes. But once again, the kids have shone like stars at the beginning of the year. The first day, many of the new students would not even talk. They were very confused and visibly nervous. It was easy to tell who was new. But after the first day, some of the "old" students started befriending the new students, explaining things to them, helping them with their work, etc. Now, a little over a week into the school year, it is much harder to tell which students are in their first year here and which ones aren't. One thing I will never get tired of is seeing the tremendous love our kids have in their hearts and how willing they are to share it with others, even someone who may be "different."

The English classes that I am teaching are going pretty well. It is difficult because some of the students have been here for several years and therefore know some English and some of the new kids have never spoken a word of English in their lives. For the most part, the kids love learning English. They always tell me what a "strange" language it is. But we play games and do activities to make it fun, so they love English class even if it a little bit difficult for them. I am amazed by how quickly some of the students pick it up. There are a few that if I teach them a word one time, they will remember it forever. It really speaks to the fact that some people are naturally gifted in certain areas. Once the kids learn a new word, they are very proud of their new knowledge. I love when they come up to me and start using the vocabulary or grammar they have learned.

Computer class is the class that most of the kids look forward to all week. Right now, we only have six working computers and some of the classes have 35 kids. Figuring out how to give them all a chance to use the computer in a 40 minute class has been a challenge. I was so scared the first day of computer class. I was sure that it was going to be a disaster, especially since I was loosing my voice and could not talk much at all. However, God must have been watching over me, because the classes went better than I ever could have expected. The kids can sense when they have to be on their best  behavior and thankfully I had one kid in each class who wanted to act as my "translator." I whispered the instruction and they repeated them to the whole class. I am actually really excited to go more "in depth" with computer class this year. The kids love it so much and know that it is a privilege to be there, so they are generally very well-behaved in class. I think I even found a way to print things that they make on the computer, so they will finally be able to see the finished product that a computer can generate.

Please continue to pray for our children, especially those who may be feeling homesick. We continue to pray for all of our supports.

Peace and Blessings,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sharing and Strangers

Hola Amigos!

Sorry it been a VERY long time since my last post. When I realized that it had been so long, I started thinking about why I don't write as much. I think it is because this life has become so natural for me. Things that a year ago I may have thought of as "something to write home about" now seem normal and I don't think about it as much. Anyways, here are some of the highlights of the last month: 

* The kids have returned. On the day they came back, the first thing a few of them did was come running to my house to see me. It made me so happy to know that they missed me, although probably not as much as I missed them. Many students did not return, which always worries me. There are many reasons that they don't come back, but I don't think it's usually because there parents aren't poor anymore or their living situation has gotten better. I just pray that they are safe and happy wherever they are. I had a few kids tell me that next year, they don't want to go home for Christmas because here people love them and they are much happier. I almost cried when they told me this. I can't even imagine what their home is like if they don't even want to go visit. 

I was very touched as I watched all the kids become reunited with their friends. They were genuinely happy to see each other. It reminded me of moving back to college after summer break, which is essentially what it is for them. Of course, everyone was talking about what they did over their break (which rarely included anything other than staying at home and playing with family and friends). Some of the students returned with new toys and treats from different family members or friends. Some even returned with a little bit of money, which they promptly spent on candy or chips (typical kids). Some children returned with even less than they left with. What I noticed was that the kids who had new things did not brag about them or keep them to themselves. They quickly shared their doll or puzzle and gave their friends candy and chips until there was hardly any left for themselves. This is probably the one of the few special treats they will get just for themselves this entire year (if they get anything else special, usually everyone else gets it too). And without even thinking about it, they shared with their friends and even with the new girls. I find this truly incredible, but not at all surprising from these kids. 

* I had an incredible meeting of fellow Americans on Sunday, "a God moment" as we are calling it. I was treating myself to Wendy's and was just about to leave (literally taking my last drink), when this guy came up to me and said "you look American." We started talking and I found out that he was leading a group of missionaries (from my hometown of CHICAGO!). They work with orphanages around Comayagua. One is literally across the highway from the volunteer center. I see it all the time, but have never visited. They happened to be going there that afternoon and asked if I wanted to join. It is an orphanage for boys and is smaller than our place. After we spent some time there, I took them on a tour of the Mother's Project and Guadalupe. They really enjoyed seeing it. They invited me out to dinner as well. I know that they were complete strangers, but I felt comfortable with them. They were very kind and very interested in my work. 

We also went to the orphanage for girls and younger boys. I was very impressed by how well it was run. The kids all go to local schools and this all seemed to be coordinated perfectly. As I was talking to the girls, I was shocked by how similar they were to the girls at Guadalupe and the Mother's Project. They asked me the exact same questions the girls ask me all the time (is the US beautiful, do I have a boyfriend, what's it like to speak English, how do you say my name in English, etc.) I was surprised by how quickly I felt connected to these girls. Of course, I still love my kids more than anything, but it gave me another perspective. I also got some ideas from their place, the biggest being the beautiful American playgrounds and soccer fields they had. Dreams for the future for us. I was touched by the generosity of this group of strangers to invite me along on their trip and to open their hearts and minds to our kids. They gave me a bunch of clothes and toys for our kids because they saw the need when they walked through. I truly felt the grace of God in connecting me to these people. Now I can look across the street and not think "I wonder what that is" but think about the people and kids I met over there. 

*School is starting on Monday, so we have been preparing classrooms, lesson plans, and class lists this week. We will have over 130 students this year! Several classes have 30 students in them. If we don't find another teacher soon, third and fourth grade will have to be combined, leaving one teacher with 50 students! Please pray for the teachers and children as we start the new school year. 

Well once I started writing, I guess I found a lot to talk about. I hope it was not too long. Please keep all of us in your prayers and we will keep all of you in ours. Thank you for your support of our children!

Peace and Blessings,

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Honduran Christmas

Hola Amigos!

Almost all of the kids are on vacation, so it has been really quiet around here. Most of the kids will be back on Friday and I am SO excited. I was not aware of just how much I would miss them. I find myself thinking about them all the time- wondering what they are doing and if they are OK. I know that for a lot of them, their home lives are not that great (which is why they are here), so I worry about them. Needless to say, I don't know who will be happier that they are back- me or them.

A mom and her three kids and one girl from Guadalupe, the girl's boarding facility, have been here the whole time. The six of us have become like a little family in the last month. We have done lots of fun things together that we wouldn't have been able to do if all the kids had been here. I have really enjoyed getting to know these kids better.

Anyways, I am sure that you want to hear about Christmas in Honduras, so here it is:

*A few days before Christmas, I had the kids that were here come over and make sugar cookies. Decorating sugar cookies was a tradition in my family, so I thought I would try it with them. They were skeptical at first (one even asked if we could watch a movie instead), but once I showed them what to do, they got into it and were good little bakers. I had already made the dough and baked some of the cookies so they could start decorating right away. I had them take turns helping me roll out the dough and cut out the cookies. I tried to find Christmas cookies cutters but couldn't so we made mini animals that I think were made for use with Play-Doh and circles (with a plastic cup as the cookie cutter). They thought it was a pretty cool process. One girl was very good at rolling out the dough and cutting out the cookies. Eventually I just let her do it and I worked on the other things. We ran out of frosting (tragedy) halfway through the cookies. Luckily I remember reading about painting cookies before baking them. So I ran and got the recipe and we painted the cookies. They turned out really cute. It was so much fun to do something that for me was tradition with kids who had never experienced it. They liked it so much that the next day they asked when we were going to do it again. I wasn't planning on it, but next week we are going to make cookies to give the kids and moms as "welcome back" treats. They are counting down the days until we make more "galletas."

* Christmas Eve, we had Mass at the high school and then afterwards we ate tamales (the traditional Honduran Christmas food) and drank hot chocolate. Any kids that were still around as well as APUFRAM staff members and their families attended. It was fun and the food was delicious. The kids had never had hot chocolate before and were scared to drink it because it was hot. Even after 15 minutes, they wouldn't drink it. I finally showed them how to blow on it to cool it off and then to just take a sip. Once they figured out how to drink it without burning their mouths, they couldn't stop. They kept going back for more:) We stayed out pretty late, which was a big deal for the kids. We all slept in on Christmas morning.

* Christmas Day, we had a huge feast at the high school. It was very "Americanized"- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, baked beans, corn, etc- but it was so good. Again, most of this was new food for the kids, but once they tried it they liked it. We all left with very full tummies and big smiles on our faces.

In the evening, the kids and I had "our" Christmas celebration. I brought over some of the cookies we made, we watched a Christmas movie and I gave them a couple little gifts. That is when it really felt like Christmas. When they got their gifts, they didn't even know what to do. I had to tell them to open them and see what was inside. They were just little things from the dollar store (a doll, a foam ball, a Princess toy, a bracelet, etc.), but they acted like they got a shiny new bike. Their faces when they open the presents were priceless. I almost cried watching them look at their new toys. These were the only gifts they got for Christmas and they were so happy. They hardly ever get "new" things, so they didn't even want to take them out of the package at first. But after a while, they were playing with them and thinking of all the things that these little toys could become. Did you know that a "slap" bracelet could also be a telephone and a spoon and a runway for a Barbie doll? Being with these kids on Christmas was such a blessing. It reminded me what Christmas is all about. It is not about the biggest presents or the perfect celebrations, but about being with people you love and sharing the joy and peace of the season.

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year wherever you were. May God bless us all in the coming year!

Peace and Blessings,