Christmas is a happy time of year for our kids, especially for 10-year-old Hernando*. He joined our NPH Dominican Republic family in 2019 with this two younger siblings, Leila and Fabio. This year will be his second Christmas at our home. If his first Christmas is anything to go by, he is definitely looking forward to the festive season this year.
The first nine years of Hernando’s life were not easy. His main caregiver was his grandfather as his mother was unable to care for him. They lived in a poor and marginalised neighbourhood in the capital, Santo Domingo. Tragically, when Hernando was just seven years old his grandfather collapsed and died at home.
“He died from a heart attack. Hernando doesn’t like to talk about it much. It is obviously tragic for him because he was a father-figure and guardian,” says NPH social worker, Chiara Mejia.
Their neighbourhood, Gualey, is an hour from our home, with a population of approximately 13,500 people from poor, socially-deprived backgrounds. On the banks of the polluted Ozama river, Gualey has gained a dangerous reputation throughout the country. Due to high unemployment, and no social support, many people resort to crime to put food on the table.
Hernando speaks frankly about the situation, “Gualey is a hot zone, where I saw many bad things happening around me. I have seen stabbings using machetes, robberies, prostitution and drugs. I saw many people take drugs.”
One of those people was his own mother, who he watched spiral out of control. As his mother’s drug addiction grew worse, so did his living situation. Hernando admits there were days when he didn’t know if he would eat. Instead, he would go hungry, sometimes begging on the streets.
There was a time when his mother turned to crime to put food on the table for her three children. At other times, the neighbours felt sorry for the kids and tried to provide food. Soon after the sudden death of her father, Hernando’s mother began to suffer from acute psychological problems and was admitted into a non-profit rehab facility. It was then that social services brought Hernando and his two siblings to NPH.
“It was very challenging for Hernando and his siblings at first,” admits social worker Chiara Mejia, “They were upset and had some challenging behaviour. But now they are thriving. Hernando is now in the third grade and his teacher tells me that he participates in class with a big smile.”
Hernando says with tears in his eyes, “Now that I am part of the NPH family, I love the bond and I am so happy. I now realize that what I have here is everything I have always dreamed of.”
With Christmas on the horizon, we are now heading for Hernando’s favourite time of year. “I sometimes think about the past…We never had Christmas with my own family. We never even knew which month it was celebrated.”
Hernando is looking forward to Christmas this year, even though it will be a bit different because of Covid19. Hernando hopes that 2021 will see the world free from the pandemic. While he has enjoyed home-schooling this year, he can’t wait to be back with his teachers at the school on our property.
Thank you for helping us bring Christmas joy to vulnerable children and families in the Dominican Republic at this challenging time.
If you’d like to help children like Hernando this Christmas, please check out our NPH Christmas Gifts.