|In the Mexico, Dia del Niņo, the Day of the Child is celebrated on April 30th. On November 20th, 1959, the United Nations suggested the world have a special day devoted to its children. Mexico already had a very important holiday, Revolucion Day on November 20th, so the government selected April 30th to be the day devoted to children in Mexico.
Throughout Puerto Vallarta, special events are planned for the children on this day. Most schools hold events, races, dancing and fiestas. On the Malecon, children and parents attend the carnival like atmosphere of activities, featuring music, dancing, games, clowns, contests and prizes. At home, many children are served their favorite breakfasts, or find a special treat awaiting them before going to school.
Unfortunately, there is a large group of children who do not have parents or immediate family that can provide for them a special day. These are the children at Refugio Infantil Santa Esparanza, (Children's Shelter of Hope) a completely non profit orphanage that provides food, shelter, and love to the less fortunate children of Vallarta.
In late 2000, the Catholic Church donated an abandoned building to R.I.S.E. Months of hard work and intensive repairs and construction allowed R.I.S.E to open their doors in March of 2001. Originally built to house 22 children, R.I.S.E now has 34 children and needs to expand for the growing needs of the community.
Most of these children at R.I.S.E. are orphans or they have come from unbearable situations having been abused, neglected, or simply abandoned. Some have been transferred from other facilities because of overcrowding and many have been in institutions for most of their young lives. While DIF's main objective is to reintegrate these children with their families, this is not always possible and that is where R.I.S.E. comes in to help.
Sudy Coy, the spokesperson for R.I.S.E, benefactor and volunteer spends countless hours with the children as well as organizing events to raise money and the multitudes of other jobs it takes to keep a non profit organization on its feet.
"We are overcrowded and at times have to turn children away.This has made it necessary to expand our facilities. We need $39,000 USD dollars more to complete the next wave of construction and projects, such as more dormitories, bathrooms, showers and a homework room. While we have raised an amount that will get us started on next level, even after completion, we will always have needs."
Carmen Berkowitz, Sub-Treasurer knows exactly how much it takes to keep R.I.S.E. operating. "We require a minimum of $2000 USD a month to operate. For food, juice, cleaning supplies, clothing, medical needs and toddler diapers." This is an ongoing need, so once the $39,000 US is raised, they will still need donations for the necessities.
While they hold benefit parties to raise money for the big projects, they rely on contributions from local organizations as well as the many visitors and tourists who donate goods and money to help them survive. And survive they do, sometimes on a shoe string, but, so far they have managed to provide not only the basic necessities to the children, but the most important ones as well, love and hope.
Five Catholic nuns live on site with the children at R.I.S.E. During the day, many volunteers come in to help, to teach, the feed, to change diapers, which they desperately need, to share smiles, wipe tears, and to give love.
Sasha Fudio, from England is at R.I.S.E on a six month volunteer program before going to the University. "These children amaze me. Everyday someone surprises me and everyday something happens that touches me in countless ways. One day the little boy who never hugs will not let me go, a little girl who would never smile starts laughing." When asked what she felt was special about Dia del Niņo at the shelter, Sasha replied, "Most of these children have no one, like no one to come and see them at their school productions. Today one of our oldest girls was in a dance production at school for Dia del Niņo, since we are her family, we went to see her dance, take photos, share her life with her."
Linda Ritson, another volunteer from Scotland adds that "the children are so trusting, and so loving, and in the end, they give me more than I give them."
If you plan on being in Vallarta long term and interested in becoming a volunteer at R.I.S.E, or you are visiting Vallarta and would like to donate goods or monetarily, you are more than welcome to visit the orphanage. For more information, visit their website Refugio Infantil .
Besides R.I.S.E., there are many organizations who reach out and help the children. The America Mexico Foundation/Becas Foundation sends hundreds of less fortunate children to school every year through their fundraising and administrative efforts. International Friendship Club also sponsors needy children in a variety of ways, as well as Casa Hogar, D.I.F and the Eagle's Wings Foundation.