An essay about my experience on a mission trip to an orphanage on the outskirts of Tijuana. Click here to hear from Joe Brandi, organizer from Unity 4 Orphans. and volunteers about their trip experience.
Just 20 miles away, there are children across the border who are facing devastating poverty. Parents who cannot afford to take care of their children choose to abandon most of those children. The non-profit organization Unity 4 Orphans – led by founder and director Joe Brandi – is making a positive impact on a sad situation.
Brandi started the non-profit in 2010 to bring light to children left in a dark scenario. Brandi’s roots in humanitarian works stretch back to a mission trip he went on to Kenya in 2009 with the organization “World Orphans.” The staggering amount of kids without parents or parents who were sexually abusive became a sobering reality to Brandi. After his time in Kenya caring for these children, Brandi committed his life to children who do not have parents in their life. Brandi stepped up and took that position for these children and began his fight for a brighter future for orphans.
Brandi began his fight by joining forces with The Rock Church in San Diego, CA. After leading several short-term trips to orphanages in Mexico, Brandi’s vision evolved and Unity 4 Orphans became a reality. Brandi wanted to focus on orphanages that received little attention in Mexico and Latin America and begin to pour his time and love into them. “We are placed in San Diego and we exist for vulnerable and orphaned children in Mexico and Central America,” Brandi says. “Right now we are doing a lot of work just across the border in the outskirts of Tijuana.”
More than 2,000 orphans have been blessed by Unity 4 Orphans actions through their commitment to creating authentic and genuine relationships. The orphans are given the love, consistency, dignity and quality relationships they deserve and a comprehensive edcation.
“We come twice a month to show them dignity and build that relationship consistently, so we go once a month to two orphanages and we’ve done that for eight years,” Brandi says. “Part of empowering them is making them feel special, loved, not abandoned because they’ve all been abandoned by their parents.”
Each month, Unity 4 Orphans visits the same 2-3 orphanages in Northern Baja to create an authentic bond with the kids and directors of the orphanage by being present and consistent with them along with donating food to make sure their supply stock is filled. Brandi says, “We come to give that relationship and to bring food every time in 15 rolling suitcases to help relieve the stress of the orphanage and help raise an extra $1,000 each month for food.”
The service trip I volunteered for, on Nov. 10, began with meeting at Brandi’s house in Pacific Beach, San Diego and proceeded to drive to the Otay border crossing, walked through with all of our supplies in suitcases, and continued to an old school bus, which would take us from Tijuana to the outskirts of the city to a beautiful orphanage, named “Siempre Para Los Niños” or “Always For The Children”, which overlooked the Pacific Ocean and Coronado Islands.
On arrival, the kids were ecstatic to see the school bus carrying 30 volunteers, who took the time out of their lives to pour all the love and affection they possibly could into them for that morning and afternoon. The volunteers and orphans then gathered in the courtyard to pray together and introduce everyone to each other.
During the introductions, it was made clear that the orphans were their own family, children took care of each other, made sure they got enough food and if one of the children started crying a crowd of adopted older brothers and sisters would surround them and make sure they were alright. Although these children do not have families for themselves, they have gathered together to function as a loving family. The older children look after the younger ones and the younger ones help to look after the babies. The director of the orphanage, Joe Flores, says, “It has been a great time, experience with the children who don’t have a family. We are one big family and it has been a great experience.”
The orphanage was proud to announce they hired a new teacher for the children to ensure they were caught up for the grade they were in and to make sure they would succeed in school. “In order for orphaned children and vulnerable children to go to public school, they have to have uniforms, shoes, backpack and school supplies, which can cost between $200-$300,” Brandi says. “I’ve met kids that are four or five grades behind because their parents couldn’t afford to put them in school or the orphanage couldn’t afford to put them in school. We are trying to get them a public education through fundraisers and using the fundraisers to get them tutors to help them get caught up in school,” Brandi says. “We want to hire tutors that will come into the orphanage and get them caught up and teach them English, which will earn them a practical degree which will lead to employment.”
The goal for the children when they leave is to make sure they are self-sufficient and independent with the knowledge they were taught during their time spent at the orphanage. Flores says, “For them, if they’re still here when they get older, we want them to be functional people and involved in society and be an impact to society and function. That’s why we focus in the educational, spiritual, physical areas,” Flores says. “Our teacher is an elementary teacher who works with kids behind in education. They are way behind in the grade that they are in right now so she is working [with them] right now in mathematics, writing and other basics.”
We spent the afternoon playing with the children in the courtyard, making arts and crafts prepared by Charm Agnos, a frequent volunteer with Unity 4 Orphans, “Right now, I’m helping Joe Brandi with crafts, games, mainly once a month when we come to Siempre, I put that together at my house,” Agnos says. “I take that off of him and let him know that it’s covered and handled. I try to do three crafts for 25-30 kids including puzzles, games and stuff like that for them do outside. I know that takes some stress off Joe, so I love doing that for him.”
We were then treated to an authentic Mexican homemade lunch prepared by the chefs at the orphanage. We dived into handmade sopes made with shredded chicken and homemade salsa.
At the end of the day, everyone gathered into the orphanage’s church where the children played music, sang, and received handmade knitted sweaters and beanies from local women who wanted to show their love for the children. The orphans thanked us all for visiting them and coming to their home to provide a day filled with love.
The trip to “Siempre Para Los Niños” left every volunteer and orphan with an experience that affects the mind, heart and will. Volunteers left with an appreciation of what they have and inspiration to change lives not only for orphans, but also in their own communities. On the drive back from the orphanage, volunteers discussed installing a skateboard ramp in the orphanage and providing the orphans with skateboards, helmets and gear to ignite the spark of passion for a sport that allows the children to express creativity and keep them active.
The humanitarian works that Unity 4 Orphans does spans the cultural and physical divide of the U.S. and Mexico border. Bringing two cultures together, despite our differences, for the benefit of the orphans. The love and compassion poured into these orphans from both sides of the border, “represents the human ambition to care for others regardless of political and cultural differences,” Brandi says.
Unity 4 Orphan’s vision accurately reflects what a mission trip embodies: “Fighting for a brighter future where orphaned and vulnerable children experience power and transformation in every area of their lives.”