UCI’s chapter of American Red Cross took its annual trip to an orphanage in Mexico on May 4-6. Red Cross Club (RCC) members prepared for the event all year, fundraising for the trip by selling KBBQ tacos on Ring Road starting in fall quarter.
Corazon de Vida (CDV), a service organization that provides support to orphaned and abandoned children in Mexico and a long-standing partner of UCI’s RCC, annually invites and hosts UCI students. Along with a Corazon de Vida representative, RCC members rotate between visiting one of five orphanages in Mexico that are easily accessible and are connected to CDV. The day-long trip led by a CDV representative allows members to socialize with the children at the orphanage for several hours.
Supplies and proceeds gathered by Red Cross Club, through fundraising, subsidize the cost of trip for students and are delivered to the orphanage through CDV. Mira Rice, a third-year biological sciences student and member of this year’s RCC board said, “As one of this year’s fundraising co-chairs, I know firsthand how important of a contribution our general members make when they come out to fundraise for CDV with unparalleled enthusiasm.”
This year, RCC members visited Casa Hogar de Maria in Tijuana. The orphanage has received aid from CDV for several years, garnering around half of their monthly financial needs (about $7,000) through the organization. The remaining $7,000 is donated by other clubs and independent organizations. A majority of the budget goes toward providing laundering services and food for the children and staff staying Casa Hogar.
Unlike the child welfare system in the U.S., most children at the Mexican orphanages RCC provide aid to are not adoptable and have at least one living parent. Because Mexico does not have official foster care system, orphanages serve as a makeshift system. Most children in the orphanages come from families who were in constant financial crisis and had no choice but to turn them over to government care. Some children were housed in government holding cells for months before they get placed in orphanages such as Casa de Hogar. Despite being in state custody, the children receive no government aid, and orphanages run solely on donations.
This was Rice’s first year attending the CDV trip. She said, “For people who had so little, [the children] were exuberant and lively. They played with everyone and didn’t discriminate.”
Casa de Hogar is currently home to around forty children, ranging from age two to 21, including several sets of siblings. It is not uncommon to have up to six children from a single family staying at the home. Because of the troubled families many of the children come from, UCI students and volunteers were not permitted to take individual photos with those staying at the home. CDV members explained that the measures were to protect the children; if a photo of a child were to end up on social media, it is possible for the child’s family to track them down and try to regain custody illegally.
Children staying at the home are all in school and rotate responsibilities to maintain the home in their free time. However, even with the care and support provided, many of the children face obstacles in completing their education. They have very limited access to functioning computers, and many have to commute long distances to get to school. CDV is currently raising funds to help purchase newer computers which would allow the children to complete any online assignments they are given.
“At the end of the day we spent there, I wanted nothing more than to come back and give more the very next day … I can’t wait to tackle raising even more money for the children I met with renewed enthusiasm for RCC’s next trip,” Rice concluded.