OAKHURST – Two Yosemite High School students have returned from Tijuana, Mexico, where they spent a weekend helping little kids at an orphanage. For Katelyn Suderman and Jesse Villa-Martinez, and many of the people they met on their journey, it appears to have been a life-changing experience.
“The whole trip started as a project. I was mostly concerned about passing my senior project,” says Jesse, who will graduate with the Class of 2015.
“As soon as I got to Mexico it was a definite culture shock, and being able to help the children really made me sit back and realize how blessed my own life is.” The friends first teamed up last month to raise money for the orphanage by holding a drive-through dinner, gathering clothing and other items, as well.
“The Tri-Tip Dinner was a huge success thanks to all the community support,” says Katelyn’s mom Robyn Suderman, known for cooking ultra-delicious beans at Tri-Tip fundraisers, among many other talents. About a week after the dinner, Robyn, Katelyn and Jesse drove down south and met their ministry in Chula Vista, following them over the border as part of a Spectrum Ministries outreach.
Their first stop was a marketplace to pick up fruit for poor families living in the barrio. On arrival, Katelyn, Jesse and the others pitched in by helping to wash the children’s feet and hair.
“It is hard to put into words the impact that these simple acts of kindness had on us,” Robyn says.
“They separated the girls and boys into different tents and put them into a rotation where, for the girls, we washed their hair, washed their feet, painted their nails, and combed and braided their hair,” Katelyn explains. “Some girls who had lice had to go through a separate rotation for us to comb out the lice, which is where I was working.”
Volunteers then led games for the children, passed out food and clothes and shared with the YHS students their mission of teaching the kids to earn rewards, to serve others and to have hope for a better future, according to Robyn.
“There was a group of six young girls and boys that helped with everything from setting up and tearing down tents to loading and unloading food,” Robyn adds. “We learned that these kids had been taken in and mentored by Armando, the leader of the program in Tijuana. In his words, this is his ‘sixth generation’ of kids. His assistant, Lucas, was one of his first generation. These kids are Mexico’s leaders for tomorrow.”
The next day, the group purchased food for an orphanage that cares for 35 children, from babies to young teenagers.
Armando’s kids showed our Yosemite students the ropes, demonstrating how to prepare the food and package it to travel over the rough roads to the orphanage. Katelyn, Jesse and the others cooked the food, then delivered and served it.
“We spent all day buying the supplies and cooking the meal for everyone,” Katelyn reports. “When we got there all the kids started screaming and jumping around because they were so excited. The second I walked into the gate, a little boy jumped on my back and asked for a piggy back ride.”
After the home-cooked meal, it was time for more games and the chance to earn candy and snacks for later. Katelyn and Jesse also donated money that was used for propane and supplies desperately needed by the orphanage, they say.
“Many of the children in the orphanages are not actually orphans,” Robyn points out. “They are from large families that don’t have enough food for all of their children, so they leave them, hoping that they will be cared for.”
Robyn believes that taking the food, clothing and school supplies to the kids in Mexico was an amazing, humbling and life changing experience for all concerned, especially Katelyn and Jesse.
“I am so proud of them for chosing this project and for seeing it through,” says mom. “I am also grateful that they let me tag along!”
Spectrum Ministries, Armando, Lucas and volunteers care for children in five neighborhoods, and in five different orphanages. There are over 200 kids in the orphanages, and around 50-60 kids in each neighborhood that participate in the programs whenever Spectrum arrives.
Jesse emphasizes how much of a blessing it was to be able to work with the ministry in Mexico. “It was amazing to see how dedicated to the children all the men and women who work in the ministry are.”
Katelyn was reminded of how fortunate she feels to enjoy a life where simple pleasures are abundant.
“I learned how seriously lucky and priveleged we all are, and that we need to be thankful for how readily available all our food and clothes are. Also, anything we can do helps, even if it’s just donating a few dollars, because a few dollars can go miles in Mexico.”
Now that their senior project is complete, Katelyn and Jesse want the community to know how much they appreciate the support.
“Thank you all again for helping with this project and for helping the children in Mexico!”