When BuddhiBox Founder, Maxine, first asked me to write an article about Corazon De Vida, the name instantly sounded familiar. It was not until I met George that I was able to make the association — my friend, yoga teacher and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Mandy Burstein, was the connection. Mandy has partnered with Corazon De Vida for 9 years.
Maxine connected me to George Perez, a board member of Corazon De Vida via email. I received a prompt response from him and we arranged a visit for the following week. I invited my friend and photographer, Linda Halabi, along for the journey. We were instructed to meet George behind an IHOP near the Otay Mesa border-crossing to Tijuana, Mexico. Prior to crossing the border, Linda, George and I stopped at CDV’s storage unit. As we journeyed to the building, George explained the challenge of donated goods. The Mexican Customs Office is very strict, they levy heavy taxes on items transported. At the storage unit, George collected a small box of supplies — shampoo, conditioners, soaps and the such. Since there were three of us in his truck, he said the quantity he packed would not be scrutinized as we crossed.
The border crossing at Otay Mesa is under heavy construction. At the time we crossed around 10:30AM, there was light traffic — it took less than a few minutes for the patrol to search of our car. We traveled approximately fifteen minutes from the border to the first orphanage we visited. The border is only twenty minutes from my apartment. For me, it was hard to comprehend that the location was less than thirty-five minutes from where I live.
En route to our first destination, George shared the history of Corazon De Vida and described, in detail, their program and the means in which they distribute resources. Corazon De Vida provides funding and support to over seven hundred children in ten orphanages throughout Tijuana and Ensenada, through their three programs: 1) Sustaining life — food, water and utilities, 2) Improving Quality of Life — facility repairs, basic medical and dental services, and enrichment programs, and 3) Education – uniforms and supplies for primary and secondary education and a continuing education program to help teens aging out of the orphanage system though college or technical school. Corazon De Vida translates to “heart of life” — watch this amazing video that emulates their mission to serve:
The video says, “at Corazon De Vida, we are family”. Family is what I experienced at all three homes.
On the way to our first site, the last ninety seconds of our drive was by far the most intense. The road was steep and cut with deep indentations. It was likely the least smooth road I have yet to traverse.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a pack of sleepy, passive dogs. Some of the kids were helping in the kitchen, while other children prepared for school. Half of the children attend school in the morning and half of the children attend school in the afternoon. On the way to the site, George explained the dynamics of the welfare state in Mexico.
Eighty-percent of children living in orphanages are wards of the state. The state provides zero financial compensation to the orphanages for housing the children — nevertheless they heavily regulate the structural integrity of the properties. If the organization does not have the funds to make the updates, the state will close their doors and displace the children.
The first site we visited was directed by a pastor, his wife, Carmen and their family. What began as a small operation through their church has evolved to eighty plus children and counting. Most of the children referred to Carmen as “mama”. The children, dressed in their clean uniforms, were grounded, engaged and polite.
At the second site, I experienced the same family feel. Director, Juan, explained that many of his children arrive broken. He said, they give their children more than shelter and food — they teach them to love, trust and grow. It was heartwarming to witness the love Juan received from the children as they arrived home from school, happy to see their “father”.
After visiting the third site, we met a young woman for dinner. She is preparing to attend University on a Corazon De Vida scholarship. Her story echoed the sentiment Corazon De Vida founder, Hilda, shared with me over the phone. Once an orphan herself, Hilda strives to make Corazon De Vida a “consistent support for their [partner] orphanages”.
As CDV’s fundraising efforts have grown, instead of expanding their outreach, they have expanded the services they provide to their partners:
“We want to go deep with the homes we are supporting… continuing to provide support through college and technical school.”
Consistency and family were the words most frequently used by Hilda — sentiments that link back to CDV donor involvement:
“There is a family feel with our donors, with our volunteers. We know each other, we do things together, our supporters watch the kids grow. They KNOW that their support and their involvement makes a DIRECT difference. It’s something they can see, they can follow, they can be a part of… It’s right here. It’s palpable. It’s tangible.”
In addition to providing financial resources to orphans in Tijuana and Ensenada, Hilda said CDV is “creating awareness [within Mexico] and it will be a slow process”. She explained, “Mexicans do not want to believe there are kids with families that do not want to take care of them. Mexico is a family oriented country. A lot of locals did not know the orphanages existed and those that did know assumed that the government was taking care of them.”
When I asked her what CDV was doing to eradicate the injustices present within Mexico’s Children and Family Services, she confidently said:
“I am SURE our kids will be the ones working on the system. Our work is possible because someone cared enough to help me. Corazon de Vida is the result of that seed that was planted when I was in an orphanage — we’ll be able to see that a million times over with our kids.”
$75 US Dollars provides one child with their basic needs: education, food, water and utilities. Moreover, it frees the directors of the orphanages from their financial burdens and provides them more time to give love and joy to their children. Join the Corazon De Vida Family:
- Spend a day eating pizza, playing games and making crafts with the children. Corazon De Vida hosts monthly bus trips departing from Southern California.
- Mark your calendars! Attend an event