For the children
Tuite creates permanent home for Nicaraguan Orphan Fund
|U.Va. students spent a week with children from five different Nicaraguan orphanages and a refugee camp.
The students pictured are Ashley Lawson, David Pack, Elizabeth Jetton, Hunter Kingman and Kyle Boynton.
Photos by U.Va. Student Sarah Cramer
By Charlotte Crystal
Tyler Tuite just couldn’t get the orphans out of his mind.
He first traveled to Nicaragua in 1999 with his Virginia Beach church youth group. Spring Branch Community Church emphasizes service to others, “bringing faith and life together,” as part of members’ search for meaning, he said.
“These kids were abandoned, neglected, unloved,” Tuite said. “We tried to love them.”
As a high school student, Tuite took several more trips to Central America with the same group. The church members, aged 16 to 20, took orphaned Nicaraguan children to the beach, to movies and to an amusement park. For two weeks, they ate and played with them.
“Some of these kids did not have a chance,” Tuite said. “They didn’t smile or laugh. We told them they were loved. We played with them on the beach. We held them as they fell asleep. We tried to give them some of their childhood back.”
|Tyler Tuite will graduate on May 22 and plans to stay in Charlottesville to help launch the Nicaraguan Orphan Fund, a group he helped form after visiting the orphans in the poor country.
Arriving at U.Va. in 2001, Tuite began working with Young Life, a national, nondenominational Christian organization that seeks to make a positive impact on teenagers’ lives. For three years, he worked with local teens at The Covenant School in Charlottesville and continues to lead a group of young people at the Orange County High School.
At the same time, he kept up his ties with the orphanage, Casa Bernabe. In the summer of 2002, a number of U.Va. students, including Shannon Murphy, traveled with him to visit the orphanage.
“Shannon just fell in love with these kids,” Tuite said. “She came back and said she wanted to raise money to take other college students back on spring break the next spring.”
So, Murphy and the others raised $11,000 in the following months and gathered a group of 39 interested students (27 from U.Va. and 12 from the College of William & Mary). For the one-week trip during spring break 2003, the students paid $750 each for airfare, food, lodging and activities — so that all the money raised could be turned over to the orphanage for needed projects.
“That trip was really incredible,” Tuite said. “You saw these privileged college students have their lives turned around by seeing the needs of these underprivileged kids and wanting to serve them. A movement started with college students who felt for these people hurting in Nicaragua.”
Upon their return, the group’s task evolved into one of creating a structure to support the movement, Tuite said, so that the energy and concern generated by the student trips could be channeled into a permanent organization. Interested students met and discussed the issues. They formed an organizing committee. They created other committees. They raised money and worked on publicity. They organized three more trips and secured CIO (contracted independent organization) status from the University.
This past December, they incorporated as the Nicaraguan Orphan Fund, which is administered by the University of Virginia Foundation under the auspices of the University’s Alumni Association.
Tuite, now 22 and a fourth-year student with a double major in religious studies and economics, will graduate on May 22. He plans to stay in Charlottesville for the coming year and help launch the new organization.
Why the focus on Nicaragua?
It’s one of the poorer countries in the world, Tuite explained. Nicaragua’s estimated per capita Gross Domestic Product is only a fraction of that of the United States — $2,300 in 2004, compared with $40,100 in the United States, according to the CIA.
And there are a lot of social orphans in Nicaragua, Tuite said. “Most of these children were not orphaned by wars or natural disasters, but because their parents abandoned them. With the economy in such bad shape, many parents can’t support their children. The government’s resources are limited; that’s why churches and other nonprofit organizations have stepped in to help.”
It’s also a beautiful country that’s relatively close to the United States by plane, and it is a place where students can practice their Spanish. Tuite said that about half of the college students who have gone on the trips have been able to communicate at some level in Spanish.
For him, the appeal of the project is both altruistic and personal.
“We all want to help people,” he said. “We all enjoy seeing people smile and laugh. We want to be part of something significant. Our model is how Jesus cares for poor people. Doing this is helping me figure out what my faith is all about.”
‘Shake things up’
Spring break trip to Nicaragua opens students’ eyes
During this year’s spring break, March 5-13, 78 U.Va. students spent the week serving Nicaraguan orphans in five different orphanages and a refugee camp. They took busloads of children to two beaches and an amusement park, threw fiestas, worked in their schools, played games, did art projects and made every effort to give the children back a piece of their lost childhood. They also brought along 120 suitcases filled with clothes, school and medical supplies, toys and shoes to be distributed among the orphanages, the refugee camp and the impoverished town of Veracruz where they were staying.
Here’s what one first-year student wrote about her experience:
Day four: The walk through the campgrounds at Nueva Vida [“New Life”] … sucked every emotion out of my heart, and the only tears … that I’ve shed … this entire trip. Appalling, absolutely horrendous were the conditions of living here. Six, 10, 15 people living … on a tiny parcel of land … maybe a roof over their huts or corrugated metal serving as a door … children without clothing … pigs wandering over everything … horses and chickens sharing space with babies. But the mere images of these people are not what broke my heart. [A] young girl … caught my eye, in her obviously special-occasion, lime-green dress. … She had just come from the little party we had thrown for the kids, and she was clutching a little plastic bag filled with soda and a few party hats. On an impulse, I just walked up to her, knelt down and started a conversation. I told her I loved her dress, and then asked her about her family. I told her I wanted to give her something for them, and handed her … [a small purse with some money]. Her smile was priceless, and she sweetly thanked me, then we turned our separate ways. … By this point my group had gotten completely ahead of me and I was alone, standing in a dusty world of absolute chaos, with malnourished and half-clothed children running everywhere, with emaciated dogs and streams of sewage sharing the ground space. ... I couldn’t stop the tears, being utterly overwhelmed with the sadness and hopelessness hanging in the air. Where do you go from here? How does life get any more hopeless than it is at Nueva Vida?
… How can God give her that life and then give me mine? ... How do I forget about the girl in the green dress, or the babies living with pigs? … I’m left to wonder what can I do, where can I help? Nicaragua? Peru? South Africa? The U.S. maybe? … Vinny said it a few days ago. If you do anything, he said, don’t grow up and have five kids and make tons of money and live your perfect life in a conservative community. Shake things up. Grow up, make tons of money, raise your family, and then give all that money away to other people who need it. Give your time to something great. … I don’t know how [I will], but I know I have to. — Sarah Kish
TAKING THE PARTY TO ANOTHER LEVEL
By Katherine Ward
College Spring Break. All-inclusive packages to Cancun, Panama City, and the Bahamas. This one has VIP party passes; MTV will be at that one. How does a student choose?
Some find it easy. They pick the place where they can help most.
This year, more than 100 U.Va. students spent their breaks doing service projects in various parts of the world, through the student-run organization Alternative Spring Break. Established at U.Va. in 1992, the ASB Service Learning project encourages students to pursue independent academic research in conjunction with their spring break service trip.
This year, the group offered students seven trips to places such as far away as Jamaica, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, and as close to home as West Virginia. Third-year student and ASB president Kathleen Baireuther secured a one-time grant from the U.Va. Parents Program that allowed students to earn $200 toward their expenses by writing a short research paper showing the trip’s academic perspective. “I never thought I would inspire so many people to do such wonderful things with the grant money they received,” Baireuther said.
The 2005 ASB trips included the following:
- Dominican Republic – The group worked with Orphanage Outreach, teaching English in the local schools, assisting with painting and labor projects and working at the Bate Libertad Haitian Village.
- New Orleans, La. – Sixteen volunteers improved urban housing and prepared children for upcoming standardized tests in the city and the surrounding Bayou wetlands.
- West Virginia – Students worked with the Southern Appalachian Labor School to provide education, research and other resources for working-class and disenfranchised people in order to promote understanding, empowerment and change in rural parts of the Appalachian Mountains.
- Guatemala – Students taught in a daycare/preschool called Albergue Hermano Pedro and helped with local community repair and building projects. They also assisted nurses in the Albergue clinic.
- Jamaica – Students worked at Sandy Bank Primary School in Treasure Beach, where they tutored sixth-graders in math, science and reading. Students also assisted with Peace Corps representatives on the island.
- Chesapeake Bay – Working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, students assisted the foundation’s efforts in reducing pollution, improving fisheries, and processing and restoring natural resources such as wetlands, forests and underwater grasses.