Second Christmas, Second Chances

When his grandfather died and his mother turned to drugs, Hernando’s world collapsed. Now that he is part of NPH Dominican Republic, he and his two siblings can’t wait for their second Christmas at Casa Santa Ana.
December 15, 2020 - Dominican Republic

For Hernando, the most beautiful and exciting time of the year is Christmas. He loves to see the Three Wise Men and the Christmas lights.

Hernando is 10 years old. He joined the NPH Dominican Republic family January 2019 with this two younger siblings, Leila and Fabio. This year will be his second Christmas at Casa Santa Ana, and if his first Christmas is anything to go by, he is definitely looking forward to the festive season this year.

The first nine years of Hernando’s life have not been easy. He has a mother. He doesn’t mention a father. When he was 7, his grandfather Pedrito, who had become the principle caregiver for Hernando and his siblings, collapsed and died at their home in Gualey, a marginalized neighborhood in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo.

“He died from a heart attack, caused by thrombosis. Hernando doesn’t like to talk about it much. It is obviously tragic for him, as his grandfather was a father figure and his guardian,” says NPH Social Worker Chiara Mejia.

Gualey is an hour and a quarter from the NPH Dominican Republic home. With a population of approximately 13,500 people, most of whom live in poor, resource-deprived conditions, the neighborhood has garnered a dangerous reputation throughout the country. Conversely, it has also become an area visited by tourists who come to see the swimming spots and experience the rich cultural heritage of the Gualey residents, with day excursions advertised to the area. Whereas tourists spend an entertaining few hours in Gualey, daily life was very different for Hernando.

The area sits on the banks of the heavily polluted Ozama River. Due to high unemployment, the need to survive leaves sectors of the population struggling to earn a living through crime and illegal means, which Hernando saw with his own eyes.

“Gualey is a hot zone where I saw many bad things happening around me. I have seen stabbings using machetes, robberies, prostitution, and drugs,” says Hernando, speaking frankly about the situation. “I witnessed those close to me take drugs several times, both marijuana and cocaine.”

One of those people was his own mother, who he watched spiral out of control without a real understanding of the precarious situation he was in. She kept company with “bad people,” he says; however, with no awareness of drug addiction and its consequences, he saw all this as normal. As his mother’s addiction grew worse, so did his living situation. He admits there were days when he didn’t know if he would eat; instead, he would go hungry in the streets. There was also a time when his mother turned to illicit means to put food on the table for her three children. At other times, the neighbors, witnessing the situation, helped provide food if and when they could.

Soon after the sudden death of his father, Hernando’s mother began to suffer from acute psychological problems and was admitted to Hogares Crea, a Dominican nonprofit institution that supports people to overcome drug addiction. It was then that the Dominican children’s social service agency Consejo Nacional para la Niñez y la Adolescencia (CONANI) took charge of Hernando and his siblings. The children were placed in a transitional home, Hogar de Paso Azúa, for a short period before being transferred to NPH Dominican Republic.

“At first, I didn’t want to be here,” he explains. “I felt scared, lonely, and sad, and despite everything that had happened, I wanted to return to be with my family, friends, or the other homes I had been in.”

Since entering Casa Santa Ana, Hernando, Leila, and Fabio have received continuous essential support from caregivers and psychologists as they come to terms with trauma stemming from the violence and drug abuse they witnessed and, over time, they learn how to cope.

“Now that I am part of the NPH family, I love the NPH bond, and I am so happy,” he says, with tears rolling down his cheeks. “I now realize that everything I have here is everything I have always dreamed of.”

NPH has changed Hernando’s life, his way of living, and how he thinks. He feels he is not the same boy he was two years ago and is now so happy to have the opportunity to go to school and receive a good education, which he lacked before. He also expresses how eternally grateful he is to NPH for his education, his health, to have a balanced diet, emotional support, a roof over his head, and for all the affection he receives from the NPH family.

“It was very challenging for Hernando and his brother and sister at first,” admits Chiara Mejia, “As they were being moved around, they felt emotional and displayed some challenging behavior. But now they are thriving. Hernando is in third grade, and his teacher tells me that he participates in class and wears a big smile.”

With Christmas on the horizon, we are now heading for Hernando’s favorite time of year. He loves to see the Three Wise Men and the Christmas lights. He also loves to share the time with friends, visitors, and his godparents, not to forget the exchange of Christmas gifts and activities carried out with the NPH family.

“I sometimes think about the past at this time of year when I was not part of the NPH family. We never had Christmas with my own family. We never even knew which month it was celebrated.” Now he feels happy and lucky to be able to enjoy and understand the concept of the season, and expresses great excitement for Christmas 2020, although he knows it will be a little different due to COVID-19. Even so, he says that he will enjoy these Christmas holidays equally with great satisfaction.

His hopes for 2021 are to see the world free itself from this pandemic and return to normal, to be able to return to school and continue with his studies, and also that you—supporters of NPH—get to spend it with loved ones and family.

“Merry Christmas,” says Hernando, with his famous big smile.

*Names changed to protect child’s privacy.

Are you able to support a student like Hernando this Christmas? Please donate to NPH Dominican Republic by visiting Make a difference.

Adonis Pio   
Communication Officer

You may be only one person in the world, but you may be all the world to one child.
—Fr. William Wasson




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