One day in 1987, while vacationing in Mexico, a tiny child approached me on the beach, dragging a bag of trinkets. I searched in vain for her parents, thinking she was lost, but I soon realized she had been left all by herself to peddle her trinkets to tourists.
I gleaned that her name was Sara, and she was only four years old. Her hair was matted, her clothes were tattered, and her little feet were burned by the hot sand. I stuffed some money into her bag, but I felt utterly helpless as I watched her walk away and disappear into the landscape. That day, I made a silent promise to someday help the “Saras” of the world.
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Years later, my husband and I traveled to Bolivia to adopt our first child. Although I was blessed to have a beautiful new daughter, I was shocked by the living conditions of many of the children. Everywhere I turned, I saw children who reminded me of Sara, but this time I refused to feel helpless.I learned about a back alley orphanage from a group of Canadian college students I ran into one day. They told me about 35 severely neglected children living in deplorable conditions. Calling friends and family in the U.S. to ask for donations, and soliciting the help of the Canadians and our taxi driver, we managed to fix up that particularly horrific orphanage. We installed toilets and made other repairs to the buildings, found doctors to examine and treat the sick children, installed a kitchen and purchased healthy food. We even convinced the Bolivian Symphony Orchestra and others from the community to perform for the children and were instrumental in getting the orphanage director put in jail for his abuses. Casa de Sara was born in my heart with that project.
When I returned home to the United States I formally started the organization – named in honor of the little girl from the beach – so that I could work fulltime to help impoverished children. Today, Casa de Sara is firmly established in La Guardia, Bolivia. Our Escuelita (“little school”), which is dedicated to early childhood education, is a safe and loving place where impoverished children receive a quality education, daily meals, vitamins, and more. For the young women in the community, we created the Sarita (“little Saras”) program, which allows them to receive a college scholarship and serve as teachers’ assistants in order to earn income. We also have a Clinica program that provides medical care for the children in our school and healthcare seminars for the families in the surrounding community.
Each year we continue to advance our mission. In 2016, Casa de Sara will begin to grow into communities in the USA and address the needs of at-risk and impoverished children. Beginning with our Building Boys program, we will focus on addressing the needs of at-risk middle school boys, a group that sometimes is overlooked. Building Boys teaches boys how to build gazebos. From the architectural plans to finished products, boys will connect with experts in the community who will not only teach building skills, but serve as mentors to build life skills. The boys will give back to the community by donating the gazebos to select places in the city.
Casa de Sara helps children so that someday they will help themselves and future generations. It is through the help of generous donations that Casa de Sara continues to serve children in both Bolivia and the USA. I want to thank all of those who have supported Casa de Sara through the years and hope that more of you will join us in making a difference for children in our communities and in our world.
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“That day, I made a silent promise to someday help the Saras of the world.”
– Lori Santoro