Congratulations to BruinHope, a student organization at UCLA and Winter 2012 winner of the Bruin Heroes Award. BruinHope was awarded for its commitment to the youth at La Tribu de Jesus Orphanage in Tijuana and in overcoming unique challenges as a project that holds site in Mexico.
“It’s a whole other degree of poverty,” said Sabrina Ponce, Second Year History student and Finance Director of BruinHope. Ponce is referring to Tijuana, where she and other UCLA students in BruinHope visit youth at La Tribu de Jesus Orphanage twice per quarter. “You don’t need to go far to see poverty- immigration, drug violence that’s directly affecting these kids. The houses are falling down. It’s very different from the bad part of LA. It’s a whole other degree of poverty; we are that close to it. There is social injustice, and the government is very corrupt in Mexico.”
“Some of the youth at the orphanage have parents who use drugs or are in jail,” said Felisha Corona, Fourth Year Anthropology major and Transportation Director, adding that parents who successfully complete rehabilitation can be reunited with their children. “Some of them don’t have parents at all; they are left at the front gate.” Others have parents or guardians who are unable to care for them, such as the single mother who is blind and HIV+ with three girls.
“Ever since we started going, they’ve learned to trust people more,” said Luis Pelayo, Fourth Year Earth and Environmental Science Major and Executive Director of BruinHope. “Some of the children have been through many kinds of abuse,” Luis said, recounting that one of the boys was afraid of water when he first arrived at the orphanage because he had been abused using water.
“We go consistently and the children see that we want to help them. We’re bigger than them, so just that we’re giving them individual attention can really impact them,” Pelayo said. Out of the groups that come to visit the orphanage, BruinHope is the only organization that interacts directly and consistently with the children there.
In 2005, when BruinHope started, it was an art-based program that provided the youth an outlet by which to express themselves through art. Starting last year, however, BruinHope has implemented educational modules on topics such as dentistry, personal hygiene, nutrition, and English. “[The children] like learning English and are smart. They have dreams and want to go to school and learn,” Corona said.
BruinHope also brings donations to the orphanage, based on what the orphanage coordinators say is needed. “We take down there food, special supplies such as for cleaning, feminine products, and products for personal hygiene. We also take personal donations such as clothes and anything that our volunteers have to donate,” Corona said. “They don’t have a lot of food- even when we just bring food they are so happy. They really like drawing and they don’t even have paper or pencils. Just bringing that was beneficial for them.”
Due to the location of its site, BruinHope faces unique challenges as a student organization, particularly with regards to safety. “Before each of the trips, we monitor the news to see if there’s anything going on specifically in Tijuana. We take as many precautions as we can: if we have more than one car we have radios for communication. We never drive at night, but if it’s dark we’ll already be at the border crossing line, so we’re safer. We tell the volunteers never to wear something expensive,” Pelayo said. “We address the concerns that volunteers may have. We provide them with basic Spanish phrases; if more than one car gets separated, they know how to find their way around. We have at least one native Spanish speaker in each of the vehicles and at least one that has been to the orphanage before.”
If you are interested in donating to BruinHope, the biggest needs at the orphanage are shoes, clothing, and other food items. BruinHope is also accepting volunteers, especially those over 21 who can drive or who have a personal vehicle and are willing to drive to an unforgettable experience.