Running For A Cause: Part 1

This upcoming Sunday, January 24th, I’ll be running in the Miami Half Marathon to raise money and awareness for Misioneros Del Camino—a home for orphaned, abandoned, and malnourished children in Guatemala. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be writing about Misioneros Del Camino and sharing the incredible background story of one brave woman’s calling from above to make a difference, as well as various success stories of some of the many children who grew up at MDC.

Born and raised in Cuba, Leonor Portela moved to Miami where her husband served as an American Air Force pilot. At the age of twenty-six, Leonor’s husband was called for duty to during the Bay of Pigs, but unfortunately, his plane was shot down and crashed in the ocean. Years later, after hearing about the devastating 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, Leonor was moved to action and decided to assist in volunteer efforts abroad. She traveled to Guatemala to offer her assistance, and was shocked at the country’s destruction and the conditions that the children were living in. After returning to America, it took a few years before Leonor was able to find the financial help and support needed to return to Guatemala and follow through with a calling from above.

In 1986, Leonor sold her home and moved to Guatemala with $2,700 raised by her prayer group—where she opened a Home for children—currently known as Misioneros Del Camino. Leonor, also known as Mami Leo, started the Home with three children, and worked tirelessly to collect donations to bring in more children. One of the first children was a two-year year old girl with tuberculosis who weighed only 12 pounds. Doctors swore that she would have no more than two weeks to live, but she is currently living in the United States with a masters in social work. Another child taken in by Mami Leo had been dipped in scalding water by his parents, and had undergone other atrocious treatments by them as well. Mami Leo carried him in her arms for days, and during that time, he did not move or utter a sound. As she put him to bed on the fourth night of continuously caring for him and holding him, he broke his silence and asked, “Por que me quieres?” which translates to “Why do you love me?” He is currently attending law school and returns to the Home to help out whenever he can.

There are so many children living on the streets in Guatemala—many of whom are suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Mami Leo once exclaimed, “It’s not only saving a child, giving them food and shelter; anybody can do that. But to give love, to make them citizens that are proud of themselves and not ashamed of where they come from, and become good Christians, I think that’s the job.” Throughout the years, Mami Leo has saved, cared for, and provided educational, nutritional, and medical support for thousands of children.

In honor of the work Mami Leo has done, in continuing her legacy, and to help provide a bright future to the current generation of children at Misioneros Del Camino, I am running in this week’s Miami Marathon. If you would like to help contribute to this incredible cause so that we can help fulfill Mami Leo’s mission, please feel free to click on the below link. And if you would like to learn more about Misioneros Del Camino, please feel free to clink on the bottom link.

https://www.gofundme.com/5y82yn78
www.misionerosdelcamino.org 

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Mami Leo’s Legacy Will Always Live On

This past week was a very difficult one because the world lost an incredible human being on Sunday, March 8th. Whenever the medical mission team I volunteer with would go to Guatemala and stay at the orphanage Mami Leo founded nearly thirty years ago, she would remind us to not forget about the children upon our return to the states. Our group stayed at the home for only one week, twice a year, and that’s it. For the other 355 days in the year, Leonor Portela, who was more affectionately known as Mami Leo was at the home with the children by herself. Through the hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, and the days with no electricity, Mami Leo was there protecting her children. It takes a special person to dedicate her life just to provide a life for others, and that’s exactly what Mami Leo did.

I flew out to Guatemala City early Wednesday morning and arrived just in time for a beautiful mass held in her honor. The entire church was packed and there was not an empty seat in the building. Looking around the room and seeing just how many people Mami Leo has impacted throughout her life was an incredible sight, and knowing that this wasn’t even close to the amount of people she saved and inspired was even more incredible. The funeral procession commenced once the mass concluded, and it was just as difficult as you can imagine. When the funeral concluded, we drove to the orphanage in Sumpango, Sacatepequez where we all gathered around and talked, sharing stories of Mami Leo with one another.

We lined a bunch of tables next to one another and sat down for dinner in a long rectangular set-up. I sat by the center table, and as I looked to my left and right, a sense of peace overcame me. It was truly a beautiful sight; the table was filled with children of all ages who had been saved by Mami Leo (some of whom are pictured below). Even young adults who no longer live in the home came back to spend time with Memo Leo before her passing, and celebrate her life following this terrible loss. In looking around and taking in the surrounding environment, I realized the true impact of Mami Leo’s life work. Some of the people sitting at the table were among the first few children Mami Leo took in years ago, and they were sitting here with children of their own whom you can tell are provided with unconditional love and support.

The love that Mami Leo gave to her children has been carried on to their own children, and Mami Leo has successfully helped them break the chain of abuse, neglect, and abandonment in Guatemala. They are well-integrated members of society, many in Guatemala, and some in the United States. And what is just as special is the fact that they all still treasure where they come from, the beautiful home Mami Leo took them into, Misioneros Del Camino.

So while we mourn a tragic loss of what I truly believe is a one of a kind saint, we also rejoice in knowing that Mami Leo’s legacy isn’t going anywhere. We can all come together to help fulfill her mission and dream of providing love and support to such children in need, and more importantly, we will never forget Mami Leo, her work, or the thousands of children whom she is survived by. And as she once said, plain and simply, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Descansa en paz Mami Leo.

Half Marathon Training Weeks 5 and 6

By this point, I’ve come to learn that there’s no point in dreading my daily runs. It’s something that has to be done, so I might as well learn to accept it and try to look forward to it. Okay, so that last part of looking forward to running was a little overboard unless I were to put a Twinkie or donut in front of the treadmill and try running towards that. But with these two weeks of training, I’m officially at the halfway mark of training, with only four weeks left until the half marathon! With the fifth and sixth weeks having concluded, I completed my longest distance run of 10 miles in one day and reached 27 miles throughout week 5 and 28 miles throughout week 6; which to put into perspective is 27 more miles than I even drive each week!

Meet Carlitos, pictured below. In May 2013, Carlitos being only 18 months old, was rescued by the authorities, when his mother was caught beating him. She beat him on a daily basis and would take him out to the yard, hose him down with cold water, then leave him in the sun all day. His skin was charred and scorched by the sun, and had bruises on his face and body, swollen by a form of malnutrition known as kwashiorkor, which, if not treated early, can cause developmental disorders, and death. Carlitos could barely stand, let alone walk. He is currently thriving and doing better than anyone could have expected.

Stories like that of Carlitos are why I am running in this week’s Miami Marathon, and why I continue returning to Guatemala year after year. If you would like to help contribute to this incredible cause so that we can help future children like Carlitos, please feel free to click on the below link. And if you would like to learn more about Misioneros Del Camino, please feel free to clink on the bottom link. http://www.gofundme.com/h8kjvs http://www.misionerosdelcamino.org/index.php

Half Marathon Training Weeks 3 and 4

Going into my third week of training, I had received a generous amount of donations from friends and colleagues, but the donations seemed to have stopped coming in. Running was as boring as I imagined it would be, and no T.V. channel at the gym was able to make it more exciting. I was beginning to lose focus on the end goal, as feelings of doubt continued to arise.  I had to research something on the Internet for school one afternoon, and upon looking up scholarly articles for the assigned topic, I somehow came across the name of the woman who started the orphanage in Guatemala. I looked into the site and found a radio interview with her, which I listened to later that night when completing my daily run. The interview, which can be found at: http://www.catholicemmausradio.org/media/show21.mp3 really helped give me a motivational push to get back on track and realize that I wasn’t just running for myself, but for a cause bigger than me. And with that, I was able to complete my third week of running, in which I had run 23 miles, and by the end of the fourth week, I had run 24 miles.

Born and raised in Cuba, Leonor Portela moved to Miami where her husband served as an Air Force pilot. Three years later at the age of twenty-six, Leonor’s husband was flying for America in the Bay of Pigs, when his plane was shot down and crashed in the ocean. Years later, after hearing about the devastating 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, Leonor was moved to action and decided to assist in volunteer efforts abroad. She traveled to Guatemala to help out, and came back to the States in shock of the country’s destruction and the conditions that the children were living in. Having found her purpose of saving the children of Guatemala, it took ten years to find the financial help and support that Mami Leo needed, thanks to her prayer group.

In 1986, Leonor sold her home and moved to Guatemala with $2,700 raised by her prayer group, where she opened up a home for children, currently known as Misioneros Del Camino. Starting off with three children, Mami Leo, as she is affectionately known, began collecting donations to bring in more children. One of the first children was a two-year year old girl who weighed only 12 pounds, and had tuberculosis as well. Doctors swore that she would have no more than two weeks to live, but she is currently living in the United States as a straight-A student in school. One of the other children that Mami Leo took into her home had been dipped in scalding water by his parents, and had undergone other atrocious treatments by them as well. Mami Leo carried him, mute and lifeless in a harness for days, and on the fourth day as she put him to bed, he broke his silence and asked, “Por que me quieres?” which translates to “Why do you love me?” He now attends law school and returns to the home to help out whenever he can.

There are roughly 10,000 children living on the streets in Guatemala alone. Nearly 100 out of every 1,000 child will die of malnutrition and hunger. As Mami Leo exclaimed in the above interview, “It’s not only saving a child, giving them food and shelter; anybody can do that. But to give love, to make them citizens that are proud of themselves and not ashamed of where they come from, and become good Christians, I think that’s the job.” Throughout the years, Mami Leo has saved and cared for over 2,200 children and has provided interim care for thousands more. During her time in Guatemala thus far, she has provided educational, nutritional, and medical support to over 42,000 children in the country.

This is the reason that I am running in this week’s Miami Marathon, and the reason why I continue returning to Guatemala year after year. If you would like to help contribute to this incredible cause so that we can help fulfill Mami Leo’s mission, please feel free to click on the below link. And if you would like to learn more about Misioneros Del Camino, please feel free to clink on the bottom link. http://www.gofundme.com/h8kjvs http://www.misionerosdelcamino.org/index.php

Not Just an Orphanage, But a Sanctuary and a Home

For those of you who have been keeping up with my blog recently, you know that I just returned from a medical missionary trip to Guatemala. And for those of you who haven’t been keeping up with my blog, well, I just returned from a medical missionary trip to Guatemala. Having traveled with some of the most well-respected doctors in the country and a great group of volunteers, we brought medical attention to those in need in Sumpango, Sacatepéquez (Guatemala). During this incredible four-night, five-day trip, we stayed in an orphanage called Misioneros Del Camino. The story is as follows:

Leonor Portela was widowed with a six month old son in 1961, when her husband, Captain Jose A. Crespo’s military airplane crashed into the ocean. Three days after the devastating earthquake in Guatemala on February 4, 1976 which left 23,000 dead and 100,000 injured, Leonor traveled to Guatemala to care for the victims of the earthquake.

While in Guatemala, she felt a calling from God to help the poor children of that country, so in 1986, with the $2,700 she had raised with her prayer group, she moved to Guatemala to open a Home for the children.

Since then, Leonor, also known as Mami Leo has saved hundreds of kids from the garbage, sides of streets, and those who have been dropped off at the orphanage. Misioneros Del Camino is home to orphaned, abandoned, and malnourished children of Guatemala. The Home offers them a healthy environment to grow in, where they receive love and an education. This prepares them to become productive citizens of the society thus breaking the cycle of ignorance, poverty, and abuse.

Misioneros Del Camino also homes a neurological clinic on site, which helps treat children with various neurological disorders including autism, down syndrome, learning disabilities, attention defect disorders, and many more. Considered the best clinic of its kind in Guatemala, parents from America even send their children here for treatment! The clinic offers seven different therapies per child including speech, vocational, occupational, and others as well. There are currently one hundred and fifty kids being treated in the clinic, with a waiting list of over a hundred more. Treatments, medication, and transportation are all provided, free of charge, thanks to donations.

Misioneros Del Camino provides children with love and kindness, something they have never been accustomed to before. Because of all Mami Leo’s hard work and dedication, these children will grow up and make a difference in the world, because someone was kind enough to make a difference in theirs. Feel free to visit the website and check it out for yourself, but I wanted to devote a whole blog post about this home and sanctuary because it has made such a difference in the lives of our future generations, and is definitely a cause worth fighting for. http://misionerosdelcamino.org/eng/index.htm

Papucho came to the orphanage and his only means of getting around was crawling on his arms. With the necessary therapies, he can now walk and is beginning to work on speaking as well!

Some of the most amazing kids you’ll ever meet in your life!

Mami Leo and some of her incredible children!

Alfonso and his twin brother Sergio came to the orphanage as kids, unable to walk or speak due to the severity of their mental retardation. However, after lots of various therapies, they can now walk, run, dance, speak, and sing!