[color-box color=”green”][dropcap]One[/dropcap] of the best ways to have a great expat experience is to get involved with giving back in your new community. Sharing stories of compassion and giving is an important thing to highlight to our readers as it showcases the heart of our local community, and nothing warms the heart more than making a child smile on Christmas. Today we have a story of one women’s journey to give back to local children who have so little. Many of you know expat dentist Grace Ordonez, but many of you may not know about her personal initiative to share a little bit of the Christmas spirit. Read on to hear about Grace’s toy drive, now in it’s 20th year, and how you too make a child smile this Christmas[/color-box]
The following interview with Grace Ordonez, DDS – about the twentieth anniversary of her collecting toy, clothing and food donations to gift to Ecuadorian children in mountain villages – took place on October 28th, 2016. Dr. Grace was voted best dentist in Cuenca by subscribers to Gringo Post.
Interviewer: “Dr. Grace, what was the original motivation that started you collecting gifts from Cuencanos to add to your own donations to provide to Ecuadorian children in mountain villages? And I understand that the program has a name for the first time this year. What’s the name?”
(Interviewer’s Note: When Dr. Grace began to answer how the program got started, she became visibly emotional. It’s obvious that the difficult times she faced as a child and the difference she makes for kids through this program are dear to her heart.)
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “It’s called Juguetes Para Los Ninos, or, in English, “Toys for the Children.”
“How it got started is difficult for me to talk about. It goes back to when I was a young child. Our family was very poor, and I don’t recall ever having a toy. It was extremely hard for many years for me to watch all the other Ecuadorian kids who had toys and new clothes.
“When I became an adult, I vowed that if I was ever in a position to help poor kids avoid what I experienced, I would do so. And during the time I practiced dentistry in the US, I would send money to my sister back in Ecuador to help her out. So that kind of got me in the habit of helping others.
“When I returned to Ecuador and opened my practice in Cuenca, I starting mentioning to a few friends what kind of program I was thinking about starting. They unexpectedly started showing up with fruit candies, cooked chicken, and a few other things. When that went over well, it became the birth of the program, and it grew from there.”[/color-box]
Interviewer: “So why did you decide to focus on Ecuadorian children in mountain villages?”
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “It was because they were so poor. Not that there aren’t children in poor families throughout Ecuador. But the small mountain villages are out of sight, so pretty much out of mind. After seeing at the astonishment on the faces of the families who received gifts that first year, I knew that mountain villages was the path I wanted to continue.”[/color-box]
Interviewer: “Early on, how did you decide where the most needy kids and families were?”
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “Believe it or not, a friend suggested I scout out remote areas where garbage dumpsters were provided for the locals. He said kids are always around those areas looking for anything of interest or use. So I did that, and ask them where they lived. Those became my early destinations. That went on for, maybe, eight to nine years. By then, people were suggesting needy places to me that they were personally aware of.[/color-box]
Interviewer: “Please describe how the program works.”
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “Well, I’ll explain how it has always worked in the past, then what’s different this year. Every year in the past, starting in October, my staff and I starting asking my patients to sign up to make a donation to the program. Then, by a certain date, the participants would bring their donations to my office – around mid-December. Once I saw what and how much we had obtained, I would go shopping myself to fill-in with things that we were short of. That might be a certain type of toy or clothing, or just to balance out what we had for boys and girls of different age ranges.
“Then, on the day of Christmas eve, some family-helpers (usually nephews and nieces) and I would load all the donations in the back of SUVs and head for the mountains. Some years we didn’t even know where we would wind up. For example, last year we turned off onto an unpaved road north of Azogues and found mountain villages that I don’t think even have a name.
“We would park in the center of the village, where there were always several or more kids playing, and starting handing gifts out to them. At first, they didn’t think we were for real, but it wouldn’t take long for at least one kid to take a gift and run off to tell their families and friends what was happening. Literally within five minutes, people would starting appearing from every direction to see if it was true.
“We would provide at least one gift to every child and parents with infants, hang around a bit to celebrate with them, then move on to the next village.”[/color-box]
Interviewer: “So what’s different this year?”
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “Well, everything I just described will continue like before. But, this year, I wanted to expand the program with more donations beyond my circle of patients so we could create a bright spot for more unsuspecting kids who have almost nothing.
“So, thanks to some wonderful volunteers, we are adding a toy, clothing and non-perishable food donation party. We’re going to provide appetizers and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshments. Singer Umberto Ballone, who’s very popular among Cuenca expats, will be on hand to lead sing-along Christmas carols. For admission to the party, people just have to donate one or more gifts for the kids. For a little added fun, we’re going to “ring a bell” to celebrate every gift donated.”
“The other huge development is that – to get more exposure and donations for our program – we are working with Hearts of Gold in connection with their holiday gala on December 1st this year. We are so blessed to have their support. They have all the critically important certifications, software and processes in place to meet all Ecuadorian regulations and reporting requirements to accept cash donations. So people can bring donations for us to the gala, but also, for the first time, we can also accept online donations through Hearts of Gold this year.” Also, for every toy brought to the Hearts of Gold Grinchmas Gala on Dec. 1st you will receive a free cocktail compliments of Hearts of Gold.[/color-box]
Interviewer: “What are the details for your own donation party.”
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “It will be on Saturday, November 12th between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM. Since peoples’ schedules will already be starting to fill up with holiday events, we picked that time-of-day so people could participate and still go out to dinner or what have you afterwards.
“The party will be in the Workcenter Building, where my office is located, at the corner of Paucarbamba y Miguel Cordero. There will be signs in the lobby directing people where to go. And there’s lots of street parking, plus a couple of lots across the street.”[/color-box]
Interviewer: “That sounds like fun. Is there a Website about the party.”
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “Yes, it’s www.JuguetesParaLosNinos.info (not .com)”[/color-box]
Interviewer: “So, what sort of gifts do you like to have donated?”
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “Actually that’s one of the things answered on the Website. It would be appropriate toys or clothing for Ecuadorian boys and girls from infants to sixteen-year-olds. And non-perishable food for the parents. We’ve learned that some of the families don’t even have food for dinner on the night we deliver the gifts.” [/color-box]
Interviewer: “So, in closing, what has been the biggest surprise during the twenty years that you’ve been doing the program?”
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: (with a smile) “That we’ve never run out of gifts for all the kids in a village. I mean, if a village had more kids than we had gifts for, it would be heart-breaking. Fortunately that’s never happened, in part because we get more donations every year.”[/color-box]
Interviewer: “Well, it looks like that will continue for years to come with the expanded program you’ve put in place.
[color-box color=”gray”]Dr. Grace: “I never thought it would grow to be this big. It’s a blessing.”[/color-box]
Ready to make a difference and be part of something special? To join Grace’s toy drive party click here for more information. To donate conveniently online or learn about other ways that you can get involved click here.
[color-box color=”green”]Gringo Tree is a large supporter of local charity , including its partnership with Hearts of Gold, and we are always happy to share community efforts with our readers. Have a cause that’s close to your heart or know someone doing something amazing to help our community? Let us know in the comments below or email [email protected]. We are always happy to lend exposure to the things that make this community great; giving back.[/color-box]