In Mexico, orphanages are disappearing. So the government is stepping in to protect children from neglect or abuse, and trying to place orphans or abandoned children with substitute families.
But an American couple there is creating a new model. They've made a community for orphans, where the children can grow up in a family atmosphere.
Bill and Tammy Woods started out decades ago, working on youth ranches, and at a Romanian orphanage.
"We started out with eight kids, then before long there was 20. Within a year we had 40," Tammy recalled. "We found that as it grew, then we lost the family atmosphere."
"The first 20 kids were very healthy emotionally," she added. "But then what happened with adding so many other children to the mix that you couldn't meet all their emotional needs."
A Place to Call Home
Bill and Tammy don't have children of their own, but believe every orphan needs a loving family.
"When you put a bunch of children into a large building, you can maintain them, you can take care of their basic needs of clothing and schooling and food, but in terms of being able to get those hugs and the time one on one, they lose it," Bill explained. "And when a child begins to lose that, then something happens in their soul, something happens in their personality."
So the couple set up their Beacon of Hope orphanage like a home.
The concept has resulted in the emotional and physical restoration of dozens of children.
Like Carmita, a brutally-abused autistic girl, who over the years has been restored and turned into a happy young lady.
"Many of these kids will never be adopted because their parents have parental rights, but they can't keep the children, so we keep them in long-term care," Bill said. "We function as a family. We tell the children, 'Yes, to the world this is an orphanage, but to us this is family.'"
The Family Village
Three years ago, the couple branched out and began a new project called The Potter's Ranch. There, they can take care of more than 200 children.
"We have the building for production of rabbits, cattle. We have fruit trees. We're also putting in greenhouses. All for the purpose of sustaining the work with what's produced here," Bill explained
The ranch will also have tilapia tanks, gardens, a concrete block factory and community homes.
"We're designing it with 20 homes to begin with. There will be a school in the area," Bill added. "Everything they would find in a little village so that they'll feel that this is normal."
The ranch is designed to be self-sustaining, and to host visiting work teams.
"The goal is to make it self-sufficient, so that we're not always looking for others to give. And it's also healthier I think," Bill said. "The kids can work there. They can learn to work with their hands, and be outside, and work with the animals. And then that way when they leave they can have a life.
Bill, Tammy and their team hope that with God's help they can establish loving families that will serve hundreds of Mexicans for generations.
--Published Aug. 19, 2011.