Home at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora
Reina was just four years old when her mother died—leaving her and her younger sister Norah in the care of their father who often worked long hours away from their home in Capinota, Bolivia. Like most local men, he struggled to earn a living which meant that he frequently traveled far from home for weeks and months at a time in search of work.
Unable to properly care for his children, he ultimately made the heart-wrenching decision to surrender Reina and Norah to the Daughters of the Divine Savior, a Salesian order of Sisters who operate the Hogar Maria Auxiliadora (Mary, Help of Christians Home). Today, thanks to their experiences at “the Hogar,” as it’s affectionately known, the two siblings have grown into compassionate adults who are committed to helping orphaned and abandoned girls rediscover their dignity, their childhoods, and their dreams for the future—in the same loving environment that nurtured and protected the sisters.
Located just outside the Cochabamba city limits, the Hogar is a long-term residential home that offers a safe, structured setting where girls can grow and develop into independent and self-sufficient young women. As many as 45 children, ages 2-17, live there at any given time, and it’s a priority to keep siblings together.
“The Hogar isn’t an orphanage in the way we typically imagine it,” says Megan Schneider, a recently returned Salesian Lay Missioner (SLM) who served there for two years. “Many of the girls do have families, and staff work to reunite them whenever possible. Because this is a lengthy process, regardless of outcome, adoptions are quite rare; if they can’t return to their parents, girls truly do grow up at the Hogar. The Sisters make it into a home, where everyone becomes their new family.”
Like so many vulnerable girls before and after, Reina and Norah thrived at the Hogar. With their basic needs met, and the opportunity to attend school, they were able to escape the poverty and despair that undoubtedly would have trapped them had they ended up elsewhere.
“Both of them have told me that they are grateful their father decided to bring them to the Hogar, because they received the stability, care and education that they otherwise would not have had,” says Megan—who considers it a profound privilege to have worked closely with both siblings during her time in Bolivia. Reina is now a Sister of the Daughters of the Divine Savior herself, who lives and serves at the Hogar Maria Auxiliadora; Norah, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work, regularly visits the Hogar to spend quality time with the girls.
Describing her vocation and placement, Hermana (Sister) Reina says, “I wanted to go to my home where I grew up, where I learned to live virtuously and to value the things they gave me and the other girls.” Reina’s gratitude for the happy, healthy childhood she discovered at the Hogar Maria Auxiliadora runs so deep that she composed a prayer of thanksgiving:
Thank you Lord for my life, for having called me to this wonderful mission
that is Your work, Your life, because I am only an instrument in Your hands.
You guided me from the beginning; You took my life in Your blessed hands…
You wanted me to grow up in the middle of so many children,
receiving the care that the Sisters gave me with affection, love and patience.
In the Hogar I learned to be a good Christian,
I learned to read and write, to be a person with values,
Because they were mothers to me…
You invited me to follow this path…and what motivates me
is the salvation of children and young people, in a special way the most needy.
All this is Your way, Lord, and I have traveled it with all my affection, gratitude and generosity…
As you taught us, Lord, ‘I came to serve, and not to be served.’
Norah feels as warmly about her experience, describing the Hogar Maria Auxiliadora as her second home. “I arrived as a young girl and felt at home and safe,” she says. “I love the girls here very much—they are like little sisters to me. I strive to guide them to follow a good path in life. I grew up very well here—in the Hogar I was accepted, and I learned what to value in life, and most importantly, how to value my own dignity and worth.”
Megan witnessed many similar transformations during her time at the Hogar—transformations which she personally contributed to. There, she fulfilled a variety of roles: providing whatever the children needed, from cooking meals to assisting with homework, from teaching life skills to accompanying them to Mass, and everything in between—including gathering to play sports on the playground. In the process, she developed deep bonds with the girls, much like an older sister would.
“It still catches me by surprise, again and again, how very much I am in love with this place, with my family here, with these girls,” she wrote in a blog post shortly before returning home to the United States in November. “[I find] peace in the simple things: the moments when I witness the girls taking care of so much, so excited to help around the house…to ring the [dinner] bell, to help me serve supper, to supervise the little ones’ limpiezas [washing up], to help with the older girls’ homework and get their younger counterparts ready for bed.”
When her service had come to an end, Megan reflected “the fear, the pain of it, the feeling of my heart being squeezed, has begun to set in. And it all feels impossible that this could end. But I know it will…and I will be oh so very glad for all that has come to pass in-between.”
The Salesian Lay Missioner program is just one example of your generosity at work. By making it possible for a willing young person to serve at one of our mission sites, you are having a positive ripple effect—creating change through education and training. Thank you for whatever you can give to support these and our other meaningful programs.
Learn more about our Salesian Lay Missioner (SLM) program.