Second Christmas, second chance

When his grandfather died from a heart attack and his mother turned to drugs, Hernando’s* world collapsed. Now he is part of the NPH Dominican Republic family, he and his two siblings can’t wait for their second Christmas at Casa Santa Ana.  

Hernando with his brother and sister
Hernando with his brother Fabio and sister Leila

Hernando is 10 years old. He joined the NPH Dominican Republic family in January 2019 with his two younger siblings, Leila* and Fabio*. This year will be his second Christmas at Casa Santa Ana, and if his first Christmas is anything to go by, he is definitely looking forward to the festive season this year. 

A family tragedy that changed everything

The first 9 years of Hernando’s life were not easy. He has a mother. He doesn’t mention a father. When he was 7, his grandfather Pedrito, who had become the principle carer for Hernando and his siblings, collapsed and died at their home in Gualey, a marginalized neighbourhood in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo.  

“He died from a heart attack, caused by thrombosis [a clot inside a blood vessel]. Hernando doesn’t like to talk about it much. It is obviously tragic for him, as his grandfather was a father-figure and a guardian,” says NPH social worker, Chiara Mejía.  

A tough time in a dangerous neighbourhood

Gualey is not far from the NPH Dominican Republic home. It has a population of approximately 13,500 people, most of them poor. The neighbourhood has built a dangerous reputation throughout the country. Conversely, it has also become an area visited by tourists who come to see the swimming spots and experience the life of the Gualey residents. However, whereas tourists only spend a few hours in the neighbourhood, daily life was very different for Hernando.  

Modest house with children's clothes hanging outside
Gualey neighbourhood where Hernando lived
(Photo: Fran Alfonso)

The area sits on the banks of the heavily polluted Ozama River. With unemployment high, some turn to crime to survive. Hernando saw this with his own eyes.

“Gualey is a hot zone, where I saw many bad things happening around me. I have seen stabbings using machetes, robberies, prostitution and drugs,” says Hernando, speaking frankly about the situation. “I witnessed those close to me take drugs several times, both marijuana and cocaine.”  

A family struggling to cope

One of those people was his own mother, whom he watched spiral out of control without a real understanding the precarious situation he was in, keeping company with whom he calls “bad people.” However, having not received any formal education about drug-taking and the consequences, it was the norm. As his mother’s addiction grew worse, so did his living situation. He admits there were days when he didn’t know if he would eat; instead, he would go hungry on the streets. At other times, neighbours provided food when they could. 

A turning point for Hernando and his siblings

Soon after the sudden death of her father, Hernando’s mother began to suffer from acute psychological problems. She was admitted into a Dominican non-profit institution that supports people addicted to drugs to break their habits. It was then that the children’s social services in the Dominican Republic (CONANI) brought Hernando and his siblings into care. They stayed at the government-run transitional home, Hogar de Paso Azúa, for a short period before arriving at NPH.   

“At first, I didn’t want to be here,” he explains. “I felt scared, lonely and sad, and despite everything that had happened, I wanted to return to my family, friends or the other homes I had been in.”   

Helped to feel happy and secure again

Since entering Casa Santa Ana, Hernando, Leila and Fabio have received continued support from caregivers and psychologists as they come to terms with the situation, the dangers of drugs, and how to cope with the trauma they witnessed. 

“Now that I am part of the NPH family, I love it and I am so happy,” he says, with tears rolling down his cheeks. “I realise that everything I have here is everything I have always dreamed of.”  

Hernando showing off his school work
Hernando thriving at school at NPH Dominican Republic

NPH has changed Hernando’s life, his way of living and how he thinks. He feels he is not the same boy he was two years ago. He is so happy to have the opportunity to go to school and receive a good education, which he lacked before. Hernando also expresses how eternally grateful he is to NPH for his education, his health, to have a balanced diet, emotional support, a roof over his head, and for all the affection he receives from the NPH family. 

“It was very challenging for Hernando and his brother and sister at first,” admits Chiara, “As they were being moved around and they felt emotional, they had some challenging behaviour. But now they are thriving. Hernando is in third grade and his teacher tells me that he participates in class and wears a big smile.”  

Looking forward to Christmas

With Christmas on the horizon, we are now heading for Hernando’s favourite time of year. He loves to see the wise men and the Christmas lights. He also loves to share the time with friends, visitors and his sponsors, not to forget the exchange of Christmas gifts and activities carried out with the NPH family.   

“I sometimes think about the past at this time of year when I was not part of the NPH family. We never had Christmas with my own family. We never even knew which month it was celebrated.”  

Now Hernando feels happy and lucky to be able to enjoy and understand the concept of the season. He expresses great excitement for Christmas 2020, although he knows it will be a little different due to COVID-19. Even so, he says that he will enjoy these Christmas holidays just as much. 

Hernando’s hopes for a brighter 2021

Hernando’s hopes for 2021 are to see the world free itself from this pandemic and return to normal. He wants to be able to go back to school and continue with his studies, and hopes that you get to spend 2021 with loved ones and family.  

“Merry Christmas,” says Hernando, with his famous big smile.  

Three smiling children wearing Christmas hats
Hernando, Fabio and Leila feeling festive

You can help children like Hernando find happiness again

Are you able to support a child like Hernando this Christmas? If so, please make a donation

*Privacy note

Children’s names, marked with an asterisk, have been changed to protect their privacy.