Volunteer Stories

Volunteers at the Santa Lucia Children’s Home wrote letters to Melaleuca and shared their thoughts about the children.

Omar is one of the boys at The Santa Lucía Children’s Home, and he has been one of my favorite kids to get to know. When I first met him, he wouldn’t really talk to me, but after a couple times of talking with him he finally opened up. I can tell he has been through a lot of difficult times, yet he is still a fun and loving boy. He enjoys playing soccer, and he is very talented at it. Whenever we do activities, he always gets creative and takes pride in his work. I love this boy so much!

– Britten Anderson


One great experience that I had at Santa Lucía that will be forever in my heart is my first time there. We were reading the kids a story called, “Where the Wild Things Are,” and as we read, the kids drew pictures about the story they were hearing. There was one little girl who came and sat on my lap. She listened to the story and drew beautiful little monsters with trees and stars around them. She was smiling the whole time she drew. It made me want to hold her on my lap forever—she was so happy and content. I loved every minute of that first shift.

– Aneesa Harash


The Santa Lucia Children’s Home was one of the first orphanages I went to as a volunteer in Quito. I remember feeling a little nervous, unsure of what to expect and what my new role would be. There were four other volunteers with me for that particular shift, and I’ll never forget what happened when we first stepped inside the gates. All the niños came running to us, arms opened wide, yelling, “Chicas!” They ran from volunteer to volunteer giving us big, welcoming hugs. All my insecurities and hesitations immediately vanished. I think that was the best welcome to Ecuador that anybody has ever received!

– Cady Williams


Heraldo at Santa Lucía is one of the greatest kids ever! He goes to school, so he doesn’t attend all of the activities with the volunteers; however, every time he is there, he smiles so big and gives us hugs. He always has a great attitude and loves learning new things. One time we brought books to read to the kids, but he ended up reading out loud to me! He now asks me to bring the same book every time until he finishes it. He loves it! He, along with every child at Santa Lucia, will always have a special place in my heart!

– Britten Anderson


One great experience I had at Santa Lucía happened when we did finger and stamp painting. We used a metal pan, washable paint, construction paper and sponges of all different shapes. All of the kids in each family/group started out nice and calm. They dipped their sponges in the paint and placed it calmly on the paper. By the end, however, many thought it was a lot more fun to smear all of the paint together to make a brownish-greyish color. They were so proud of their paintings. We even found a T-shirt and had the children put their handprints on it. They got a little carried away with the paint on their hands, and I walked away from that activity with handprints all over my arms and neck. It was awesome!

– Aneesa Harash


One particular afternoon, we were doing an activity where the children would try to bite at dangling donuts without the use of their hands. Most of the niños stepped right up to the activity without any reservation and bit at those doughnuts, smearing powdered sugar all over their shining faces—they were all grins.

We were surprised when one girl, Marjurie, didn’t want to do this activity. When we asked her why, she initially hid behind one of her favorite volunteers. We continued to encourage her, explaining that she could just eat the doughnut if she wanted. Eventually, we broke off a piece for her to try. After taking one bite, her eyes lit up! She was very eager to bite the doughnut off the string after that. We learned that she had never tried a doughnut before, and she didn’t know what it was!

– Cady Williams


Dear Melaleuca,

As soon as I walk into Santa Lucía I can feel the love the kids have for our volunteers and for each other. I love to walk in the gate and have four or five kids run up to me yelling “Chica! Chica!” and throw themselves into great big hugs. As we walk in the building, they continue to hug and talk to us, ask which house we are visiting first, what the activity is and let us know who won’t be there that day.

I love these kids so much. Every day at Santa Lucía is an adventure and I never know what I will walk away with from those few hours with the kids; whether it is something I have learned from them or a project that one of them has given to me. These kids have taught me more about love and strength than I have ever learned from any adult. They are amazing.


Dear Melaleuca,

There was one girl at The Santa Lucia Children’s Home who was a little older than the rest. Her name was Carolina, and we would often talk about her school experiences and other things going on in her life.

One day I went to Santa Lucia and noticed that she wasn’t there. When I asked where she went, I found out that she had just been adopted. Tears came to my eyes as I was happy for her, but I also realized that I would never get to say goodbye.

One of her friends said Carolina left something for me. She went to get it and brought back a little picture of Carolina looking as happy as ever. I cherished the picture and put it in my bag. Halfway into the next activity, a little knock came to the door and as I looked up, in walked Carolina! She ran to me, wrapper her arms around me and said she had come to tell me goodbye.

She told me all about her new family, and she looked so happy with a new haircut, pink ribbons in her hair, new black shiny shoes and a pretty smile on her face. I will always remember how she looked that day—so happy and beautiful!


Dear Melaleuca,

Behind the walls of Santa Lucía, are unmistakable feelings and noises that are hard for anyone to forget. With the noise and distractions of the streets blocked out by the walls of Santa Lucia, the only thing left is the noise from the amazing children who live within those walls, playing in the yard, kicking a soccer ball around, swinging on the swing set, or best of all, running up to you to welcome you to their home.

There is a love and innocence that these children emanate through their smiles, their hugs, their giggles and their tears that is difficult to describe. Despite their difficult pasts and simple surroundings, they are happy and healthy, and willing to welcome and share what they have with anyone who walks behind those walls. This example of unconditional love is just one of the qualities that makes Santa Lucía such a special home for so many children.


Dear Melaleuca,

During one of my first visits to Santa Lucía, I witnessed an unforgettable act of selflessness from a very young source. It was near Christmas time, and we were out on the lawn visiting with students from a local school that had come to donate clothes and toys to the children within Santa Lucía.

One little girl from the home, Carolina, who was about eight years old at the time, was sitting with me and another volunteer showing us the presents that she had received. When she heard mention that it was that volunteer’s birthday the next day, she excitedly took off her new bracelet that she had just received, and handed it to the volunteer saying, “I want to give this to you for your birthday!”

Despite the volunteer’s attempts to convince Carolina that she didn’t need to give up the bracelet, although she was very grateful for it, Carolina wouldn’t budge and insisted that she take it. She told the volunteer that it was something that she could always remember her by. The selflessness shown by this young girl, in such a simple and sincere way, is something I will never forget, and will forever be grateful to have witnessed.


Dear Melaleuca,

Mishel is such a cute little girl! At first, she was really quiet and shy, but after she got to know me, she really opened up. Mishel is always very well-behaved and I loved watching her interact with her little brother, Pablo.

I remember one day Pablo wanted the coloring page that Mishel had, so she tried to get him interested in a different coloring page of his own. Pablo didn’t want a different page and Mishel could see that, so she willingly gave him her page and she took a different one. It was one of the cutest things I have ever seen. Such a young girl, not more than six years old, taking care of her baby brother, always wanting him to be happy.


Dear Melaleuca,

When I first started going to Santa Lucía Pablo was very shy and rarely wanted to do the activities with the volunteers. If he was out with us he would be sitting with one of the older kids and only half doing the activity. In the 5 months I have been here, I have seen a complete change in that little boy. It seems as though it all happened overnight. One day he came running out with all of the other kids with a big grin on his face and his arms open ready to hug us. I have never been happier to get a wet kiss on the cheek than that day. It amazes me how these little kids have affected my life so much with their love and smiles.


Dear Melaleuca,

One of the things I love most about going to Santa Lucía is seeing the kids having fun. I love it when all of them are so excited about the activity and enjoy it. I remember one activity we did with food coloring and shaving cream where we taught them about primary colors and how to make new colors. We had them make pictures with the shaving cream and even the littlest kids were having a blast. They got so excited for the project and were so sad when it was time for us to clean up and go. I’ll never forget what they all looked like covered in shaving cream up to their elbows and grinning from ear to ear.


Dear Melaleuca,

We try to do a reading day once a week at Santa Lucía. What I love so much about it is that most of the time the older kids end up reading the books to the volunteers and the younger kids. I love to see them sounding out the words and watch their expressions to the stories they are hearing either for the first or twentieth time. It amazes me how even the little kids focus on what is being read and pay such close attention so they don’t miss a thing. Sitting on the floor reading books with those kids is one of my favorite activities at Santa Lucía.


Dear Melaleuca,

At Santa Lucía, the kids are great. They love having us come and do activities with them. They are very willing to try new and exciting, fun things. I remember when we painted their hands for cards and how excited they were to make their mark. I remember one boy, Heraldo, who was so patient and waited for us to help the younger children first and then was excited for me to come over and paint his hands. He was so cute about it and we had so much fun doing it together. They are all just so grateful for us. You can tell by the way they act around us that they truly want us there.


Dear Melaleuca,

As site leader for Santa Lucía, I’ve been to almost all of our activities, and I can honestly say that I love the kids. Each one has their own personality—none of them are “just cute.” I wish I had time to talk about each of them, but I’ll try to highlight each family instead.

“Familia 1” is usually the wildest. It consists of a whole family of boys, with eight-year-old Pancho as the ring leader. They love the OSSO girls and are a little crazy, but a lot of fun.

“Familia 2” loves reading days, especially Jorge. He reads out loud to the other kids, and he rolls his “Rs” more than anyone else I’ve ever met. The only book he won’t read is “Curious George.”

“Familia 3” is usually the best behaved. They love to sing and dance, so most activities end with songs and David trying to break dance.

“Familia 4” includes the popular Cristian, Isabel—who wears the brightest clothes (she’s three and dresses herself I think), and of course Gustavo, who has one of the biggest grins I’ve ever seen.

“Familia 5” is the family of siblings. Omar is usually helping his younger sister, Jessica, before the others. Janeth and Gisela always sit next to each other and share crayons. Activities here are usually a little wild, but always fun.