Via my acute investigational skills and combined Gringo/Uruguayan/Mexican/Spanish language abilities, I finally locate a Tijuana orphanage to spend time with. It was a long, tedious search for answers… Ok, I’ll stop. I'm lying. A good friend gave me a recommendation.
Really? After all of that searching, this is where the story’s going? Yep, to Colina de Luz.
I learn a bit more about this “Hill of Light” and its heavy Christian tilt. I admittedly wander around life with a healthy dose of agnosticism, so this trip will be foreign in a few ways now.
A few minutes and less than 15 miles into Mexico, we’re a group of four parking our car in the neighborhood of La Gloria. Wow. The orphanage is an intricately Spanish-styled conglomeration of white buildings connected by gardens, plazas, a full-blown jungle gym that any kid in the States would dream of playing in (as long as they had their iPhones with them), and a legitimate fútbol field.
“Dude, I thought that we were going to an orphanage to help out?” I don’t say it, but the question's at the front of my mind.
It doesn’t take long for Jim to find us. Jim Drake and his wife Susan founded Colina de Luz 26 years ago after being drawn to the then-existing orphanage. The more Jim details what was here before, the more it sounds less like a refuge and more like a nightmare. Maggots crawled on kitchen tables. Toilets continually overflowed. Garbage and feces littered the grounds.
He finishes detailing this disturbing scene and asks, “Before I begin [the tour], do you follow God?”
“Oh shit…” goes my inner voice, followed by a few other thoughts (I know, I talk to myself a lot). But he doesn’t push anything; he just wants to know what our beliefs are.
The first stop is the garment room. Extra shoes, jackets, pants and more are stacked to the literal ceiling. Man, so why should anyone give to this orphanage – it’s already loaded with more than these kids even need! But here’s where Jim gives us the first glimpse of what Colina de Luz is all about. Some 90% of clothes donated to Colina de Luz are given out to the surrounding community.
“On a field trip day a few weeks back, I took the kids to a nearby poor neighborhood. One of my kids noticed how a lot of the children in the street didn’t have any shoes. So we allowed him to be in charge of the shoe donations.”
Colina de Luz not only recognizes who needs what in the surrounding communities, they also actively engage their kids to be in charge of projects and assign them responsibilities. For example, every kid is required to keep a designated space in the orphanage clean.
“If I told you every miracle we’ve received, this tour would take about seven hours,” Jim tells us while standing in the library.
This is no hand-me-down collection of used books. Next to the library shines a computer room housing more than ten identically legitimate computers. All of these were donated.
Colina de Luz’s attitude to these computers and everything it has received thus far is this: “The more we give, the more things come together for us.” I'm starting to believe in it now. But it’s not just about giving here – Colina de Luz has a set agenda here for their kids.
“We will invest in you if you invest in yourself.” The kids are required to go to school. They’re actually driven to a school in Rosarito because the school next door is not up to standard.
At Colina de Luz, kids seem happy to have a home.
And it’s evident in the kids’ smiles, their ways of interacting between themselves and also with strangers. There is security here. There’s a path and purpose for these children with a future laid out ahead of them. I have a sudden moment of realization, just like on the trolley ride: I'm not in an orphanage. This is a home. This is more than a home, really – it’s a community that has everything set up for these kids. And even more than that, Colina de Luz gives out to the surrounding area: 90% of its donated clothes and 50% of its food.
After spending a full morning with Jim, meeting his lovely wife Susan, playing with the kids and learning about the life of this place, it’s time for the kids to eat lunch in the miraculously built cafeteria.
I watch Jim walk around the tables engaging the kids in reciting numbers in English and Spanish, among other exercises, before they eat. Whether due to God, to Jim and Susan, to a miracle, or to something else doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is how much love, support and opportunity these kids are growing up with.
In parting ways, Jim hands me the New Testament. I haven’t read the Bible since my Bible Lit class sophomore year in high school. But I have a feeling that I’ll be dabbling again…