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(July 25, 2002, Gazette)

Global warming, one child at a time

Colleen ClarkeColleen Clarke

While on a business trip to Chile in March 2001, Memorial’s Colleen Clarke was asked to visit a local orphanage in Chile. At first, she was more than a little hesitant.

“I really did not want to go because of the horror stories we have all heard about orphanages, but since it came up all of a sudden, I thought that maybe there was some reason why I had to go,” said Ms. Clarke who has adopted children of her own.

As international project’s administrator for the International Centre, Ms. Clarke was in Chile in March 2001 to discuss CIDA guidelines and finances concerning a five-year mollusk aquaculture enhancement project.

On the day Ms. Clarke visited Hogar de Menores Belen, or Bethlehem Children’s Home in Valdivia, 21 of the 32 children did not have any visitors.

“I got out of there without taking them all home with me, but that’s about it. They were between the ages of two and five and had such sad stories. One little girl called us all mommy and kept saying ‘happy, happy, happy.’ I wanted them all,” she said.

While the children were well cared for and received an education, Ms. Clarke learned that the orphanage was in need of funds to meet operational expenses.

Compelled to help these children, Ms. Clarke approached her minister, Reverend Denine and the congregation at her church, St. James United, when she returned to the province. She gave a presentation on the orphanage, which included current operating costs and the institutions projected needs and she also requested that the church’s Christmas 2001 project be dedicated to helping the children at the orphanage.

“What they were looking at was approximately $500 Canadian. We could not believe how little they needed,” said Ms. Clarke. “We asked the church members to bring in toys for the children for Christmas. People were so generous that it became too costly to ship everything so we decided to send just the teddy bears for Christmas with Sandra Pereda, a Chilean PhD student at Memorial. The best thing was that a bag made by a seamstress at the church was personalized with each child’s name. We put the bears in these bags, and a cross-stitch group back in Chile did the names for us.”

On Christmas Eve of 2001, the teddy bears in their personalized bags were distributed to each child.

Patty Toro (L) presents a teddy bear to one of the children in the Bethlehem Children’s Home in Valdivia, Chile, on Christmas Eve 2001.
Patty Toro (L) presents a teddy bear to one of the children in the Bethlehem Children’s Home in Valdivia, Chile, on Christmas Eve 2001. Ms. Toro is a friend of Colleen Clarke who organized the teddy bear collection at her church for the children at the orphanage.

The network of involvement stemming from Ms. Clarke’s initial contact with Hogar de Menores Belen is growing steadily. Students and project-people traveling back and forth between Chile and St. John’s ensure that toys are slowly, but surely reaching the children. And soon, St. James will be making a donation to the orphanage to meet their current need for diapers.

At the moment, Ms. Clarke is researching the creation of a charitable organization that will continue to help the children of the Chilean orphanage, and those around the world.

“My route to the orphanage was a natural one, considering my love of children. I’m glad I started out with Hogar de Menores Belen, but there’s the world out there that I can help, one child at a time,” said Clarke.

Donations to the orphanage may be made by contacting Colleen Clarke at 737-4053.