SHIP got its start unintentionally. One of the founders of SHIP, who was involved in medical missions work in El Salvador, found an orphanage that was housed in seriously substandard conditions. In 2004, Ann and Robert Horton were invited to visit the orphanage. Robert was there to offer an opinion as to the suitability of a potential site for a new orphanage. That single trip led them to found SHIP.
What they found was a “family” of 34 people – 28 children who had been abandoned, neglected, and/or abused, the director and his wife and their three children, and a grandmother who had nowhere to go.
They all lived in an abandoned school building of less than 1,600 square feet. The building was located on the side of a steep hill, overlooking a busy highway. The yard was a concrete driveway.
The girls had a bedroom, and the boys had their room, each with bunk beds placed together so tightly that the only way to get in bed was by climbing in from the foot. The bathroom toilets flushed sometimes, and often water was not available for showers or cleaning or cooking for days. Most of the cooking was done over an open fire in a 55-gallon drum.
But from that first trip, the memory that went back to the U.S. was not so much the terrible living conditions, but the joy on the faces of the children in the orphanage. Clearly, they were loved. Clearly, they were being cared for. Clearly, they were better off than the thousands who lived on the streets. But clearly, they deserved better.
So SHIP was formed, and nonprofit status was obtained in 2004. Funds were raised to move them to a safer location with more adequate housing. Thanks to SHIP’s generous donors, 12 acres of property on which to build an orphanage was purchased and completely paid for in 2004.
From 2005 to 2010, mission teams went to El Salvador and cleared the property of debris. In 2008, a home was built on SHIP property down the mountainside for the caretaker SHIP inherited with the property purchase; he and his extended family had been sitting squarely in the middle of progress, where the new facility was to be built. In 2009, the buildings (one for the orphanage and a separate education/mission team building) were begun, and they were completed in 2011. At that time, SHIP thought it had completed its mission. We looked around and saw the kids in the orphanage loving their new home, with room to run and play and be kids. SHIP’s plan was to continue bringing mission teams to work with the orphanage. However, God had other plans.
During construction, we began to recognize the need in the surrounding neighborhood. Neighbor children came to “help” us with construction, and they usually came to help about lunch time. We discovered a new mission field in our neighborhood. While the orphanage had a new home and a consistent source of funding, the neighbors did not. We opened the doors of the education building and began a new era of service: home building and repair, education, and economic opportunity. This work continues, with no end in sight!
Acuña, Mexico is located just over the border from the United States. The friendly people of Acuña live in poverty. Many times, fathers leave Acuña and come to the United States, promising to send money back home to support their families. And many times, this doesn’t happen. This leaves moms and kids homeless and without support. The moms are not prepared to enter the workforce, so they take the only work they can find – jobs in the maquiladoras, or factories, where the hours are long, sometimes 18 hours a day, and the wages are small, less than $40 a week. Rent for a one-room house constructed of little more than wood pallets and tar paper takes about a week’s wages. The money left over doesn’t allow for daycare, so children are left alone to fend for themselves. It’s a bleak existence.
What can be done in a seemingly hopeless situation like this one? Well, if we are quiet and prayerful, God speaks and shares His wisdom. In this case, He provided the idea to build little houses, casitas, for these fatherless families. Nothing fancy, but solid. Just a little 10 foot by 12 foot shelter with two windows and a door. Bunk beds for mom and kids. A single light fixture. A place for a table so the children could have a place to share meals and do their homework. As an added benefit, because the casitas were to be built on the orphanage site, someone would always be available to watch the children while the moms work. Here’s some additional information about our work in Acuña:
- In 2005, an orphanage in Acuña came to SHIP’s attention. The orphanage was struggling financially, and its building was in need of critical improvements. SHIP began supporting the orphanage financially on a monthly basis and provided much-needed heaters, food, and clothing for the children. A group of SHIP volunteers traveled to Acuña to build a staircase at the orphanage so that the second floor could be used and the kids would be safe in their home.
- In 2007 and 2008, SHIP assisted the orphanage in building five new casita’s (four small buildings with sleeping quarters, and one building that contained a bathroom and kitchen facility that was shared) for the abandoned mothers and their children; overhauling kitchens, plumbing, painting, and laundry room; improving sewer connections, and preparing the foundation for a perimeter wall around the orphanage. The orphanage now owns the property on which they reside.
- SHIP helped a children’s center in Bryan, Texas, which houses and cares for approximately 20 abused children who have been removed from their homes. Due to vandalism, the center was in need of several items, which SHIP helped to obtain, including: the donation of two new, complete air conditioning units with free installation, as well as new paint and lumber repairs. In return, the center has assisted our projects in Mexico and El Salvador by donating baby items, formula, and clothes for the children.
- SHIP assisted local efforts in the wake of the hurricane disasters in 2005 (Katrina and Rita). After Hurricane Katrina, SHIP volunteers worked to serve displaced persons, provide lodging, find employment, and locate long-term housing for the evacuees. During Hurricane Rita, SHIP partnered with a local church, providing help in housing and feeding over 300 evacuees. SHIP also helped the Salvation Army in Louisiana to feed evacuees and sent truckloads of food and clothing to LaPlas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- In 2007, a Bryan resident, Kathy, lost her husband when he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 56. Kathy’s husband was a carpenter by trade and was in the process of remodeling their home when he passed away. Unfortunately the house was left uninsured and not in a safe condition. SHIP stepped in and through generous donations was able to complete the remodeling work. SHIP volunteers finished the project by the end of 2007, and Kathy now has a home that is insured and safe.
- In 2007, flooding caused great damage to homes in Copperas Cove, Texas. Many of the homes affected belonged to active military families. SHIP provided professional sheetrock and texturing skills as they assisted the city’s residents to rebuild and repair the homes for our soldiers, their families, and residents of Copperas Cove. By November 2007, the vast majority of the homes had been repaired, and the city of Copperas Cove was well on its way to recovery.
- In 2007, SHIP partnered with Child Protective Services of Brazos County, Texas, to provide Christmas gifts for children placed in protective foster care. Through generous donations, we sponsored 20 children.