The month of August was filled with activities and special events. In Paraguay, Friendship Day is celebrated similarly to the American celebration of Valentine's Day. Children and even adults exchange small gifts and notes of friendship. Our children in Hogar GANAR celebrated during their weekly church service by drawing names exchanging small gifts with their Bible study classmates. Our staff also celebrated the event by exchanging gifts and taking a moment to share about the good qualities of each person.
Our teenagers exchange their gifts
Keila with the dentist
During one week in August, our school held the annual school Olympics. The Olympics consisted of funny and challenging races and scavenger hunts, soccer and volley ball tournaments, and even academic quiz bowls. The students and elementary school teachers were divided into three colors and our middle school teachers served as the judges for the competitions. Paraguayan culture is extremely competitive and the kids took their Olympics very seriously, created team mascots, "kings" and "queens", team songs and chants, and brought signs and banners each day to use in cheering on their teammates. As always, our school principal, Francisca worked hours to make the events a success and the children had a great week!
The red team preparing for their initial march
Our school auditorium during the quiz bowl- divided into the three teams
August 16th is the celebration of Day of the Child. This is the day that the whole country takes a pause to honor and celebrate children. We are so grateful that our church families and community again supported us in the planning of this day. We had donations for the food, sponsors to help with purchasing gifts for every child, and volunteers that gave of their time to organize games and to serve the food. Our middle school students and youth were also extremely helpful in organizing the event and helping with the children. Many of the children from our home planned skits and dances to present during the program. All the children from our school were involved in the event, along with their siblings that are not yet school age. Every girl received a stuffed animal and treat bag, and every boy received a ball and treat bag. Many of the school parents were also present for the celebration. We had a visiting clown, Toti, and his friends. With a long history of working with children in Paraguay, Toti and his team did an excellent job of making everyone laugh by interacting with the crowd. In the end he shared an important and clear message about Jesus' desire to cleanse us from pain and sin through forgiveness and to give us a life full of joy as we learn to serve Him. It was a wonderful day that I think the children (and parents) will remember for a long time.
Toti and his friend sharing with the children and families
Araceli and her classmates with their gifts
In September, six of our children from Hogar Ganar ran in a nighttime race (with head lamps) in the Botanical Gardens of Asunción. To be able to run in the race, each of the children had to maintain good grades and had to be training ahead of time (for several weeks) with Milciades (our head of maintenance). The five younger children ran 2.5 kilometers. Carlos, since he is now 15, ran 8 kilometers. We decided the day before the race that it would be important that all the children from the homes go to cheer on their brothers and sisters, so all our house parents and children rode a couple of hours each way on public buses to be at the event and to cheer. The emotion of the evening is hard to describe here, but it was absolutely beautiful!! Milciades ran both the 2.5 kilometers and 8 kilometer races to cheer the children on, and it worked, because Amado (13 years old) WON the 2.5 kilometer race!! We were so proud of Amado, who is a wonderful young man. He takes his faith seriously and is very humble. Even after his win, he was embarrassed to go on stage and receive his trophy, but of course we got him up there, cheering him on. All of our children finished with good completion times and most importantly came around the final bend running strong, with smiles on their faces. We are proud of all of them!!
Carlos, Amado, Lorena, Kevin, Matias, and Antonio Paredes ready to run
Amado with his trophy
It seems that September was meant to be the month of excitement in sporting events. At the end of the month, Itauguá hosted a city-wide field day with all middle schools. Since our school had never participated in these events, we were not sure what to expect. For the weeks leading up to the event, the children trained in track and field with Milciades and volleyball and soccer with Roberto (our school principal's husband). When we arrived, there were probably 1,500 people and lots of events we did not even know were going to be offered. Our students bravely jumped in and participated in virtually every event. Because we are a much smaller school than most, our same students were participating in every sport. The boys and girls both made it through their first couple of elimination rounds in soccer and volley ball. Our girls were the only ones that participated in the distance races, so they took home first second and third place medals! Another of our students came in second place in the boys' 100 meter sprint, and Carlos won second place in the high jump (something he had never practiced before the event). At the end of the very long day, our girls' soccer team made it to the semi-finals. Quite honestly, we never expected them to make it that far, playing against much larger schools. The game finished with a tied score and went to penalty kicks. For those of you that watch soccer, you know that it is the ultimate stress! There were three total kicks per team and the other team made 1 of their 3 goals. We also had 1 goal, when Lysandry (from house 3 in Hogar Ganar) was up to kick the final goal for our team to win without having to enter another round of penalty kicks. She ran to the ball and kicked with all her might--- GOAL!! We-- students, parents, teachers, and all rushed the field.
Lysandry's kick that won the semi-final game
We made it to the finals. We were matched against the same school that beat our girls in the volley ball semi-finals. So, I was worried. We made the first goal, then the other team scored a goal. And in the last moments of the game, we scored our second goal. Defending our goal until the final seconds of the game, with time stretching on endlessly, our team won the championship. We were jumping and screaming and running and chanting and everyone was asking, where is that school located? Our girls had practiced many hours to prepare for the event and played with all their might. It was a day that we will never forget and we thank the Lord that we were able to share such a wonderful moment with the students and parents from our school.
Itaugua's championship soccer team from our own Tape Pyahu school
I also want to say a special thanks to our donors. Due to a few unexpected donations, we were able to purchase couch cushions for the couches in each of our three houses and playground equipment for the school. Below, you can see the states of the couch cushions before they were replaced. Essentially, our children had been sitting on wood. In some of the houses, they had even just stuffed the ripped cushion covers with old clothing. The children (and house parents) were thrilled with the new cushions and are enjoying them every day! We had wanted to buy playground equipment for the school for some time, and are so happy with the jungle gym, swings, and slide/swing/see-saw combo that we were able to install. The first, second, and third grade students have been coming to school early just to play on the equipment before school begins, and during recess, the kids are making good use of every swing, slide and bar on the jungle gym. Thanks to each of you whose donations allowed us to make these two major improvements.
Matias on the old cushions
Matias on the new cushions
The new playground equipment
Junior likes the jungle gym
I want to say thank you as well to those that are committed to give monthly to our ministry. I know that often the donations you send are a sacrifice. Please know that you are such an important part of ministry to 120 children on a daily basis. The transformation and discipleship that is taking place in the 30 children in our children's home is unmistakable. They are precious and we know that God is preparing them for great and powerful ministries in the future. Our other 90 students in the school are daily growing more open to the truth of God's love and are gaining confidence and receiving nourishment, not only in the form of food, but also through a quality education, and through the love of our Christian staff. We know that God's plan and purpose for each of them and their families is something that will amaze us. You are a part of that, with every donation, and with every prayer prayed. We love you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for partnering with us to serve Paraguay.
Shaun and Sara Morton