A volunteering story by: Diane Damplo

Rob says his most rewarding volunteer experience is at a young boy’s orphanage in Tecate Mexico. He is assigned the work through a Catholic Church nearby where he lives. He was actually raised in an Episcopalian church but it is the closest Protestant sect to Catholicism so he feels at home there spiritually. Most of the volunteers do maintenance and repair on the facilities at the orphanage but Rob is usually assigned to the bicycle repair – his forte. It is particularly rewarding because without the bikes the little ones really have no other way to get around. They line up like soldiers when he gets there. Mostly they just need their tires pumped with air but several of the bikes also need extensive repair. The bike repair folks bring their own tool kits and are happy to do what they can.
Sometimes Rob’s neighbor and good buddy Greg joins him. In fact, Greg is the one who introduced Rob to the opportunity. They bring their own tool boxes. The orphanage has an electrical bike pump but Rob always brings his own manual pump just in case. You can’t always rely on the electricity or the maintenance of the electrical pump. One time a little boy insisted that all his tire needed was more air but there was obviously a big air bubble on the back tire. It needed to be replaced but Rob didn’t have the right size tire. He told the boy he would have to wait until the church’s next trip. But the boy was insistent and kept coming back. There are so many boys that Rob didn’t realize that one time when the little one came back it was the same boy that had the dangerous bubble on his back tire. Rob tried to pump the tire up and the air bubble exploded. A priest nearby almost had a heart attack.
The boys are always fascinated by the tool boxes and the myriad equipment that the bike fixers bring – wrenches, sockets, tire tubes, etc. The little boys pick up the parts and stare at them intently. They sometime try to play with them like they are toys. Rob tries to discipline them not to fuss with the tools too much without breaking their inquisitive spirit. Rob likes bringing skills, equipment and unbridled help and friendship that the orphans are not use to seeing.
Virtually none of the orphans speak any English. And likewise, few of the volunteers speak any Spanish but there is usually a handful of volunteers who can interpret. Sometimes a San Diego high school or college student who is studying Spanish joins in to help out and often gets certain course credits from their school. One English word that all the boys do seem to know is “man.” Very often when they want help with their bike they will tug on Rob’s shirt or pant leg and call him “man” and point to where the problem is on their bike.

The Inspiration

Rob says he was mostly inspired to do this type of volunteer work by his father, Wendell Campbell, who could fix anything from a bicycle to a broken telephone system. Wendell was also a go to man for repairs and maintenance at the church he attended. The church knew that they could call on him at any hour of the day to replace a broken window, unclog a sink drain or repair a broken wooden step leading up to the small chapel that abutted the main church.
Rob said that he is also motivated by the father role/figure he can bring to the orphans. The boys often sit very close to him and sometimes will lean against him while he is working on their bike. They yearn for the physical connection. It seems the experience also brings a spark to Rob as well. His wife and he don’t have children by choice – but not because they aren’t capable of having or loving children. It’s a nice bonding part of the experience.
Rob is also inspired by the fulfillment of bringing food to hungry children. Lunch is usually provided by the Knights of Columbus. Talk about heroes! Their organization provides the food and the beverages, as well as the tables and flatware to serve everything. The Knights of Columbus volunteers are always friendly and courteous and of course hard working. As Rob puts it, they come and go by the motto of the Sierra Club: take out everything that you bring in; leave nothing but your footprints.

The Aha! moment…

Rob said he most certainly learned to appreciate the selflessness of others, especially the drivers involved in this effort. The drive to the orphanage is quite an endeavor. The volunteers meet at the church parking lot beforehand, at about 7: 00 a.m. for a final assignment of duties for the day and to allocate drivers. Rob prefers not to drive, having had less than stellar experiences driving across the Mexican border in the past. The drivers are real heroes. The caravan of cars usually stops at a Taco Bell for breakfast halfway to the border and then stops one more time at a little strip mall to pay the excess driving insurance. Rob says you can never be too safe when it comes to driving in a different country. And he says “What is it they say about Mexico? In spite of folks like us that go there with good intentions, statistics say that 60% of the Mexican economy comes from graft.” Too bad. You have to be careful. Those folks that don’t drive usually give a few dollars to the drivers to help with gas, insurance and their added efforts. It’s a pretty drive when you get close to the border. Quite scenic. Getting across in the morning isn’t usually much trouble but there is always some trepidation upon the return. What will the traffic be like? What will the line be like at the inspection point the border? One time, in spite of the fact that the volunteers had harried looks, name tags, paint on their shirts and sweat on their brows, their cars were pulled aside for inspection. Occasionally the workers don’t get home until 6:00 or 7:00 pm. But it seems that it is always a rewarding experience. The long warm shower awaiting them is heavenly, but never as heavenly as the open gratitude and warm fulfillment they get for doing God’s work – which is essentially human kind’s work in the long run.

To summarize it in three words…

  • spiritual, physical, boyhood

Why should you do this

Absolutely – according to Rob. He said that the story of one young man in particular at the orphanage would certainly inspire others to volunteer like he did. The boy’s name is Jesus (pronounced “Hayzoos.”), although Rob said that it seems that just about every boy is given that name. Jesus is about 16 or 17 years old now, too old to technically “qualify” for staying at the orphanage but the nuns don’t have the heart to release him. Where would he go? He has nowhere to go and would probably end up in the streets. And he’s a nice young man. He helps the other kids but it is fairly unmistakable how much taller and older he is than the rest of the orphans.

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