By: Hali Harden, Staff Reporter
When 15-year-old Hans came to Mission Mexico, he had nothing. No papers, no home, no education and no parents.
After three years of living at the orphanage, he completed school, starting with the first grade, and now has a high school degree. He was recently accepted to a South African university on a scholarship to be a chef.
Shane Yoder, a UNF alumnus, and his wife, Amber, who he met while she was studying for her associate’s degree at UNF, have been traveling to Tapachula, Mexico, to volunteer at the orphanage for about three years.
Shane said they found out about the orphanage when they watched a documentary about it at a Jacob Shields-owned surf shop in Sarasota. Australians, who were traveling around the U.S. showing the video, made the film. At that time, Alex Kelso, a UNF exercise science senior, worked at the surf shop and wanted to get involved.
The first trip Kelso and Shane took to Mission Mexico was three years ago, a couple weeks after they saw the video. The two, and a group of others, traveled to the orphanage and spent their time learning about it and teaching the kids how to surf.
They have since made several more trips, including one where Kelso and the Yoders went with a group of 25 volunteers to build a fence around new orphanage-owned property.
The Yoders and Kelso said they like Mission Mexico’s family atmosphere. Kelso said many of the children call Pam and Alan Skuse, the couple who run the orphanage, mom and dad.
He also said the group of children at Mission Mexico aren’t all orphans. Some of the kids have abusive or negligent parents, or were subject to their parents’ circumstances.
The orphanage houses children of prostitutes as well as young mothers who were forced into prostitution at a young age. Some of the childrens’ parents dropped them off and promised to return in a week but never came back.
Mission Mexico’s newest philanthropy was the purchase of two acres of beach property, which will house amenities for the kids and a self-run surf camp.
They hope the surf camp will help the older children to gain responsibility by working there, help educate them and help bring in revenue so the orphanage can be more self-sufficient.
Amber, who is a social worker in Sarasota, said she thought teaching the kids how to surf served as therapy.
“When those kids go into the ocean, they go to a different place — a place that is not touched by their trauma in any way,” Amber said. “They have new memories, new hope, a new future, and their trauma doesn’t go there with them.”
Email Hali Harden at [email protected]