Abby VanHaitsma

Class of 2019

First Impressions


JUNE 2017


Today was our first day volunteering at the orphanage, Ninos Del Sol, and by the end of the day, I would have a new perspective on the world, and really think about the choices I make in everyday life.

We arrived at the orphanage around 9, and were first greeted by two of the dogs that the orphanage takes care of. Next, we met Vivianna and Avishai, the two owners and caretakers of the orphanage. Right away, you could tell how charismatic and vibrant both of them were. They led us to a big, open, grassy area where we sat in a circle, and introduced all of ourselves. Avishai began to tell us some of the key points that we needed to know. One of them was that they don’t call this an orphanage, and they don’t call the kids orphans; they are a family, and all the kids are brothers and sisters. Another point was that all the kids spoke at least a small bit of English, and that we should talk to them in English, because it is more important for them to learn English than for us to learn Spanish. After that, he went to pick up the kids (or as they call them, the Ninos), and Juan, our guide, went to prepare tea made from a local plant for all of us.

The students listen as Avishai prepares the first duck.

Meanwhile, Vivianna told us more about the history of the orphanage and the kids. She said that the kids have mostly been given up by grandmothers that were too poor to take care of the kids, and most had fathers, but they were mostly nonexistent in the kids’ lives. The orphanage takes care of the kids until they are out of college, which would be until around the age of 23.

After this, when the kids arrived, Vivianna led us all in a ritual that worshiped Mother Nature (or in Spanish, ‘Potcha Mama’). She had us lay on the ground as she said prayers to Mother Nature. When this was over, we broke up into groups for our work for the day. Henry and I were assigned to help in the kitchen to prepare lunch for us and the kids. There were two women who were in charge of the kitchen, and neither spoke English very well, so the only way for them to tell me what to do was to show me how to do it.

The part of the day that changed my perspective on life was when, after lunch, we could choose to go into town to get ice cream, or we could stay to watch a duck harvest. I chose the duck harvest, although I had no idea what to expect. Those who chose to stay were brought outside and told to sit close. Avishai took the lead on this ritual, with the assistance of Benita, who is one of the cooks. They were going to harvest three ducks for our lunch tomorrow. Avishai told us how he prefers to use the Jewish method of harvesting animals because it respects the animals more. The first step was to grab the duck by its wings to make sure it doesn’t fly away, and lay it on its back. The purpose of laying it on its back is so that the duck can relax. Benita held the feet together while Avishai held the duck’s head. He said that while holding the head, you must make sure to cover its eyes so it doesn’t see the knife.

Next, Avishai pulled the feathers off of a small part of its neck, as to expose the area where he will cut the neck. He explained how in the Jewish tradition, two of the most important aspects of harvesting animals is to use a very sharp knife, and to make one cut that cuts the arteries and the trachea, so the duck will suffer less. While the duck was being cut, I had to look away a few times. After the throat is cut, Benita lifted up the feet in the air so that the blood would drip onto the ground. They do this because they believe the blood contains the soul of the animal, so it needs to be given back to Mother Nature.

He said, “If I’m going to eat meat, I can’t be squeamish about these things.”

He did the same procedure with the second duck, but Ashley held the feet this time. For the third duck, Timko held the feet, and Henry stepped up to do the cut. He said, “If I’m going to eat meat, I can’t be squeamish about these things.” This duck unfortunately took longer to die, which made me feel almost queasy. After the duck died, Benita dipped them in boiling water, and then we had to pluck the feathers off of it. I helped pluck the feathers off of the last duck, which was still hard to do. While we were doing this, we discussed how meat in America is not respected. Most meat comes from factory farms where the animals have horrible lives and deaths.

This experience cannot be compared to anything else I have ever seen or done, and it is not something you can envision or imagine without actually seeing it. There were a few points where I almost shed a tear because of how emotional this was. I know that I will never eat meat the same way again, or ever see meat without thinking about whether or not the animal had a good life. One thing that Avishai said that will stick with me is that, “It’s not whether or not one eats meat that concerns me, it’s whether or not one respects the meat they eat.”


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