A desire to serve was one of the things that drew Sophie Hunt (VU ‘05) to Valparaiso University. Initially attracted to the school’s unique International Service major, she had long aspired to volunteer abroad at some point in her life. Now, before beginning PHD studies and after completing her MA in History at the University of Tennessee and her VAN involvement in the Knoxville area, the American Studies graduate is realizing her service dream at Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
“I always received encouragement at Valpo, both from teachers and friends, to think about service and vocation,” says Sophie. “I fell in love with Mexico during my VU study abroad experience in Puebla. When I learned about NPH from Erika Klotz (VU ‘05), who volunteered here for two years, it seemed to be a perfect fit. Erika’s in Chicago now but will begin a position here at the international headquarters at the end of November.”
About 700 children live at the NPH home in Mexico for the orphaned, abandoned, and disadvantaged. Sophie resides in a house with high schoolers there on the lush grounds of a former hacienda. Since arriving in July, her assignments have ranged from translating letters, creating Christmas cards for the children’s sponsors, and working in the library to offering general care to the teen-aged girls and assisting with the youth group. Recently, though, she was put in charge of registrations for NPH’s 300-person international gathering to be held in Mexico next February. The many details involved in this project will preclude her rising at 5:30 a.m. to see the kids off to school and likely reduce other interaction with house residents.
“Valpo nurtured many parts of me,” the Christ College and University Chorale alumnus reflects. “I appreciated the healthy exchange between faith and intellectual pursuit and formed many close friendships with other students and with professors. I still go to these people when I’m looking for advice because I know that, like me, they value a well-rounded life that balances personal and professional goals.”
Sophie’s excitement about incorporating service into her life in this particular way is renewed when she observes new children arriving at the orphanage.
“They literally wear their troubled lives on their sleeves,” she says. “One family of four recently arrived suffering from malnutrition and wearing clothing and shoes too big for them. The five year-old was unable to speak in complete sentences or even complete words.”
Sophie is confident, however, that this raggedy group will thrive on the safety and love provided by the orphanage staff, sponsors, and volunteers. And, happily, she will play a role in their gradual transformation into the healthy typical teenagers she encounters daily at NPH.