By Karen Billing
Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club members Robin Chappelow and Susan Callahan have spent many days spending time with the children at a special orphanage in Mexico, Casa Hogar El Reino de los Ninos, also known as Kids Kingdom. The pair were determined to introduce the orphanage to their fellow Rotarians, as it was the club’s connections that brought much-needed support to the facility, home to 36 children.
Chappelow serves on the board of directors for Hope for San Diego and Callahan is the director of communications at International Relief Teams.
Three years ago through their Rotary connections, Callahan heard about the orphanage’s funding issues from Chappelow and was able to get IRT on board. Now IRT and Hope for San Diego are Kids Kingdom’s biggest sponsors.
“This is one of the powers of Rotary,” Callahan said.
The RSF Rotary invited the orphanage’s director, Tomas Shockey, to speak at its Feb. 18 meeting.
Shockey has raised more than 200 children at Kids Kingdom over the last 25 years.
“Our vision is to raise orphans, abandoned and abused children, and to develop them into mature, responsible adults who are a light to society,” Shockey said.
“It’s a wonderful place,” said Callahan. “You just lose your heart there.”
Shockey grew up in Bonita and after graduating from Point Loma Nazarene University, he realized he had different plans than following in his accountant father’s footsteps. He felt a calling to take care of children who didn’t have fathers.
He had visited a Mexican orphanage in 1981 and the rest was history, he said. “I knew it was what I was supposed to do, I fell in love.”
In 1989, he and his wife, Maricela, took over the orphanage, then called Manedero. The Mexican government had shut the orphanage down because of negligence and abuse of children but gave the rights to Shockey’s Calvary Chapel of Downey. Tomas and Maricela, a Mexican citizen, started from zero. The orphanage was a “mess” but they were able to build it back up and they have been blessed ever since.
“What I like about it is it’s not like an institution,” Callahan said. “They have a dog, the children call the Shockeys ‘Mom and Dad,’ they play sports, they have all of the things that kids need.”
“We love them like they’re our own kids,” Shockey said, noting the tradition of the children calling him and his wife Dad and Mom was started by one of the orphanage’s first kids, Juan Antonio, one of their success stories.
Now in his 30s, Juan Antonio went through school, earned a law degree, has a good job and his own family with a wife and baby. Shockey said proudly that while he has a good job, Juan Antonio would like to be a missionary, like his “Dad.”
At Kids Kingdom, the children are sharply dressed in uniforms when they head off to school, packing into the orphanage’s two cars to travel to school during the week. Shockey said they are always looking for donated vehicles to transport the kids — cars thought to be run-down in the states can find new life in Mexico.
“They love the school, it gets them out of the orphanage, they have friends at school and most really like to learn,” Shockey said.
Several of the children have made it through junior high school and have gone on to high school, which is a “big deal” in Mexico, as one in six children there never go to school.
Currently, Kids Kingdom has one kindergartner, 14 elementary school students, 12 in junior high, five in high school and five in university. The university students have a variety of goals, from civil engineering to architecture to computer science.
“That took 20 years to get kids into university,” Shockey said. “We’re fighting against their backgrounds, but now they’re setting a precedent for the younger children.”
Shockey told the story of siblings at Kids Kingdom whose father abandoned their mother, who was dying of leukemia. At 11 years old, Raul had been working at a tire shop to raise money for him and his sister Alejandra to be able to buy food eat. He had never gone to school. Coming to Kids Kingdom, Raul was able to blaze through his studies to catch up and now enjoys getting to play organized sports.
Shockey said when the children arrived, they noticed Alejandra was very sick and it was discovered she had muscular dystrophy. The orphanage was able to finally get Alejandra the care she needed.
“When she first came to the orphanage she didn’t know how to smile,” Shockey said.
He said as months passed, her smile grew more and more. A year and four days since her arrival, she asked her “Dad” to take her picture and she smiled proudly for the camera.
“They had suffered so much,” Shockey said. “Here, the kids feel empowered and good about themselves. You love them enough and they become beautiful and start to shine.”
The orphanage has a Tio/Tia program, which translates to Uncle/Aunt, where donors can build personal relationships with the children. To be a Tia or Tio is a $30 a month contribution and they are encouraged to come down and visit the children. Both Callahan and Chappelow are Tias, with Chappelow having been involved in the program for 13 years.
“The kids are just incredible, and these are the lucky ones,” said Chappelow. “They come to Tomas broken and he transforms them into happy people with a future and hope. It’s such a blessing to be part of it.”
To learn more about Kids Kingdom, visit kidskingdomensenada.wordpress.com. To make a donation, visit hopeforsandiego.org.