Franciscan Padre Dedicates his Life to Ecuador Orphans
Padre Alfonso’s Story
Padre Alfonso Castells works with, lives and loves 13 orphaned children who are HIV positive. He is a Franciscan priest who was an airport supervisor for American Airlines and Eastern Airlines for 18 years until he felt compelled to make a life-changing decision.
Padre Alfonso’s story:
I Changed My Uniform for a Habit
I decided to change my life because I had a big question. I had received much and I wondered what I could do for others. I had a great life. I loved to party, travel, have fun. But I changed my airlines uniform for a habit and I am happy with the change.
When I started religious life I decided right away to work with special people, difficult people, dangerous people. It’s a risk but it’s part of my persona. I love risk.
I started working with adults with HIV in Quito 15 years ago. 2-3 years later the first child with HIV, a girl, came into my life. She was 3 years old.
Families Often Abandon Their Children Who Have HIV
Her family abandoned her at the hospital when they found out she was HIV positive. To abandon children with HIV is normal in Ecuador. No one wants to help anyone with HIV. People are very scared. The mothers of these children usually die. Hospitals would call me immediately when they received one of these babies.
I was renting a small 2-bedroom house that two kind ladies paid for. A couple and 5 kids with HIV lived with me. When the couple died, I decided to move.
Lack of Acceptance Drove Me Out of Quito
I had lots of problems living in Quito. The neighbors knew about the children and it was a terrible situation. There were many incidents. They would cut our electricity, water, protest with signs that said, “Get out of here!” I tried to protect the kids.
No one would help us. Businesses didn’t want to mix their work with HIV kids.
The Wife of a President of Ecuador Waves Her Magic Wand
Then the wife of the President of Ecuador helped me. She has been our fairy godmother. She asked me what I needed and I told her I had found an old abandoned house in San Pablo.
She helped me get the money to buy it and to renovate it. I lived there with 5 children and at first we had very little, not even tables. Now we have a beautiful place to live and a home for the kids.
Others Came to Assist Us
Now there is another priest living here with us. We also have a married couple who clean and take care of the micro-businesses and the animals.
A woman comes in to cook 5 days a week, plus other women help us prepare the food.
We are Becoming More Self-Sufficient
We started several micro-businesses 2 years ago. Our orphanage is always in need of volunteers and people who have experience in these micro-businesses.
We raise cuys, Cornish hens, rabbits and pigs. We also grow spirulina and sell honey.
The cuy house was built with help from Aneta and Coca-Cola. We have 500 cuys and want to have 2000 to make the business profitable.
HIV medications that the children require comes from an organization in the United States. All other medicine and medical care I must provide, including dental.
Most of the children are orphans but some are in foster care with us. We do our best to create a home, not an institution.
Padre Alfonso welcomes those who want to volunteer at the orphanage.
He provides very spacious and comfortable accommodations for these visitors, who are welcomed as if they are part of the family.
Read more about Padre Alfonso on our blog