I am a 17-year-old high school student in New Jersey, and I have become involved with a remarkable organization, Bahay Aurora House. During a trip to Asia, my father had introduced me to one of his acquaintances, Herke Smidstra, a Dutch businessman living in the Philippines who has dedicated his life to improving the lives and education of impoverished children in the Philippines.
Through his own initiative and hard work, Herke and his Filipino wife Arleen Smidstra-Santiago, built an orphanage called Bahay Aurora in Baras, Philippines, currently housing 45 children who would otherwise be living in the street. Herke, Arleen and a small staff, take in poverty-stricken orphaned children, provide them with shelter and proper nutrition, and mend their emotional wounds. The children are taught the essentials of life, from personal hygiene and exercise to manners and morals.
Bahay Aurora also feeds and helps educate hundreds of other children in the region who are in great need. For nearly 20 years, Herke has tirelessly set out on his mission to help street children in the Philippines. Unwanted children are often left at Bahay Aurora. Others are found by Herke living on decaying garbage dumps where they forage for food or something to sell.
Seeing the need around him, Herke’s dedication to the issue of poverty and education is awe-inspiring. One of the issues Herke is striving to tackle is the quality of education, along with improving conditions for students with mental disabilities. Little to no support is given to children with special needs, so Bahay Aurora offers educational courses for mentally disabled children who are often rejected from the regular schooling system.
Herke and Arleen’s selflessness is inspiring. Herke has said that the hardest part has been living separated for long periods from his own children, now grown and residing in the Netherlands. They started this project commuting back and forth, but have lived full-time in the Philippines for the past seven years. Their intention is to create hope for a better future for more of the impoverished children of the Philippines. For more information, visit: http://www.bahayaurora.nl/eng/index.php