Former O'Berry director retires to a new mission
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 14, 2009 2:08 PM
Dr. Frank Farrell enjoyed working at O'Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center for 34 years, with little thought of retiring.
But a mission trip to Bolivia changed all that.
On Sept. 30, he received the state's Order of the Long Leaf Pine for exemplary service. And on Oct. 1, the O'Berry director became a retiree.
Five days later, he made his second trip to the foothills of the Andes Mountains, spending a month building retaining walls and helping with construction for Kory Wawanaca Children's Home.
"It's a children's home for abandoned and orphaned children," he said.
The home was started five years ago by Ms. Wawanaca, a graduate of Appalachian State University.
"She just went completely on faith," Farrell said.
And now he is doing the same.
"The program is affiliated with the Methodist Church, totally supported through donations," Farrell said. The home currently serves 18 children from ages 3-12.
The remote village of Tachacia is located about 40 miles from Bolivia's capital, La Paz. Considered part of a Third World country, the village just acquired electricity in 2006.
"They raise a lot of their own food. They have their own farm and the kids help. They have chickens and cows and guinea pigs they raise to eat, which is kind of unusual," Farrell said. "They don't have potable water, so for baths they take two-liter bottles with water, let them sit out and get warm."
He went on his first mission trip with his church, Pine Forest United Methodist, last June. When the opportunity arose to return in the fall, this time to help with the construction project, he responded.
"It was almost on a whim, and I just absolutely loved it," he said. "A lot of it, it was just so personally rewarding.
"We're so blessed in this country and when you see some kids that have had little and frankly been dealt a bad hand in life, in spite of that, their amazing positive spirit -- it reminds you of what's important. It's not all stuff, it's people and helping people.
"As Christians, we're called to help serve other people. These kids crystallize my thoughts on what's important and what's important is helping and serving others."
The need was for a new home for older children, as the village school only goes to sixth grade.
Because it is a primitive area, a lot of the construction work was done by hand -- shovels and picks and manual labor, he said.
Weekdays were spent working in La Paz on the new site, with weekends at the orphanage, helping with projects or on the farm, damming up the river so the children could go swimming.
While he had to adjust to the elevation and the heat, what struck him most was the children.
"Bolivia is a very poor country financially," he said. "It's evolving and developing. ... These kids have had a rough go in life. There's an amazing spirit in this home. I feel like I'm doing something that's worthwhile. It's where I should be."
The trip proved to be a turning point for Farrell. He plans to return for another visit in the spring, and intends to do so on a regular basis, supporting the children's home however he can.
"I was really surprised by how taken I was with going down there and doing this work and how meaningful it was," he said. "I really decided based on this trip, I decided to retire."
Not that he was unhappy before, he said.
"I had been at O'Berry 34 years, enjoyed what I was doing," he said. "I loved O'Berry, but I wanted to do something different and this is what I wanted to do."
The timing was also right for a change.
In the last year, his wife passed away, he dealt with some health problems and his son had gone off to college. It became a reflective time as Farrell says he "began pondering what I wanted to do with my life."
The spring mission trip provided the right fit.
"It was just one of the most rewarding times of my life and it was because of the kids," he said.
One in particular, he said, producing a photo of himself with 8-year-old Jhoselin Tania, whom he sponsors. Raised by a single mother who struggled to raise Jhoselin and her brother, the children were left homeless when their mom died.
"I would ride the kids around on my shoulder a lot," Farrell recalls. "I'm a lot taller than most people and they love that.
"(Jhoselin) loved to ride around on my shoulders or at church, sit in my lap. She had this most amazing spirit. She would hum and sing when I was carrying her around. We just connected very quickly."
Farrell remains impressed with the "wonderful caring loving atmosphere" of family he experienced in the children's home.
"I think human beings respond to that," he said. "I don't think most people (there) worry about what they don't have. They focus on relationships they have with others, being kids, playing."
It's a change he can really embrace, and one he looks forward to pursuing.
Besides, he says philosophically, "You don't retire from something, you retire to something.
"When I went to Bolivia, I said, 'This is what I want to retire to, doing this type of thing.'"