FORT MYERS, Fla. - FGCU freshman and men’s soccer player Pedro Cavalcanti spent several days in Ecuador this January as part of the Padrino outreach program designed to provide underprivileged children with an education and a more stable, more promising way of life. The visit was a surprise for the 600-plus students that Pedro and his Miami-area high school classmates have mentored and supported, especially those who were graduating from the program during the visit.
The Padrino program funds an orphanage and school in the rural mountain town of Mindo, where over students ages 3-18 – many of them boarders with no other family – are exposed to an educational system that attempts to prepare them for a working environment and in some cases a college-level education.
“Many of these kids consider us their closest relatives,” says Cavalcanti of the Mindo students. “They are so excited every moment we are with them, and they take every bit of wisdom we try to provide for them directly to heart. The goal is to teach them to be healthy and hard-working, and we are seeing amazing progress.”
The orphanage itself has been open for more than 30 years, but for the last 12, it has been completely funded through the efforts of two Miami area schools, Our Lady of Lourdes and Cavalcanti’s former school, La Salle. Nuns, missionaries and volunteers help keep the “Miracle of Mindo,” as it is known, moving forward, but the financial support provided by these schools has been the backbone of the steady, safe environment created for these children who have faced many emotional and financial hardships. The American schools make two or three exploratory trips per year to assess the needs of the Mindo community and to interact with those who are reaping the benefits of their generosity. It is during these visits that the children truly connect with the young Miami-based students that have helped them so much.
The Mindo Bridge program is another aspect of the support provided by Cavalcanti and his fellow high school classmates that grants the most promising students from each graduating class the opportunity to study at the university level. Of this year’s 43 graduating students, five will be moving on to higher education.
“I can’t express how amazing it is to see a child succeed because of your efforts, and the fact they understand they could not have done it without you is absolutely incredible. They love us for every dollar we have been able to raise and for every little conversation we have with them. It’s just incredible.”
Cavalcanti will continue to work the Padrino program during his time at FGCU, and plans to visit Mindo every time the opportunity arises.