Since my book, Santiago’s Children: What I Learned about Life at an Orphanage in Chile, was released in April by the University of Texas Press, I have received many generous notes – from both friends and those I have never met – about the book and about their own reflections on their journeys to be of service to others and draw lessons from those experiences.

Some of these notes have inspired a few of us to create a space for people to reflect and learn from others while thinking about trying to make a positive difference in the world.

Our hope is that this site will provide a space not only for people to respond to Santiago’s Children but also to explore a broader set of questions the book raises about the search for meaning and of being of service, and especially in the context of finding ways that connect our lives with important social challenges around the world.

Working with Enrique, Daniel, Leticia and Brooke at the non-profit organization Voluntarios de la Esperanza (Volunteers of Hope) or VE Global, in Santiago, we decided to combine forces to create this blog. (VE Global is a dynamic organization that places international volunteers at orphanages and works with at-risk children in Santiago, and well worth learning more about at www.veglobal.org.) I also want to give thanks to Gregor Brodsky who created the original Santiago’s Children webpage that provides the framework for this blog.

Santiago’s Children began with a journal I kept while I was working as a volunteer at the Hogar Domingo Savio orphanage in Santiago, Chile, from 1982 to 1984. It was there that I met a remarkable group of children who taught me so much. Some of the stories I tell in Santiago´s Children are funny, some poignant, some sad, some hopeful.

In retrospect, I now realize that many of the stories began with mile-high expectations about the contributions I was going to make in the lives of these kids and more generally in Chile. The results of most of these ambitious and often unrealistic efforts brought few fruits – and some had quite sad or comic endings.

However, many of these stories – and I think a lot of life – is about the gap between our dreams for a better world and the rock-hard reality we confront daily. I have come to believe that the most important things in life occur in that gap between our best and highest aspirations and a reality that is quite different.

Given this tension, one remedy is to resign and to accept the proposition, “Change is not possible. Abandon the dream.”

A more exciting and hopeful approach is to hang true to the dream and stay passionate about what you care about, but to keep learning in the process.

A number of decades have intervened since the events I wrote about in my book, and I sometimes find myself giving advice to students and others at crossroads in their own lives about “what next.”

I have learned that it is hard to make a wrong decision if you engage in things you care about, try your best to make a contribution to others, and continue to learn in the process. Struggling is an important part of the journey. My hope in publishing this book, and now this blog, is to reaffirm the belief that it is worth the struggle.

We hope this blog creates a space for people to share their reflections about the book and about their own struggles, hopes, aspirations, and insights in their efforts to make a contribution in a complicated world.

I will try to write regularly at this site, as will my friends at VE Global, World Teach, Amigos of the Americas, Partners in Health and many others who are trying to make a difference in the world.

I hope you contribute as well.




  1. I really like the idea that there is no wrong decision, every decision is a path that is worth walking. The problem, is that we never know if the path we didn’t choose was a better one. Whenever I ask my self that question, I remember a wise sentence that my father used to say, “your path is the best path, because you is the one you chose”, that meant that whatever would have happened in the other paths, you will never know, and thus, not know if it would have been better.

  2. I am also quite attracted to the notion that there is no wrong decision that one can make, so long as the decision is guided by the principles that Steve mentioned (conviction, service, and continuous learning). There is so much pressure amongst young people these days to make the “best” decisions in order to get into a good university, to get a good job, to buy a nice house, etc., so much so that it is easy to feel like there is only one “right” decision. Even small decisions begin to become stressful as we try to think about how every little ramification could effect the rest of our lives.

    And while the decisions we make certainly direct the course that our lives will take, as long as we are guided by the aforementioned principles I think that there is really rather little to stress about (including whether or not the other possibilities could have been better). We might fall down several times as we figure out our paths, but that is part of the learning process. I have definitely stumbled quite a few times since I decided to become an international volunteer, but I don’t consider any of these slips a “wrong” decision. To the contrary, each shortfall has taught me how to do things a little bit better the next time. It is through these small steps that I believe we begin to chip away at the gap between our highest expectations and the hard -reality that we are trying to change.

  3. My son, Daniel, sent my husband and me your book. He wanted us to have a clearer understanding of his volunteer work in Chile, particularly with the children at Domingo Savio. I enjoyed the many stories—some of which are similar to ones he shared with us. I have a much greater appreciation for what he has been doing for the past year!
    Most importantly, I have learned that we as parents, sometimes think we know what is best for our children, when in fact, we may not. You are correct in pointing out that life is a journey with many “forks in the road”—none of which are wrong decisions, if one’s intent is pure and good. I highly recommend this book to parents of young people, particularly those who have children volunteering in faraway places! I have learned that left to his own devices, my son has made some good decisions—in spite of what I thought he should be doing! My younger son, getting ready to head off to the Peace Corps, will benefit from his mother’s new found wisdom—mom doesn’t always know what’s best!
    Thank you for writing this book and sharing your experiences. I hope all of the volunteers at VEGlobal will also send their parents this book!
    Jeannie Saver

  4. Dear Jeannie

    Many thanks for your kind email. You son Daniel has been a terrific force for good in his work with Domingo Savio and with Voluntarios de Esperanza. I am delighted you enjoyed reading my book, and that it helped you understand something of what your son has been doing here in Chile.

    My writing the book actually helped me reflect a lot on my own relationships with my parents … and how much they had given me, much of which I did not realize at the time.

    thanks again for the note and i look forward to staying in touch.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s