„My dream is to find a sustainable home for those old people who live with me now. So that when I’m dead they still have a place to stay and are not turned back to the streets where I picked them up from.“
On first steps
“God gave me this gift to care for people. This is more than a profession, this is a vocation. All I do here, I do from my heart and with love. That makes me overcome all fears and challenges.”
elderly home founder, nurse & hero
Ramiro is a person of a rare kind. He dedicated his whole life to helping others. I had the chance to get to know him during my stay at „Mingahouse“ in Chinchiná, Colombia. This is a bridge-building foundation and by itself a remarkable project I was visiting to write about. Read the full story about Glen Galindo and Mingahouse here. Before I got introduced to Don Ramiro, as the 66-year-old is respectfully called by many here, my intention was to include him and his elderly home into the article about „Mingahouse“. Soon I realized, that this fellow has his own story to tell. A story of selflessness, charity and a great heart.
Washed out shirts, stained kitchen towels and old socks are hanging on the clothes line. It’s the laundry of the twelve people who are living here. Ramiro Cardona has just hung it up. The rooftop of the three floor house doesn’t smell like fresh clothes though, rather like wet walls and – with the right breeze from the wrong direction – a slight odor of dog pee. Ramiro washes all the clothes by hand, for a laundry machine is nothing he could afford. An old man shuffles his feet along. He stoops on his cane, carefully trying to set foot on the first step of the staircase to climb down to the second floor. „This is Jesús“, Ramiro introduces me while helping the old man down the stairs. Jesús is too focused on his task to pay any attention to me. When Ramiro comes back up the stairs, he tells with bright eyes: „Jesús es mi niño mas viejo!“ His „oldest child“ is 98 years old. Ramiro, 66 years old, has run his elderly home for 36 years.
Ramiro and his oldes resident Jesús (98)
„My father was seriously ill.“
Ramiro finished his education, became a nurse at eighteen years and started working in a hospital in Bogotá. By the age of 27, his father became ill which demanded Ramiro’s full attention. He returned from Bogotá to his hometown Chinchiná and started caring for his father. But Ramiro, now working as a home nurse, couldn’t be with his father permanently. His home visits with the doctor required a lot of time.
„I didn’t want my father to be alone at home, so I searched for company.“
Ramiro was 30 years old when he began to pick up old homeless people from parks and streets in Chinchiná. To accommodate them, he founded his elderly home „San Camilo de Lellis“ – named after the patron saint of nurses and hospital workers.
„Caring for other people is my passion, that’s the story of my life.“
His father died thirteen years ago, his life project is still alive. The elderly home became Don Ramiro’s vocation. For the past 36 years he has taken care of homeless people. „Some were abandoned by their families, some were alone for a long time. Most of them were found by the police, eking out a mere existence or half dead on the streets.“ His youngest resident has just turned sixty and suffers from dementia. His oldest, 98-year-old Jesús, has meanwhile made it up the stairs again and back to his room, a little chamber barely bigger then the bed he sits on.
„Some of the homeless people come only for one night. The police find them on the street. Like dogs, only humans“, Ramiro tells. „I try to give them at least a good night here, with a bed, a bath, food & clothes. We can always find something for them.“
150 Dollar for twelve people, food, medicine and rent for the house
This money lasts for half a month. Every other half Ramiro and his residents rely on donations. „Often it happened, that right a day before we ran out of supplies, neighbors brought food or we got some money donated. It’s a miracle that we have made it until here and I’m so grateful for this incredible support of the people.“
There is another elderly home, barely hundred meters away. With a nurtured garden in the middle and blooming flowers and craft workshops. With a pool table and a big TV-screen showing a football game. Uplifting Vallenato–music tunes with moderate volume out of loudspeakers. It smells like washing powder and that characteristic medicinal aroma of disinfectant and old people that elderly homes are supposed to smell like. Those residents, who have a hard time walking, sit in wheelchairs. This is the elderly home for the middle and upper class of Chinchiná – supported by the government.
Ramiro doesn’t receive any governmental support. All they gave him was a blue little medal of honor, that hangs on the wall. They didn’t include any money. There is no security net, that catches the homeless from falling, no minimum wage. No state, that cares for them. Only Ramiro.
Acknowledged by the government, but not financially supported.
This charity works with Ramiro, his heart and his passion. But, what if…?
Ramiro himself has serious health issues. The years have left their marks on him. Now that we were talking about his health condition, Ramiro’s expression became serious and his eyes moist. But not for his own fear of death, as one might assume. „The ambulance brought me to hospital recently. And I thought: this is it!“ Even in the face of his own life ending, Ramiro thought about his „children“. He had now tears in his eyes while telling:
„My greatest fear is, that – once I’m dead – nobody will care about my people here anymore. That nobody will pay the monthly rent for the house. That my „niños“ will be turned back to the streets where they came from – and thus die with me. My biggest dream is to buy a house for them, so that they can stay without me!“
Such a house that accommodates all the twelve would cost around $ 20.000. That is a fortune for somebody who struggles with getting enough food every second half of the month. Realistically, there is no way for him to get this amount of money without the help of others
Crowdfunding-Campaign closed. Update:
the campaign is closed and I’m incredibly happy to announce, that we – all 39 donors together – have raised 2.100 € of funds for Ramiro Cardona and his elderly home. For a person, who deals with 150$ a month to pay rent for his elderly home and food and medicine for his 12 residents, this is a fortune. I want to express my deepest gratitude to all of you beautiful people, who supported this campaign and helped somebody they’ve never met. Thank you!
From the 2.100€ we raised, GoFundMe transferred 1.950€ to my account. The difference of 150€ (around 7.9%) are the fees that GoFundMe earns for hosting the campaign. My friend Glen Galindo in Chinchiná is about to set up a new bank account for Ramiro. I will soon transfer the money and keep you posted about what Ramiro will use your donations for.
Thanks again for your kindness, your generosity, your humanity. You have made a difference!
Update, December 21st 2017:
Amazing news regarding DON RAMIRO! A volunteer from the Mingahouse Foundation, a nurse, donated 1.167€ single handed for Ramiro’s elderly home! Together with the 1.922€ funds (after all bank & platform fees) that we raised, we are able to cover more than 100% of Ramiro’s expenses for the year 2018. We helped a man who dedicates his life to helping others. There’s one huge concern less on his mind now. What a beautiful Christmas present! Thanks to all of you who donated. And big thanks to Glen G. Galindo and J Stiven Lopez L for being such reliable parts of this crowdfunding campaign! Merry Christmas!