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Friday, August 5, 2011

First Nueva Esperanza team

I got back two weeks ago from leading my first team to Nueva Esperanza (and I seem to be having a hard time getting my head in the game!) There are so many things I'd like to say about this trip but I can't figure out a way to do it without babbling.

For a week we spent the mornings painting ceilings (really, really high ceilings!) in an Orphan Helpers project called the Genesis Center. In the next few months, this will become the new school for all of the kids in Nueva Esperanza as well as the hub for community volunteers. In the afternoons we made babies smile and rocked them to sleep, chased toddlers down the hall after yet another attempted breakout, traced dozens of coloring pages, painted fingernails and tried to get the blasted cheap bubbles to blow good bubbles!

And of course, it was so much more than this. Spending consecutive days in Nueva can be hard. So it was also a week of strength, perseverance, growth, stretching and eyes being opened to uncomfortable truths. And I loved every minute of it. One of the things I struggle with the most is how best to communicate to all of you what Nueva Esperanza and Proniño are like, what these kids have been through, what their daily lives consist of and how you can help. And what I'm finding is that I can tell some individual stories (and plan on continuing to do so) but it's really hard to understand unless you've experienced it. And I love the process of walking with people as they're experiencing it. I think my favorite parts of this week were the one-on-one conversations I had with teammates as they wrestled through what they were seeing.

To the team: Thank you for giving your all. Thank you for pushing yourselves to spend time with groups or ages of kids that weren't your first choice. (They grew on you, right?) Thank you for asking tons of questions because it showed me just how much you really wanted to understand. And thank you for your openness and honesty each night as we debriefed the day!

video

Here's a slideshow of our week!

And if you're interested in experiencing this for yourself, there's still two more trips this year!

September 10-17 ($550 + the cost of airfare) Focusing on Nueva Esperanza
November 5-12 ($650 + the cost of airfare) Focusing on Proniño

Let me know if you're interested!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Today was r.o.u.g.h. For some reason, I've never spent much time with the toddlers at Nueva Esperanza. Yesterday I spent the afternoon there to help out two girls on my team. And I met Angel. All the kids were running around and he was just laying on the floor, staring off into space. I remember my first thought being that I don't think I'll ever be able to understand the depth of his loneliness. I picked him up off the ground and put him in my lap. He stared deep into my eyes and started weeping. He didn't make a single sound. Just had tears leaking out of his eyes as he stared at me warily. I got him to lay his head on my shoulder and we stayed like that for a while.

As soon as I could, I went back to him today and took him out of the toddler room to walk around the center. I was looking at his arms and legs and noticed dozens of little scars all over him. He has 5 brothers and sisters in the center and I made a beeline for one of the brothers. Enrique told me that they were from their mother hitting him with tree branches when he won't go to sleep. Unbelievable. When I saw him staring off yesterday, I assumed he was shell shocked from recently arriving in the center and not having his mom or siblings around to care for him. Now I know that chances are good that he's never, ever had a feeling of safety or security in his life.

He was snuggled close to me for a little over an hour, then the time came that I had to go. I explained to him that I am coming back tomorrow and will get him. Then I put him down. He stared at me as tears filled his eyes. His whole body was stiff as a board, in the same position as when I put him down. Only now had tears streaming down his crumpled little face as he watched me walking away, more tears falling the farther away I got. I felt like I was ripping his little heart out.

Earlier in the week I was talking to my teammate, Lauren, and she said she feels like she's going to spend this week getting the kids to let her in, just to walk away from them at the end of the week. I now fully understand what she meant. I can explain to the older kids when I'm coming back, and they understand the concept of time. But Angel is old enough to get attached specifically to me, but can't grasp 'tomorrow'. What am I going to do when I have to say "I'll see you in two months." In the long run, is getting this precious two year old to trust me going to help him or hurt him?

To quote part of Lauren's amazing and brutally honest blog "Staring back into my eyes, without speaking a word or making a movement, they tell me that their story is more than either of us can bear."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

First Honduras team

Two weeks ago I led my first team to Proniño. And I'm happy to say that it went very well! Thank you to Paula, Randy, Gwen, Katy and Brad for being my guinea pigs. =) I was so impressed and encouraged to see how much the team threw themselves into the work and threw themselves into getting to know the boys. And I'm grateful for the patience shown when we repeatedly heard "The plans have changed..." and "You can get started in just a minute..."

Top 5 moments of the trip for me (in random order):

1. When Jose Luis told Paula to close her eyes and open her mouth, and she actually did it. It ended up being a stick of gum, but it seriously could have been anything...
Jose Luis

2. When Milton whispered to me that he would like to marry Gwen. I blogged a while ago about how your presence, even for a week, really makes an impact on the kids. Case in point.
Milton and Paula

3. Sharing a gigantic meal with various types of meat with the team then finding out that that circular meat with the weird texture that made me gag a little is in fact huevos de toro. I'll let you google that.


4. Seeing how happy the boys were when they each received a stuffed animal donated by my mother-in-law's friend, Alejandra's, children. (That was a mouthful.) Who knew 15 year old boys would like a stuffed animal so much??

Rodolfo and his new friend

5. The moment when we finally received a mini-jackhammer and no longer had to pick ax through the foot and a half of cement we needed to remove. I can still feel the relief wash over me.

Happy Randy

Happy Gwen

And one of my favorite pictures of the week from Nueva Esperanza...



Click here to watch a slideshow of the kids and our work!

I'm hoping that after you watch this you'll be filled with an overwhelming desire to experience this yourself. Never fear! There are 3 more opportunities for you to come!

(This is coming up very, very soon but I thought I'd put it out there anyway...)
July 9-16 (Nueva Esperanza - $550 + the cost of airfare)
July 16-23 (Proniño - $650 + the cost of airfare)

September 10-17 (Nueva Esperanza - $550 + the cost of airfare)

November 5-13 (Proniño - $650 + the cost of airfare)


Thursday, June 9, 2011

I love it when 'accidents' happen

I got back from Honduras on Monday and as usual, I have so much to say! I had an incredible team with me working in Proniño and had an incredible day with one of the boys and his family, but I decided to blog about the shortest story first. (I also really need to go to the store. Sean went once in the 15 days I was gone and bought milk, yogurt, buns and orange juice. Our situation is desperate.) But anyway...

There's this kid named Kenneth who I know from Nueva Esperanza. He escaped in October and after worrying about him for a few weeks, my friend Yann happened to bump into on a bus and we've been able to keep in touch ever since. He has a fairly random situation in that he's living with a family that took him in without knowing him at all and he works with the father in the house, driving a little horse and buggy type thing around gathering scraps of metal that they later sell. It's not ideal. He's 13 and in the 2nd grade and not currently going to school. And when he gets sick he's too embarrassed to tell them about it or impose on them by asking for help. But he's not living on the street and he's not using drugs. And it's kind of sad that from other situations I've seen kids in, that means he's doing pretty darn good. But every time I go back, I call the guy he's living with and arrange a time for me to pick Kenneth up for lunch.
Our most recent lunch outing.

This trip was no different and on my first Thursday in Honduras we had plans for lunch at Pizza Hut. We ate and chatted. But for some reason that day, I was really, really tired. And it's hard to understand another language when you're tired. And he doesn't exactly enunciate, which just added to my difficulties. I got to the point where I was just nodding and pretending to understand, telling myself I only had to do it for another 20 minutes or so and then I could take him back home. Out of the blue he suggested that we go to downtown San Pedro and hang out at the square. Now, I had been counting down the minutes for a while and I'm really good at not doing something that I don't want to do, but I sternly told myself that I only get to see him once every 2 months and if the kid wants to hang out at the park, then that's the least I can do for him. So I agreed.

And man am I thankful I did. About 2 blocks from the park I noticed a kid walking down the street with a familiar gait. I did a double take and realized it was Victor. Victor is a kid who has lived in Proniño (40 minutes away by car) for about 4 years. I hadn't been in Proniño for a few days so I had no idea he had run away. I swung my car into a parking spot and quickly got out. I said his name, told him I had no idea he had run away and immediately sat down on the curb to let him know I wasn't planning on physically grabbing him and forcing him back to Proniño. I asked him some questions about why he left, when he left, where he's been and if he's hungry. Yes. So we headed to Pollo Campero. I called Kevin to try to get more info on why he ran and he asked me to pass the phone to Victor. Kevin asked when he was coming back to the foundation (Never). Kevin asked again and he said "I'll probably come back with Jenny." Phew.

Kenneth and Victor on my way back to Progreso

But the thing that gets me and what I just can't shake is how random and coincidental this was. I really, really didn't want to go downtown. But if I hadn't gone, Victor would probably still be on the street. Makes me shiver to think about. Victor is NOT a street smart kid. I'm so, so thankful I stumbled upon him.

A week after he ran away, Victor's back in the foundation and returning to school.

In the 3 trips I've taken to Honduras this year I've 'stumbled upon' 3 kids. I don't know. Maybe it's because it's a 'small' country. Maybe it's because there are so many out there on the street that I'm bound to find a few. But it feels like more than that. I'm so thankful Victor's safe. And I'm so thankful that I'm able to be used in this way.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Happy Birthday Richar!

It's been a while since I've given any updates on Richar. And since today is his birthday I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to talk about him!

He says that he's 15 today, but I have my doubts. . . His birthday is also close to the one year mark of when we first met. (Read about it here. You have to scroll down a little!)


I can't believe that it's been almost a year since I first met him. I remember blogging about him last May and writing about what he was going through. I remember being filled with such determination that I have to do something and yet fear that as time went on, this boy and his story was going to find a comfy place in my long term memory to be thought of once a year when I looked at pictures. I remember finding out his birthday had just passed and being disappointed, thinking, what are the chances I'll still be in contact with him a year from now? I am so thankful that a year later I can still write about him as I sit in a coffeeshop, waiting for my phone to ring with a call from Honduras so I can wish him a happy birthday. (To which I know he will respond "Thanks. Is Sean there?" Why, oh, why does he like Sean more than me!?!) And I'm so thankful that we were in Nueva Esperanza that day last year because I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if it wasn't for this fierce and protective love I have developed for him, that has blossomed into love for so many. And I can't think of anything in the world that I'd want to do more than work and fight for these kids.

But back to Richar... I had hoped that when he was moved to Proniño in August, his angry outbursts involving tearing his clothes to shreds would cease immediately. No such luck. Then he ran away in December. He was found 2 weeks later but the whole ordeal made me realize that he could get mad one day, run away and I could literally never see him again. This terrifies me. It was so hard for me to leave in January because I knew that no amount of promises from him would actually mean that he'd definitely still be there in March. But, thankfully, he was. And multiple Proniño employees said that he's improving. I talked to him about it one day and told him what the staff was saying. He hung his head a little bit and said "I got angry last week." I asked if he had to go to "the box". (The box is a room that the kids go to when they are a danger to themselves or to other kids. And when he loses it, he seriously develops nearly super human strength!) He looked up quickly and said no. That in itself is an improvement! One day when I arrived at Proniño in the morning, one of the employees told me that Richar is improving and he wanted Richar to sing a song dedicated to me. So cute. I sneakily recorded it. I had my camera in my lap, so that's why it's at such a weird angle. At around the 32 second mark you can see Richar look directly into the camera and then up at me as he realizes I'm videoing him. =)

video

A birthday request. I've realized that Richar being moved to a safer location simply isn't enough. He's an amazing child that has experienced various traumas in his short life. The only way that he'll become a stable, healthy and productive adult is if he receives some professional help. Proniño used to have a psychologist on staff but due to financial difficulties she was let go last year. One of the goals for The Children's Home Project is to raise funds for a psychologist. This is probably the biggest and most expensive goal, but it will also produce some incredible, long term positive results for many kids. I need to raise $600 a month to meet this goal. This would cover the cost of a full-time psychologist working with 20 children. The reality is that we could probably use five psychologists! But we'll start with one. This goal could be met by the monthly donations of an individual, church, organization or a combination of sources! Please let me know if you can help the project and the kids in this way. Or let me know if you think your church or organization would be interested and I will follow up with them! With YOUR help I'll be able to write a post on his "16th" birthday about how the box and his anger is a distant memory. And you'll be helping numerous kids in such a significant way!


And once again...
HAPPY BIRTHDAY RICHAR!!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Trip dates finalized!

I was reading my friend Allison's blog yesterday when I ran across a quote that I absolutely love from 'Irresistible Revolution'.

“Over and over when I ask God why all of these injustices are allowed to exist in the world, I can feel the Spirit whisper to me, “You tell me why we allow this to happen. You are my body, my hands, my feet.” - Shane Claiborne

I remember being stilled and convicted by this when I read it the first time. And it had the same effect this time. I spend so much time begging him to do something about this. To protect these children. To make them feel loved. To bring people into my life and theirs that will make both small and large differences in their lives. And I always feel like the responsibility is gently nudged back my way. We are his hands and feet. No matter how much I pray, he's not going to snap his fingers and make everything alright for them. He will give us strength, wisdom, passion or endurance for our journey. But we have to take the first steps down that path. And I'm nudging you to take this journey with me.


My best friend, Jen, with Tania, Magdiel and Juan at Nueva Esperanza in March


The trip dates and costs have been finalized for the rest of this year. I hope that if you've been moved by the stories of these kids that you'll seriously consider participating and getting to know them personally, and that you'll tell others. Lots of others!

I was reading my friend Jess' blog this morning and something she said really resonated with me.

But God does His work with smallness. It is our lack that He desires. Our limitations, our fear, our inability. He takes these few small loaves, the widow's mite, this ordinary life, and this is where he chooses to do His work.

Trip Dates...

May 28 - June 4
July 9-23
September 10-17
November 5-13

Trip Info...
Proniño trips
The trips in May and November will be focused only on Proniño (the center for former street boys ages 8-18). Our main project will be to build a portion of the center's perimeter fence. And being with the kids! (There may be some break dancing involved...) Here's a little video of the kids. Please ignore the information at the end! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEvBsu6Pon8
Cost for May 28 - June 4 is $724 + the cost of airfare. I realize this trip is coming very soon, but my goal was to have 10 people on the team and it has recently dropped down to 6! A little bit of encouragement - I recently checked the cost of tickets and they were $100 less than they were a month ago. =)
Cost for November 5-13 is $650 + the cost of airfare.

Nueva Esperanza trip
The trip in September will be focused only on Nueva Esperanza (the government center with boys and girls ages 0-14). Our work project will happen in conjunction with another organization called Orphan Helpers. They will soon be reopening an abandoned center adjacent to Nueva Esperanza. This center will be a school and mentoring location for the kids in NE. Then the center can use the current classrooms as additional dorms. This will enable them to separate the sleeping quarters of the typical kids from the special needs kids, giving those with special needs some much needed safety and protection. We'll be sprucing up the place and helping to get this center ready to be utilized. We'll also be helping in the nursery, and playing with the kids!
Cost for September 10-17 is $550 + the cost of airfare.

Nueva Esperanza AND Proniño
The July 9-23 trip will be two weeks long and we'll be working in both centers. So, if you just can't decide in which place you'd rather invest, why not both? =) Or you can choose to participate in only the first (Nueva Esperanza) or second (Proniño) week.
Cost for both weeks is $1000 + the cost of airfare
Cost for July 9-16 only (NE) is $550 + the cost of airfare
Cost for July 16-23 only (Proniño) is $650 + the cost of airfare

Friday, April 1, 2011

And he's back

I told myself that today was going to be a day of hours of reading and journaling. I'm reading a book called "Permission to Speak Freely" by Anne Jackson and it's excellent. But I just read this:

"How many times have you been encouraged by reading a story in the Scriptures or hearing a story of how God has been faithful in someone's life? Doesn't that kind of confession move your heart along to search for the same kind of hope?"

I immediately put the book down so I could share my stories with you because man do I have some stories of hope. Sometimes it feels like feast or famine. Sometimes it seems like nothing is working out for these kids and I feel so overwhelmed (last week). Other times the joy just keeps building as I hear one thing after the other that makes my heart want to burst with happiness. I have three for you today.

#1 WILMER'S BACK!!! Kevin found him on Wednesday. I figured when Kevin found him it would go something like this: Wilmer sees Kevin and hangs his head sheepishly. Kevin says "Come on, man, I've been looking for you everywhere. Everyone's worried about you and they all want you to come back." Wilmer says "Really? [Because the only reason that made sense to me for him still being on the street was that he must feel like he's messed up too bad to be let back in the center.] And with a huge smile plastered on his face he skips over to Kevin's truck and they happily drive back to Proniño. Here's what actually happened. He was found in a sewage canal, high as a kite on glue and belligerent. Kevin, 2 older boys from Proniño and a helpful homeless man each grabbed an arm or a leg and carried the struggling and furious Wilmer to the truck. He didn't calm down once he was in the truck so they headed for a police station to see if they could put him in a holding cell until some of the drugs had gotten through his system and he wasn't a danger to any of the other kids. Thankfully, it ended up not being necessary. He calmed down at the police station. Still fuming, but calmer. Then Kevin, the 2 older Proniño boys, Wilmer and the 4 other kids they found on the street headed back to the center. 24 hours later Wilmer was asking Kevin when he was going to be able to move back to his old room and if Kevin could get him some drawing materials. He's back. I'm sad that he apparently had no intention of coming back on his own and I'm sad that he went back to drugs so quickly. This has blown a lot of my theories about why the kids do what they do and I'm dying to have have a long conversation with him in May about what was going through his head. But at this point the important thing is that I CAN have that conversation with him, because we know where he is. And we know that he's safe.

#2 One of the other kids that Kevin found on Wednesday is my friend Edgar. I knew him when he lived in Nueva Esperanza, found him on the street a few weeks after he escaped from NE and brought him to Proniño. Then he ran away in December. And was found 2 weeks later. Then he ran away 3 days before I got there in March. When I was there in January I told him that I was planning on selling our truck in December, but decided to wait because if he and Richar were still on the street in January I was going to need a vehicle to look for them. He spent much of that day asking me over and over "Why didn't you sell your truck?" (So I could look for you.) "Tell me again why you didn't sell you truck?" I sent him a letter telling him when I was coming in March, so when he ran away 3 days before I arrived I had a hopeful theory that he wanted to be looked for. But Jen and I went to the gas station where he usually begs at least 20 times. No Edgar. It was so weird being in Honduras and not seeing him. When I opened my computer on Wednesday afternoon I had an email from Kevin and all it said was "Got Edgar". Woohoo! I called him to get more info but by that point he had also found Wilmer, and things were pretty chaotic, so one of the kids answered. Once he figured out it was me he said "Jenny, I've got a friend of yours here." And he passed the phone to Edgar. It was so, so good to hear his little voice! I told him how happy I was and how worried I had been. I asked him why he ran - "Because of some boys." I thought that meant that some kids had been picking on him and I asked him who it was and he said "Robert wanted to run away so I left with him." That's kinda the problem with Edgar. He's always up for an adventure. If only someone could figure out a way to make him always be up for being safe and cared for then it would be great to stop these little adventures every 2 months!

#3 Final awesome story of this blog. (Keep in mind that I found out about these 3 things in a 20 minute window. Again I say, feast or famine.) I started chatting with a guy on Facebook as soon as I got off the phone with Edgar. He said that he had sent a picture of Richar to me from when he visited Proniño last week. After a few minutes I went to my hotmail account to check it out, saw this and gasped:
That's Richar and that's definitely Proniño, but do you recognize the other kid from my last post. It's Moises!!! He's been transferred from Nueva Esperanza!!! I couldn't believe no one had told me. But I was happy that at least I knew! I talked to Kevin about it on Friday and he didn't know the details of how he got there but he said that Nelson was grinning ear to ear and the two of them walked all over the center with their arms around each other all day long. My heart has been hurting so much for Moises, just thinking about what he's going through every day at Nueva. I'm so so thankful to know that he's finally reunited with his brother and that he's in a place where he can learn and grow as a kid and not have to live in survival mode.

I still don't understand why it didn't work out for me to bring him to Proniño 3 weeks ago, but it feels like maybe that wall in front of my face is crumbling a little bit...

Only 53 more days til I get to see them! Ugh, way too long. Now back to Permission to Speak Freely. Seriously, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Struggling with unbelief

Maybe someday I'll be able to start a post without prefacing it when it's a rough one. Today is not that day. This post is a little rough.

I first met Nelson and Moises when they arrived in Nueva Esperanza in August of last year. I found them huddled in a corner, crying. They were brought to NE because their step-dad tried to kill them. Pretty traumatic. But then they arrive in NE, the new kids, and they are constantly being hit by other boys and their food is being stolen by the kids. They were completely shocked and overwhelmed by what they were experiencing. It killed me that there was nothing I could do. I sat with them as they cried and made sure everyone left them alone while I was there, but that's it.

Over the next few months, Nelson learned that in this place, it's survival of the fittest. And survive he did. He became one of the biggest bullies. I would try to get some alone time when I was there and remind him of what it was like when he first arrived, and how he's doing the same thing to other boys that was so hard for him. But in order to survive you need to throw reason out the window. The climax of his reign came when I was there in January. I made sure I was in the center during lunchtime so I could try to prevent some the food stealing that happens. Before we all went to the cafeteria I found Nelson standing over a kid who was crying in the corner. I pulled him away and we went to lunch. I watched as the crying kid got his food, sat down at the table, looked at the food for a minute, then picked his plate up, walked over to Nelson and gave him his food. So, not only is he stealing food from other kids, he's intimidating them before they even get to the cafeteria! But Nelson wasn't stealing the food for himself. All the extra food he got went straight to his brother. Was what Nelson was doing wrong? Absolutely. But he was going to great lengths to protect his brother.

Nelson and Moises (Notice the amount of food on Moises' plate. This was at the end of lunch.)

Fast forward to February and as I was looking online at pictures of new kids at Proniño I was shocked to see a picture of Nelson. He had been transferred from Nueva Esperanza. And he was doing great. Nueva Esperanza has the tendency to transfer the 'bad kids' to Proniño. But then once they're in Proniño, they excel. Because the reality is these aren't bad kids, these are kids that are surviving and you'll do some crazy stuff in order to survive. (Think Lord of the Flies.) When kids arrive in Proniño, they usually spend the first 3-6 months in Nueva Vida which is the first level and it's more restricted. Nelson made it to level 2 in a little over a month. What does that say about his true character?


Nelson on his bed in Proniño with a picture of him and his brother that I brought for him.

The problem is, Moises is still in Nueva and Nelson was his protector. I talked to the Director of Proniño about it as soon as I arrived in March and he immediately said he wants to bring Moises to Proniño. (Insert praise for Proniño!) I talked to the Director of Nueva Esperanza and she said that she just needs to get permission from the judge or caseworker in his hometown and then I can take him. Wonderful! But I had this nagging fear. Things rarely work out smoothly in Honduras. This was on Tuesday and I was supposed to take him to Proniño at 9:30 the next morning. I prayed and I prayed. Got a call from the Director that I won't be able to bring him Wednesday, but probably Thursday. I prayed and I prayed. I emailed a few prayer warriors and asked them to pray. I sat with Moises Wednesday afternoon and felt like it was August again. He cried and cried telling me what he was experiencing. Every single morning he wakes up to a kid on top of him hitting and hitting him. Every morning. I cried out to God that that would be the last day he would experience this. I get a call from the Director saying that I can't take him on Thursday. At this point I'm stressing in my most polite and urgent Spanish that the last day I can take him is Friday. Thursday evening she says "Don't worry. We'll take him there later."


Moises in Nueva in March

And I don't doubt that eventually, Moises will be in Proniño. But how much is he going to have to endure before that happens? I don't normally expect my prayers to be answered exactly how I want them to be. I'm fine with coming to God with a struggle, desire or need and trusting that things will go according to His plan and that His plan is better than mine. But this one has left me flabbergasted and feeling a little empty inside. Everything was all set. All we needed was a simple phone call with the go ahead. Instead, Moises is still waiting to experience some sort of justice and protection in his life.

And I haven't been able to shake this feeling that my prayers for these kids are being sent out into this great void. Or that I'm shouting them at this wall and they're just bouncing back and slapping me in the face. Which brings me to part 2 of this post...

Wilmer and Jen - who he turned into Cousin It

This is Wilmer and he is incredible. He's been in Proniño for 3 years and before that he was a 10 year old crack addict living on the street. He's come so far and has so much potential. He's smart and funny and artistic and strong (but I did beat him in an arm wrestling competition last week. It was a challenge.) And even though he has a rough past he's overcome so much and is now one of the most stable kids in the center.

A painting by Wilmer!

Wilmer 'driving' (steering) my truck 2 weeks ago. Don't worry, we were going 10mph on a deserted road.

But Wilmer ran away on Monday night. I don't know all the details, but it's something along the lines of him getting in trouble and being both ashamed at what he did and angry at what his punishment was, so he left. I'm afraid for him. I'm afraid for what he'll experience on the street. I'm afraid for the decisions he'll make. And I want a miracle. I want to open my email and find an email from Kevin saying that he's been found or he came back on his own. But I have that current issue with my prayers and the wall. So I just feel sick and worried and helpless.

Lord, please remove this weight of unbelief that is dragging me down. Remind me that you love these kids even more than I do. And you want justice for them even more than I do. Please protect Wilmer. Please bring him home soon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A sweet reunion

I'm back from Honduras and as always, it's bittersweet. This was such a great trip as I got to spend a lot more time with the kids than in January. And the more time I spend with them the more they are opening up to me and oh how I love learning about their lives, their families, their dreams.

There are many stories that I want to share with you, but one definitely sticks out. It's about Tania and Deybi. When I started visiting Proniño last September there was a boy that I was sure that I knew,but couldn't figure out how I could possibly know him.


Deybi

After a few weeks of staring at him (and him probably wondering 'Why in the world is that gringa always looking at me??') I realized that he looks identical to one of the sweetest girls in Nueva Esperanza.
Tania

I asked her if she had any brothers. (Yes.) I asked her if she knows where they are. (I think one of them lives in Proniño.) Eureka! The next time I saw Deybi, I showed him a picture of Tania on my camera. He just stared and stared and stared at her. This started a few months of me bringing messages back and forth between the two of them on my camera. And I thought that this was all I could do...

This trip, as I was going to talk to the Director of Nueva Esperanza, Tania stopped me and asked me to ask the Director if she could somehow see her brother. I figured the chances were slim to none, but she asks for so little that I knew I had to at least bring it up. To my amazement the Director said that it would be ok! So Friday morning I arrived early to the center and then set off for Proniño with an IHNFA chaperone and an incredibly excited little girl. Tania had been taken away from her physically abusive father 2-3 years ago and hasn't seen any family member since.

We arrived at Proniño and Deybi was the one that opened the gate for us. (He earns some spending money every week for doing this chore.) I immediately could tell that as far as he was concerned today was just any other day. I parked my truck and asked him if he knew who I had with me. He looked confused and said no. I said "Really? No one told you?" "Told me what?" he asked. I said that I have Tania with me and at that exact moment she climbed out of the backseat of the truck. The blogging part of me wanted so badly to catch this moment on video or with a picture, but I didn't want anything to distract them from their moment. So instead, I have this beautiful picture in my head of him seeing her, running around to the other side of my truck and hugging her so, so hard.
They spent a few hours together and he gave her a tour and she got to meet all of his friends.

Then she hung out with him as he got ready for school.
Aren't they both just so beautiful??


But the story keeps getting better. The kids haven't seen their mother for years and years. When Tania was still there, one of the Proniño employees asked for detailed info on where their mom's house is. I thought it was a little odd that he was so interested. But then when I arrived on Sunday, there she was! The employee had tracked her down and brought her for a visit. Deybi opened the gate for my truck as usual and then practically dragged me over to where she was so I could meet her. "My mom's here! She looks identical to Tania!!" He was absolutely glowing.
Deybi and Gloria

And I know it seems too good to be true, but the story keeps getting better. When I brought Tania back to Nueva Esperanza she was understandably filled with joy and sadness. So happy to have seen her brother but sad it can't happen more often. She leaned against me and cried for a very long time. She cried for her brother, but seeing him also reminded her how much she misses her mom. But then on Sunday I found out that she's not going to have to wait very long to see her! The amazing employee that found Gloria is planning on picking her up again today with Deybi and heading to Nueva Esperanza so the three of them can be together for a visit. The first time in 6 years!

I am so impressed by and thankful for this employee. It's the one day that he has off every week and he's still 'working'. He's genuinely excited that he has the opportunity to do this wonderful thing for the family. And people like him is what sets Proniño apart from other places. He doesn't see this as just a job. He understands that he is an integral and important part of bringing joy into the lives of these kids. And their joy is important enough to him that he's willing to sacrifice a bit in order to make it possible.

I am so thankful to have been able to witness these reunions and wish that I would've been there today to see Tania's reaction to her seeing her mom. I'm sure it was more beautiful than words can describe.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just a little video

After getting stuck in Minneapolis then having a 20 hour layover in Atlanta, I'm finally in Honduras!

And here's a little video of what's been happening so far at Pronino...


video

Looking forward to the rest of the trip!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Exhaling

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law and I were talking about Nueva Esperanza while we were supposed to be watching the Super Bowl. It's been almost a year since she spent 3 days there and she still thinks about the kids a lot. She talks about the kids a lot. She prays for the kids a lot. She knows the kids made an impact on her but she struggles with whether or not being there really made a difference in the kids' lives. She asked me "Do you really think we made any impact on the kids at all?"

I knew my answer was an adamant yes, but I couldn't immediately think of why... Did the kids' lives significantly and permanently improve because of those three days? No. The best way I could think to describe how worthwhile her time was, was to talk about Sean. There are many reasons why I married Sean. We share many of the same interests, we work well as a team, love dogs, love God, have fun together, I think he's pretty darn cute, and the list goes on. But probably the number 1 reason is how safe and secure he makes me feel. I know without a doubt that he always wants what's best for me, cares deeply for me, believes in me and will fight for me. When I think about Sean it's like a deep exhale. It's complete safety. It's guaranteed acceptance and the freedom to let my guard down. I feel at peace.

And that's what we can bring to these kids. Most likely only for a little while, but any amount of time that we can feel safe and peaceful is rejuvenating. It's life giving in an environment that can often feel quite the opposite.


When you braid a little girls hair, learn a boys name - and remember it the next day, or hold hands with a toddler as you walk to the playground you're telling them that they matter and that they're worthy of being known.


Can you list every person in your life that has ever made you feel safe or important? Of course not. But each person was important in forming who you are today.








I will be leading 3 teams to Honduras this year and I would like you to join me. Join me in creating a safe space for them to exhale.


This quote is part of a recent blog post by Mary Elizabeth. She is a college student who did an internship with Buckner last summer and spent lots of time in Nueva. I can't agree more with her words...

"One thing that we do so often here in the States is talk about the orphans and afflicted in the world. We even have compassion for them. But oh how different it is to hold them in your arms, to hold their hands, to look at their beautiful faces and stare into their eyes. It changes everything." (emphasis mine)

Will you join me?

July 9-23 The first week we'll be in Nueva Esperanza (government center with boys and girls ages 0-14) and the second week we'll be in Proniño (private center for street boys ages 8-18) You have the option of attending both weeks or only the first or second!

Cost:
July 9-16 (Nueva Esperanza only) $550 + the cost of airfare
July 16-23 (Proniño only) $650 + the cost of airfare
July 9-23 (Both centers) $1000 + the cost of airfare

Details for the September trip to Nueva Esperanza and the November trip to Proniño will be determined soon!

Please contact me at jkast@hth.org if you are interested!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I think I'm a magnet

I went back to Honduras January 6-13 to teach a class about Honduran childrens' homes at Heart to Honduras' Year of the Child conference. It was excellent (the conference, not my class!). Pastor Fredy did such a good job of finding speakers and it was so wonderful to see and hear Hondurans really stepping up and fighting for the children in their country. They also had the opportunity to learn about very important things like sexual abuse and Honduran laws regarding children. Way to go Corazon Para Honduras!!

The rest of the week was focused on Nueva Esperanza and Proniño. Joy of joys!! So, my plan was to leave Santa Elena, where the conference was held, and head to San Pedro in the late afternoon. I was roughly an hour outside of San Pedro when I spotted two kids walking on the side of the road that looked strangely familiar. I made a u-turn and slowed down near them and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was two kids from Nueva Esperanza, Jose Antonio and Domingo, one of which I’m very close to. My last day in at NE in November Domingo gave me a bracelet that I’m still wearing today. What are the chances that I would happen to be in the country when they decided to run and that I'd happen to be driving down that road and happen to notice them amongst the many people walking or riding their bikes??? I couldn't believe it.


From November - Domingo is on the right, showing his vibrant personality...

Also in November, Jose Antonio (on the right)

We stared at each other in astonishment for a few moments, then I parked the truck, got out and hugged them for a very long time. They had escaped from NE the day before through a hole in the wall. (People make these holes from outside the center. If you walk along the perimeter you’ll see dozens of patched up holes. I don't understand what motivates people in the neighborhood to do this.) I asked them why they left and they said it was because an employee shaved their heads really hard. This may seem like a silly reason but a) the kids hate having their heads shaved. They usually try to hide until the razor has been put away again. And those that managed to avoid getting shaved smack the shaved ones really hard on the head. b) They do shave the kids’ heads really hard. You can always see lines on their heads afterwards from how hard the employee pushes. These kids have been through enough – why make haircuts traumatic also? c) I think it’s more that the head shaving was the last straw than the stand alone reason to run.

They were excited to see me at first. Then I asked if they wanted to go to Proniño. Jose Antonio was interested. Domingo was skeptical. I made a phone call and while I was talking they started walking away. By the time I got off the phone I had to drive to catch up to them. When I got out of the truck they started running. I shouted after them things like “I just want to talk!” and “Let’s go get something to eat!” And finally, “Domingo, I still have your bracelet!” At this they slowed down and started heading back towards me. We squatted on the ground and talked for a long time. They were headed to Santa Barbara to look for Domingo’s family. (A 4-5 hour drive from where we were. No idea how long it would take to walk.) I asked him why he was taken from his family to begin with. He said his dad hit him, but he would avoid him this time. I wanted to take them to Wendy’s but they were afraid that I was going to trap them and take them back to NE. Domingo kept saying that he doesn’t want to be locked up anymore. He wants to be able to make money and buy snacks and go see friends and walk around and explore. It was breaking my heart because I wanted him to go to Proniño, where he has the opportunity to get an education (he’s 14 and can only crudely spell his name) and safety, and yet I understood what he was saying. At one point he even asked me “Jenny, why do you get to be free? Why do you get to drive wherever you want?” I simply said that it’s because I’m an adult, but I know that what he was saying is that he doesn’t want to feel like he’s in a cage. But to respect his wishes would be to allow them to continue on the 3+ day journey alone with no food, money, shoes or shelter, which I couldn't do without a bit of a fight!

I finally convinced them to come to Wendy’s and they were so cute and excited. And man did we get some stares. They looked fairly normal from neck to knee, but their closely shaved heads and dirty, dirty bare feet were drawing some attention. Thankfully, they were completely absorbed in their food and didn’t seem to notice. We talked and ate and when the air conditioning became too much for them we moved outside. I kept trying to direct the conversation to Proniño and Domingo kept directing it back to his family. At one point in the conversation he told me that his original plan was to escape, head to the States and call me when he got there. But he had lost my phone number so he decided to head home instead. This made me think that home was just one of his few options, more than his family being his number one desire.

But after a while he started asking me for some money so they could take a bus to Santa Barbara. And I kept telling them no. But it was killing me. It seemed obvious that they weren’t going to come with me, so I was going to have to leave two children alone to find somewhere ‘safe’ to sleep that night and I wouldn’t even give him money so at least they could go directly to Santa Barbara instead of walking, bare-foot, and encountering who knows how many dangers? It was also dawning on me that I was probably never going to see them again. And I did what most distraught women do – I got a little weepy. I tried to hide it, but they noticed the catch in my voice. I got up to leave when Jose Antonio said “He wants to go to Proniño!” Oh geez. I asked Domingo if it was because of my tears and he said yes. Awesome, I had just succeeded in emotionally manipulating the poor kid.

Nevertheless, we got in the truck and headed for Progreso. He was so, so quiet. He told me he was sad. I asked if he wanted to change his mind and I could take him back, but he said no. A little bit later he said “We’re going to Proniño because that’s what you want, right Jenny?” Ugh. I explained to him again all the reasons why it’s good, but asked him again if he wanted me to turn around. Again, no. But then a wonderful thing happened – he started asking me lots and lots of detailed questions about Proniño. Do they have electricity? (Yes) Do kids steal your food? (Not that I know of.) Does everyone have their own beds? (yes) How long will it take me to get to the 2nd level where I’ll have more freedom? (3-6 months depending on your behavior) Do they pull your teeth out there? (Jose Antonio lived at Proniño for a while last year and apparently soon after he arrived he had a tooth pulled. So he told Domingo they pull your teeth out. I asked Jose Antonio if that tooth hurt really bad before they pulled it? – Yes. So I explained to Domingo that they’ll help him with any bad teeth, not pull them out for fun or punishment!) I was so proud of Domingo – that he was able to identify some of his fears and then voiced them. When we got to Proniño we were met by Rodolfo, who probably is the friendliest and happiest kid in the center. Perfect! He greeted the newbies and with a bit of encouragement told them how much he loved Proniño and hasn't ever tried to run away. I couldn't've planned it better...

I spent part of his second day and all of his third day at Proniño. When I saw him his 2nd day he immediately started crying. He said that everyone had been really nice and no one had messed with him. (I was worried about that because he’s a fighter and I thought maybe he’d pick some unnecessary fights to show everyone not to mess with him – which completely backfired at NE.) He said he liked the food and everything was very chill. But he still had a strong desire to be free and with his family.

Day 3 he was really excited that they had put him in 2nd grade. He told me that he still wanted to run away, but he was going to wait til he had completed 2nd grade, because "getting an education was important". =) That was fine with me! I’m hoping that after a year of being in school he’ll decide to stick around for 3rd grade as well! At the end of that day, as I was saying goodbye, I got all choked up again. I told him I was worried he would run away before I came back. He asked me when I was coming back and I said March. He thought about it for a minute and said “I can wait til March.”


Richar and Domingo in Proniño

So I have no idea if he'll really stay. That desire for freedom is so strong in him. One bad day or one disagreement with another boy and he could be gone. But I'm hoping he'll take advantage of this opportunity. He's such a smart and resilient kid, and I pray that he'll be able to change the course his life has been on!