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!