martes, 12 de marzo de 2013

Story of a Family...

We recently took this off of our website since it is from a previous year, so I thought I would post it on my blog: 

Below is the story of one of the many families you can help through sponsoring a student:

This is Lilia (right) along with as many family members as we could round up for the photo during this house visit, and one neighbor. She and her family are originally from Haiti but live in the community of Padre Granero, Puerto Plata. Project Esperanza has run a grassroots school for Haitian immigrant children in the Padre Granero community since December 2006. Lilia’s family has been involved in some capacity over the years. One of her nine children, a daughter, was a student in the school this past school year (2010-2011) and a few of her sons have also participated with our soccer team Supesta.

Although we both knew of each other previously, we officially met this past April when, while visiting others, she called me over to her front porch. She presented her two youngest daughters to me and asked how she could get them into the school. I talked to her about the procedures for registering that year and also invited her to an Easter egg dying event we would soon be putting on with some visiting volunteers. She was thankful and planned on attending.

Not long after this, within a few weeks, a missionary named Brad stopped by the Searching for Life School for Haitian Immigrant Boys who are in a program transitioning from a lonely and defeating life on the streets where they shine shoes and sell sweets to a life with more opportunity where they are part of a residential program with responsibilities and education. I was sitting out front keeping track of attendance, tardiness, and playing with my son who was a year and eight months at the time. Teachers were inside with the students running class.

Brad and I caught up with each other’s work in the Puerto Plata community and he then told me about a Norwegian couple that was vacationing on a beach neighboring the community of Padre Granero who, during their three week trip, had met and formed relationships with about 9 boys. These boys explained to the couple that they rented a small room together having no parental figures around and sold shells on the beach to get by. Many, if not all of them claimed to have come over from Port-au-Prince after the earthquake. The ages they gave ranged between 10 and 16 years old.

I asked Brad the names the boys had given, knowing that Haitians often give fake names when coming to the Dominican Republic. I told him that I would ask the boys in our program about this as many of them are from Padre Granero and there are, indeed, many boys who live in the area without family who split rent on small rooms and live together. I had never heard of nine in one room, but I said I would ask around and see what I could find out. The boys had really captured the hearts of the Norwegian couple and they were looking for the best way to help these boys, which is why they had contacted Brad, knowing he was a missionary in the area. However, Brad was not really involved in the Padre Granero community or the Haitian street vending, shoe shining kids community, which is why it was good that we met up. After giving all of the details, Brad went on his way and we planned to be in touch.

Within the hour, class was dismissed and the boys came outside. I told a few of them what Brad had said and they quickly knew who I was talking about, giving me real names, some of whom had been part of the residential program before, some whom had been part of a day program in town we used to run and have stayed involved in the soccer team, and then others I didn’t know.  They mentioned that Lilia had five or six of these boys staying at her house and that her own children often beg on the beach as well or sell shells to tourists.

I wrote an e-mail to Brad relaying this information and sending pictures of a few of the boys they mentioned who have been involved in our programs so that he could verify that they were the same, including the fake names the boys had confirmed that these boys give.  It seemed as though the fake names of some had changed throughout the years so I was out of the loop. Brad confirmed the photos and names and was thankful for the insight I was able to provide. I suggested that we speak to Lilia to find out her involvement in these boys’ lives and perhaps suggest that the Norwegian couple give her some support rather than trying to do something through anyone else or directly through the boys while they are away in their home country. Brad also wanted to this, as well as to have me see the group of boys in front of him to tell what I knew of each of their histories.

So we set out to do this. I knew that I would come off as a bad guy to some if I were to have to reveal lies but I also know that “Honesty is the best policy” and generally don’t care about being the bad guy when necessary.

We arrived at the section of Padre Granero where Lilia lives and found three of the boys sitting on the street. One of them I knew well and his brother is actually a member of our residential program and had been one of the ones who provided me with information. The other two I had seen around, I believe one used to come to soccer practice, but I did not know their names. I informed them the reason for my presence and told them that I had heard that many members of the group they were a part of lived with Lilia. So we were going to talk to Lilia. They looked a little uncomfortable or perhaps “busted” at this and quickly went on their way. There were about 20 young male bystanders, some who began making statements such as, “Ooohh, they’re going to talk to your mother.”

We quickly arrived at Lilia’s house. I greeted her and introduced her to Brad and company. She greeted everyone warmly and invited us to sit inside. I explained her the reason for our presence and she quickly explained that she had just found out that morning that the kids had found some foreigners who wanted to help them but they were being very secretive about it and didn’t really want her to know. I asked her what her relationship was to these boys. She said that three of them are her own children, biologically, three are her husband’s sons who she cares for, and the other under her care is a boy that her husband picked up on the streets of Port-au-Prince five years ago, brought him to her, and he had lived with her ever since, with the exception of leaving the house for a few months before returning. Three of her children, a mix of female and male, had been living with her mother, their grandmother, in Port-au-Prince before the 2010 earthquake but came to live with her shortly afterwards. There were neighbors and other family members in the house confirming everything she said. Her husband is a passer which means that he travels back and forth to Haiti each week, showing people the route through the woods on foot when they don’t have money to pay off guards and delivering items family members living in the Dominican Republic want to send to family members in Haiti. This means that he is present for just a few days each week, and sometimes not even that. However, he is able to provide for his family through this work to some extent.

Brad was surprised to learn what she had to say. He asked her to go to the beach with us to confront them and point out which boys are hers. With some coercion, she got in Brad’s vehicle and went along with us. Brad took a route to a part of the beach that I had never been before. We ended up on the edge of the barren beach where Padre Granero basically collides with the first hotel complex. We quickly ran into several boys. Lilia began calling them over, using their real names as she was unfamiliar with the fake names they use. Three sat on the other side of a canal, refusing to come over, one hiding his face. Little by little we collected a group of nine boys who sat together on a stone wall lining the canal that led water from other sources into the ocean. Seven confirmed what Lilia had said: they were either her biological children, her stepchildren, and one was a boy she had cared for for five years. Some of the boys had found the husband of the Norwegian couple and come over with him as well. Brad ran ahead to prep him for the truth, as he was shocked, disappointed, and even in disbelief at first. He and his wife had already bought lots of cooking items and food items for the boys, as well as given the deposit to rent a new house and trusted one of them with it.

We had a conversation with the boys about telling the truth and the right way to seek aid. Brad preached in English and I translated into Creole. I also threw in some of my own input, especially about respecting Lilia, understanding the role that she has in their lives, and not ever wanting to cut her out of that role but to support her in it. The Norwegian man took away to get over his surprise and at one point asked them one by one, “Who washes your clothes? You look clean.” One by one they pointed to Lilia or answered, “My mom.” By the end, it was a comfortable group that I think had been successfully corrected along with bystanders that were pleased with the justice of the situation. The boy who had the money for the other house to rent returned it to the man, in response to his request. Two other boys in the group who were not Lilia’s children had their own situations and actually do lack caregivers in the area. But the core of the group had been deceptive as they had led Brad and the couple to a room, saying that all nine lived there, when in reality seven live with Lilia.

Lilia continually stated that she would not allow the boys to even come to the beach except that it’s hard because they are distracted as she sometimes lacks money to give them proper meals and they have nothing to entertain themselves with at home. Some who had been in the school no longer wanted to go but preferred to go to the beach and she had little support there. There are some Haitian mothers who send their children out to beg, but this is generally looked down upon in the overall Haitian community. I saw that Lilia was overwhelmed and understandingly so with caring for so many children, a large majority that are boys of similar ages, primarily by herself. We declared the importance of education to the boys and argued that it is the best pathway out of poverty. Of course this situation just wrenched my heart further to improve the school, to have meals available as many people request, to have more extra-curricular activities, etc. However, our resources have been limited to do anything more than maintain rent and teacher salaries, which has been difficult.

The Norwegian couple returned to their country the next day, a bit confused as to how they could help this family in the future. Brad and I have stayed in contact as he is immersed in other projects he has going on. And I have stayed in contact with Lilia and her family, as she has with me. When volunteers came and went door to door to homes that had students enrolled in the school this past year in order to register and create student profiles, we first visited Lilia’s house. I spoke to her about posting her family on the website in order to represent all of the families that need support for the education of their children. She agreed.

This is just one story of one struggling parent. Unfortunately, amongst the families involved in our grassroots schools, there are so many more stories. Luckily these boys fell into the hands of well-intentioned tourists. Many kids who walk the streets in this way run into pedophiles, who seem to come to this country in search of vulnerable and unprotected children, and other people who would rather use them for their own twisted interest than support them in a healthy life. The parents don’t deny that life is tough. They ask for your assistance. Will you consider supporting just one student by donating $100?

This testimony is written by Caitlin McHale, Executive Director & Co-Founder of Project Esperanza. To read more personal accounts, thoughts, and lessons, check out these three sites:

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