A year ago I wrote: “I think a lot about how tragic it is that these girls grow up without anyone delighting in every new step of their life. No one marveled at their tiny hands or taught them how to ride a bike or took them to the zoo and laughed with them at the monkies. No one hung their first book report on the fridge or asked about the boy that keeps stopping by. I know the hogar does a great job of preparing these girls for life beyond the hogar and making them feel at home and part of a family, but I can’t help but think how things would be different if constant, unvarying people savored every second of life with these girls from their first breath on.” (September 6, 2009)
Although I have had a lot of wonderful opportunities to delight in these girls, to try to make them feel loved and special, and to celebrate their growth, I revisit this same sentiment over and over.
This week I wrote: “Tonight I witnessed a child become an orphan. She was passed from her mother’s arms in to Doña Emmy’s and we carried her away to begin her new life alone, completely ignorant of the terrible loss she had just suffered as she slept. Her mother, a child herself, disappeared, covering her tears and carrying nothing but her secrets. I cannot find words to explain what I have just witnessed. This little girls’ world just passed away as she slept. She had a name, a mother, a history, a birthdate, that all suddenly melted away in the chatter and cold of the bus terminal. She’s so tiny, just a week old, and even her identity is at the mercy of others. I, having seen her mother’s tears roll down her cheeks, know more about her origin than she ever will.” (September 4, 2010)
We would love to think that family is an indestructible fortress; that we can always take refuge in, at the very least, the bonds between parent and child. There’s no way to soften the truth: that shame, poverty, jealousy, violence, illness, desperation, substance abuse, and any number of circumstances can shake a family apart.
Today I answered the door to a woman with scratches on her face and a sleeping little boy in her arms. She and her husband fought, frequently and violently, and she didn’t know what to do to protect her son. She needed to work, but wanted her son to be safely out of reach for longer than the free day care run by the sisters was open. She wanted her son to live with us Monday through Friday, and with her on the weekends. No hogar can take a child that hasn’t been given up to child services, while no internado (temporary boarding home) will take a child that young. Should she abandon her child to the state in hopes of protecting him, or keep him at her side despite the danger?
There’s a little girl, about ten years old who lives down the road and stops by to visit me sometimes. Her parents fight over whether they should send her to live here or not. Her dad argues that she’ll be better fed and cared for here, while her mom worries about who will take care of her younger siblings during the work day if she goes.
Despite the terribly discouraging reality these little ones face, I find hope in stories of familial resiliency and sacrifice.
One of my dearest friends here in Bolivia, at twenty-one, is moving out of the transition home connected to the hogar to assume guardianship for her twelve year old brother who lives in a boy’s orphanage in Cochabamba. She knows it’s going to be tough, especially as she finishes her social work degree, but she’s determined to give him the life her mother couldn’t.
Last weekend Hna. Anglita went to find the family of a young woman with traumatic brain injury abandoned when she was twelve years old. They stopped in the little town listed on the few documents she had, and began to search. That very day she was crying in the arms of her father, meeting siblings she never knew she had, and resuming life with a family she hadn’t seen in over twelve years. The family welcomed her with open arms. After her mother died, her aunt brought her to an orphanage, hoping she would be brought to a center for children with special needs due to brain damage suffered as a very young child. Later, when the aunt returned to Santa Cruz, she told the family that this little girl could not be reunited with her parents or even visited in the hogar. She disappeared to Argentina and the family had no idea where to begin searching for the girl. Now, having spent half her life alone, her family has been restored to her, and she to her family.
That’s all for today.
Now go call your parents.