Tag Archives: mexico

Creating a Safe Space for the Children of Monterrey

If you travel around Mexico, like we have, you’re sure to notice that Monterrey feels a little different from the rest of the major Mexican cities. It may be the wealth. After all, it’s the second wealthiest city in Mexico. But this capital of the state of Nuevo Leon is distinctly more modern feeling. Its population of 1.1 million produces iron, steel, glass, furniture, automobiles, and electronic equipment amidst the Sierra Madre Mountains on all sides.

dscf3564I was so struck by the industrial-yet-contemporary feel of Monterrey when we arrived—it felt like the city had been prepared for its own growth spurt, with expansive highways and city roads that easily accommodated the traffic. Above this, natural beauty draws my eye as I try to distinguish where the surrounding mountains end and the sky begins.

But despite its busy commercial face, Monterrey is also known for being home to thousands of Mexico’s unemployed and underemployed. As a result, families struggle, even in the middle of all this productivity.

Protecting the Vulnerability of Children

In 1970, Hogar Santa Maria opened with a mission to help the boys of these struggling families, providing them with even the most basic of needs: food to eat, a bed to sleep in, and a safe place to do both. Despite being known as one of Mexico’s safest cities, Monterrey still carries a lot of danger for poor children left to fend for themselves during the day.

Here, the lower you stand on the income ladder, the higher up on the sides of the mountains you live.

The home isn’t far from our hotel, but when we visit it, I see that it’s in a lower-income housing area. Here, the lower you stand on the income ladder, the higher up on the sides of the mountains you live. It’s cheaper there—fewer services are available, and no public transportation can get up the steep roads. The view from the houses is breathtaking, but within the neighborhoods is a less stunning view. Crime runs rampant here, with drug peddling and robberies pretty much status quo. Parents worry about their children becoming involved at a young age, as they so often do.

For three years, Sister Eloise has run Hogar Santa Maria with the help of a secretary and five other Sisters. Together, they provide what’s essentially daycare to 25 boys, age six through twelve. All of the children go home on the weekends, and about a third of them sleep at home each night, with the Sisters making sure they get good meals and are en route to school at the right time.

dscf3497In addition to the six Sisters running the show, the place subsists on donations from community individuals. There’s no government aid here, and because the model revolves around getting the children ready for, headed to, and picked up from school, the capacity of area schools sometimes affects Hogar Santa Maria’s allowed enrollment numbers. Schools in this area essentially determine how many students the home can take. For instance, right now, the home looks after 25 boys, through with a program designed to accommodate sixty.

Leave it to these always-resourceful nuns to find alternate ways to make money, though. They run a used clothing thrift store in an area far away from their charges. This way, the place doesn’t become a market, the kids remain protected, and Hogar Santa Maria can generate a little income. Volunteers from the community, as well as university students, assist the home in mentoring the boys and holding fundraisers. Children Incorporated sponsors fill the gap with food, medicine, and school supplies for the children at the home

The children themselves almost embody Monterrey’s juxtaposition of poor and thriving. From the poorest houses, everyone’s treated to a panoramic view of this incredible city, but they still can’t find work. Meanwhile, Monterrey enthusiasts keep coming from Latin American countries or other Mexican states, having heard there was plenty of work for all who needed it but finding nothing at all suitable. Instead of a growing job market, then, the city just has a growing population of poor and uneducated. And in the middle of all this, Hogar Santa Maria keeps quietly running along.

Children Incorporated sponsors fill the gap with food, medicine, and school supplies for the children at the home.

Looking for Help to Keep Their Kids Safe

Pedro lives with his mother, two older brothers, and his mother’s boyfriend in a decent house with separate bedrooms and a kitchen. He lives at home, but he is at Hogar Santa Maria on weekdays while his mother works cleaner houses.

He’s home this week, though, having just had his appendix removed.

Sister Eloise and the social worker smile and chat with Pedro, who smiles back at them. His mother, meanwhile, tells me about how she worried about leaving her son home alone. She says she feels much more secure about Pedro’s safety now, knowing that Pedro is being cared for by the sisters at Hogar Santa Maria while she works to provide for the family.

The other home on our schedule this morning was a home devoid of children- at least at the time we were there. The grandmother was home alone in a house with three beds, a plastic kitchen table, a small couch, and a refrigerator. She told us that three children, three adults, and she all lived all together in one room. It seemed to me that this had to mean that all the children slept in one bed.

While the adults worked during the day (including the youngest child, who went to work with her mother), the older children traveled to school all on their own. Again, at this home, the family we met expressed great concern that the children would get into crime or drugs if left to their own devices. They count on Hogar Santa Maria to keep their children safe.

I wonder what exactly Hogar Santa Maria needs in order to enroll enough children to meet its full capacity—more money, surely, to buy food and supplies- but also to hire staff and teachers. I wonder if these families look down at the city below and wonder what it would feel like to have everything they need all the time, including the luxury of safety.

***

HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN MEXICO?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.

La Luz: Keeping Families Together

The city of Guadalajara has a lot of things going for it—it’s considered the home of mariachi music, the historical area’s plazas and museums are sought-after by tourists, and overall, it’s considered to be the cultural capital of the Americas. With the surrounding areas considered, the population exceeds four million, making it the second most populated area after Mexico City.

In 1986, a priest named Father Ramon Aguirre decided to start a home for children whose parents were serving time in prison. In a large city like Guadalajara, you can’t really avoid pockets of poverty or the crime that comes with it. Father Ramon Aguirre felt that it was important to help siblings stay together while their parents were away—this way, the families could remain families, rather than the children being turned out into the streets, which often during that time.

Stability Five Days a Week

dscf3246La Luz Home is run now by Sister Nellie, who picked us up from the bus station with Allie, a full-time social worker at La Luz. We ate lunch together after we arrived and the two told us more about the specific situation at the home, which is a little different from the ones we’ve seen so far.

The boys and girls at the home, for one, go to public schools during the week but are cared for by the sisters in the afternoons. All of them go home on the weekends, which is certainly a change from the other schools. Sometimes that means going home to their mother because their father is incarcerated, sometimes that means going to the home of a relative if one or both of the parents are out of the picture (from time to time, both are incarcerated).

Not only does the structure of the school keep the siblings sticking to a routine, but it also keeps the sisters from having to find the resources to house the children over the weekend. Resources are currently an issue—La Luz is currently at only half-capacity. None of their support comes from the government, since none of the kids were brought to the home by the government.

The sisters find the children through their work within prisons as they help incarcerated individuals find spiritual peace. In doing so, they learn about the prisoners’ children and their current living situations and agree to help out the prisoners’ families.

Resources are currently an issue—La Luz is currently only at half capacity. None of their support comes from the government, since none of the kids were brought to the home by the government.

The son(s) and/or daughter(s) of incarcerated parents are brought here, where dormitories surround a large playground. The dorms are separated by gender, and the 24 children range from age three to thirteen. There’s a psychologist on staff who helps the children with the transition, and Allie, who works closely with the children. Together, those two decide whether or not the child should be reestablished permanently with the family once the parent(s) are out of jail.

dscf3377These children might be kept in a stable place with their siblings—unusual in itself. But their home lives are the most upsetting of any of the kids we’ve seen so far on this visit. If their environments weren’t poverty-stricken, they were probably abusive, unstable, and inconsistent. Most of the crimes committed in this case are robberies, and the legal system takes a long time to work. No one’s ever sure exactly when they’re going to see their parents again.

But here at La Luz, they don’t have to worry about that, at least not right now during our lunch. The children have had a dance instructor lately, and they perform for us as a way to thank us for visiting. As it’s Friday, their mothers and grandmothers start to arrive to pick them up for the weekend, and I love watching their faces light up as they spot their moms waiting. Some of them are so excited to see their family member that they get distracted and forget to dance.

After the School Week Ends

The next morning, we begin home visits with Sister Nellie. They’re our first since we’ve arrived in Mexico, as the other homes we visited housed children full-time. I’m anxious about what to expect.

Guadalajara is very modern on the surface, but as soon as you turn down a side street, the roads are unpaved, the houses get tiny, and security weakens (the more affluent areas of town have gates to protect against crime). The first home we visit is that of a mother with five children, three of whom stay at home during the week. Their father is incarcerated, and the whole family stays in a portion of their uncle’s home.

We can see into the home through a window. It’s got a dirt floor, a small kitchen—it seems far too small for six people. Sister Nellie knocks on the metal door, but no one answers.

I’m relieved that the grandmother’s house is nice and clean and she seems like an able caretaker, but I’m even more relieved that the children can go to La Luz and have their minds engaged during the week.

Everyone’s confused, because the visit had been scheduled in advance. Sister Nellie asks a neighbor, and they suggest checking at a house up the street, as sometimes the kids will go there when the mother has to work cleaning houses. They’re not there, either. It feels so strange to go searching this street for these children, but Sister Nellie isn’t worried. She explains that this kind of thing is pretty normal, in that the children’s routines are anything but. Their lives change from moment to moment.

img_3987We find two of the children at their grandmother’s house, watching TV. These are just two of her twenty total grandkids. She rents the house currently, but her daughter intends to find a place for her and the children once the children’s father is out of jail. They’ll likely watch TV all weekend, while the older children wander the nearby streets and the very youngest child sticks close by the mother as she cleans the homes. I’m relieved that the grandmother’s house is nice and clean and she seems like a capable caretaker, but I’m even more relieved that the children can go to La Luz and have their minds engaged during the week.

The next home visit is largely the same situation—five children, a dad in jail, and a TV on. Two other relatives live there as well, bringing the total to eight people, with six sleeping on three couches and one bed in the living room. When we talk to the children, they say they love going to La Luz and that there’s nothing for them to do when they’re at home, even though we’ve seen how excited the kids are to see their mother.

Hearing that from the kids is bittersweet. We’re so glad that we can be part of a program that is clearly making a difference in the kids’ lives, and it’s so refreshing that they can still see their parents sometimes, but the idea of them sitting in the dark and watching television all weekend is dispiriting.

There’s a light in that darkness, though, beyond the pleasure they get from seeing their parent or guardian. The youngest child in this family, Fernando, gets packages from his Children Incorporated sponsor every month, including clothes, shoes, and toys. He doesn’t write much in school, but he’s gotten very good at drawing and coloring, each month making a special picture for his sponsor.

While finances are always on the minds of the households we visit, La Luz is especially concerned with resources right now. Some support comes from the La Luz Children’s Hospital next door, but much of it comes from Children Incorporated, which helps furnish clothes, school supplies, and food. The home could be housing as many as 48, but the money just isn’t available, despite the clear need in the community.

After lunch, we head back to our hotel as I try to wrap my brain around what life is like for these kids. I’m not sure they’re old enough to really process what it means for their families that one or both of their parents are in jail, or how their lives could really change at any minute. That’s why it’s so nice to see them getting some consistency and support at La Luz, even though it’s only during the week.

I focus on how happy the children were as soon as they saw their mothers’ and grandmothers’ waiting faces. Father Ramon Aguirre was right to try to keep families together, while at the same time giving these kids some structure, with which they seem to thrive.

***

HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN MEXICO?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.

Tomorrow-Focused

In just a few days in Mexico, Luis and I have already seen the impact of not just Children Incorporated’s efforts in these communities, but the impact of local generosity and perseverance too.

dscf2891Santa Julia, a home for girls just outside downtown San Miguel de Allende, was both like and unlike Mexiquito. Narrow roads led to the home, which is closely surrounded by private residences separated from the home by steep, protective walls, giving it a sort of tightly packed fortress feel.

In reality, Santa Julia is larger than it initially appears. The tall dorms obscure the rest of the property from sight, but the property includes a computer lab, an art room, a recreation room, a sanctuary, a cafeteria, a playground, and gorgeous grounds with the lime trees that are starting to feel to me like the symbol of comfort and calm.

Luis is initially confused by the introduction of Sister Isabel, Santa Julia’s new director. She’s not the director we’re used to working with—her predecessor, Sister Lydia, had been transferred a month ago. That’s fairly standard practice among the sisters so that they can have experience doing different kinds of work. At first, Luis was nervous. Sister Lydia had been a huge advocate for Children Incorporated and had taken great care to learn the program and diligently reported information about the 30-plus children who are enrolled at Santa Julia.

In just a few days in Mexico, Luis and I have already seen the impact of not just Children Incorporated’s efforts in these communities, but the impact of local generosity and perseverance too.

Sister Isabel quickly made us realize that our timing couldn’t be better. She’s new, but she’s very enthusiastic about learning more about Children Incorporated, so we took the opportunity to familiarize her with the program. And Sister Isabel, for her part, told us about the 36 girls who live at Santa Julia.

But really it wasn’t until we met them at lunchtime that we really fell in love. The Santa Julia girls introduced themselves by giving us hugs—they were so well-behaved, energetic, and loving. And it extended to the sisters, too. Each girl seemed so affectionate with their caretakers, and we realized it was probably the only affection the girls ever experienced. Most of them were abandoned or orphaned, and some had families albeit abusive or neglectful ones. But now, all of them—from age two all the way to university-age—are surrounded by love and support.

dscf3132The children were so excited to have their guests sit and eat with them at lunchtime, and we were surprised that they knew all about sponsorship. Some of them kept asking us why we didn’t bring the sponsors—they call them “padrinos,” which means “godparents”—with us! I loved the idea that they so warmly wanted to meet their sponsors. Like Mexiquito, Santa Julia received some funding from the government, but only for individual children who the government placed in the home. Unlike Mexiquito, the surrounding community donates not just in-kind services but a significant financial gift as well, particularly the foreign community in San Miguel de Allende. Their funding is evident in the brand new dorms, the new playground, and the English classes taught by a dedicated teacher.

Each girl seemed so affectionate with their caretakers, and we realized it was probably the only affection the girls ever experienced.

By the time we leave, we’re fully convinced that Sister Isabel is the right person to be at the helm of the good ship Santa Julia. Even though she’s new to the job, her big heart and enthusiasm are so evident, as is the experienced team she has working with her.

We wave goodbye to the girls of Santa Julia, promise to thank their padrinos, and got ready for a visit we’d been looking forward to since the day we started planning our trip.

21st Century Knowledge for 21st Century Children


About four years ago, a few Children Incorporated donors traveled with Luis to San Miguel de Allende to meet with Sandra
Suaste, director of the local library. The idea had been floated that if Children Incorporated focused on coming up with a way to teach technology to the children in both San Miguel de Allende programs, that would give those boys and girls a significant leg up for the future.

Often, local schools and even the homes themselves don’t have the resources to dive into teaching technological skills. The donors and Luis envisioned an environment where children could be instructed on how to use computers and even get the building blocks for how to build digital products. Adults, too, could use the facility to take classes that might generate a little income for the library. Like farming, which we’ve seen some of the more rural programs make a priority for learning, tech instruction has the potential to reach down through multiple generations and change lives.

The director of the Biblioteca Publica de San Miguel de Allende was on board, and now, our mission was to check on the classes.  

dscf2851Sandra was all smiles—the classes were going well, and she even had some recommendations for updating the computers at the lab and donating the older ones for the community to use. Having just met the children from Santa Julia and Mexiquito, we were able to picture them at the lab. It felt great to know that they were receiving something that they’d have trouble getting access to otherwise.

I enjoyed finding another way that Children Incorporated has helped these kids. The Biblioteca Publica reminded me that Children Incorporated work goes beyond homes and schools, sometimes setting up entirely new programs with willing partners.

***

HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN MEXICO?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.

The Ministering Angels of Casa Hogar Santa Ines

Tucked away in the small, tree-lined cobblestone streets and Colonial-era houses of Coyoacan Delegation, lies the Casa Hogar Santa Ines Girls’ Home. It’s pretty here, with the home (and now museum) of celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo nearby.

We made it through the busy, but organized Mexico City morning traffic to the school’s huge wooden door, which opens for us as we arrive. It’s tough to drive through the streets in this neighborhood. The roads are so narrow it’s difficult for even one car to get through, and pedestrians have to fit on just a sliver of a sidewalk. We marvel at the school’s immaculately kept courtyard. Santa Ines looks like a small place at first, but I soon realize that it extends beyond my current view. Behind the buildings I can see, which contain dormitories and offices for the sisters, are large dorms that house up to 40 girls at a time.

mexico-day-1-1

Sister Flor greets us. She used to work in a church in a predominantly Hispanic community in Fort Worth, Texas before her order assigned her to work here. For the past three months, she’s been directing the home, which consists of 32 girls and five sisters, and we sit and discuss the program with her. It’s hard not to keep looking around for the children—we’re always so eager to meet the children!—but they’re in school at the moment. We look forward to when the younger girls will return (older students are in private schools and could be in school as late as 6 pm).

 

A safe haven for little girls

Children Incorporated, Sister Flor tells us, helps with school supplies, clothes, shoes, and school uniforms. With the government really only providing enough support for eight girls at the moment, Santa Ines relies heavily on financial support from churches, individual donors, and in-kind donations from the community. The children are sometimes left with the sisters by families who are too burdened to support them, sometimes they’re plucked from abusive homes, and sometimes they’ve been abandoned. Since almost 1974, the year of the school’s founding, has Casa Hogar Santa Ines been working with Children Incorporated.

Many of them have had some trauma, witnessing violence, drug use, and abuse, and some of them find it difficult to cope.

A nearby private school offers scholarships to every Santa Ines charge who’s old enough to attend. It’s not easy for the children, who are as young as three and as old as 13. Many of them have had some trauma, witnessing violence, drug use, and abuse, and some of them find it difficult to cope. A psychologist visits once a week, but Sister Flor often gets calls from the school that the students have acted out after being picked on because of their background.

In an effort to give these young women a place of stability in their lives, Sister Flor and the other sisters have made it a priority to keep their living spaces and facilities clean and comfortable. We love seeing the dorms, which are tidy and painted a pale purple with pictures of Disney princesses and other cartoon characters festooning the walls. The toys are those that encourage group play—Barbies and dollhouses—while the high ceilings and large windows allow in a cheerful amount of natural light. Santa Ines is certainly one of the nicest and best-kept homes that I’ve seen in my travels with Children Incorporated.

mexico-day-1-2

Happy faces in Mexico City

Finally, the children arrive. They’re energetic, outgoing, and eager to meet Luis and me. We have lunch with them, a mixture of beef and vegetables with a side of beans. The girls seem loved and cherished by the sisters and the volunteers who are walking around, helping them with their meal. We watch the children play in the courtyard between the dining room and the doors. They swing, they slide, they draw pictures with chalk, they even hula hoop.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from such a scene of energetic harmony, but I felt good knowing these special children are so well-cared-for in the heart of such a big and sometimes impersonal city.

***

HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN MEXICO?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.

Welcome to Mexico

En route to Mexico, I noticed that I felt differently than I had on our way to visit other Children Incorporated projects. The excitement I normally felt was there—it’s always exciting to meet the children and the people who take care of them—but there was something else, too.

Unlike the other places we’d visited thus far, I’ve been to Mexico before. I spent several months in a city called Cuernavaca more than a decade ago, taking language classes and experiencing the rich culture of what I felt was one of the most beautiful countries I had ever seen. But I knew this time would be so different. Our trips don’t take us to see the children with advantages. We visit schools, homes, and neighborhoods that most people I know would never see in their lives—impoverished areas that are difficult to witness. From my experiences in Bolivia, Africa, and Kentucky, I knew that it’s these kinds of experiences that are so important to have. It helps me understand the impact that sponsorship makes for disadvantaged children.

Luis explained to me before we left that our affiliate projects in Mexico are mostly group homes, unlike the schools or community centers I’ve become used to visiting. These homes serve children who would otherwise have to scrape a living alone on the street, or children whose parents can’t take care of them any longer. Typically, they’re run by nuns who see to it that the children are fed, go to school, and live in a safe and nurturing environment.

Now Arriving in Mexico City

 

It helps me understand the impact that sponsorship makes for disadvantaged children.

At 8.84 million people, Mexico City is the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, not to mention the oldest city in the Americas. It’s grown so quickly as a booming financial center, with poor villagers from the surrounding countryside flocking to the city, that the government hasn’t been able to keep up with the surge in population. By the 1990s, pollution was so rampant that Mexico City was one of the world’s most polluted cities—a title that’s since been removed due to dramatic efforts to reduce that pollution. It’s a hotbed for culture, with art, museums, theater, cuisine, expansive public parks, and a vibrant shopping scene.

But as with every major city with a huge concentration of human beings to clothe, feed, shelter, and find work for, Mexico City has poverty problems. And with poverty problems come children who need help. I’ve seen it before in so many other places, but each situation is different.

Moving forward

Once we’re outside of Mexico City, we’ll be taking the bus to visit three other major cities: San Miguel Allende, a cosmopolitan but historically significant city east of here; Guadalajara, a really beautiful city that’s the birthplace of mariachi and other distinctive Mexican cultural aspects; and Monterrey, a city in the northeast part of the country. I’ve visited the former and latter before, but not as a Children Incorporated representative, and I expect the experiences to be very eye-opening. Mexico’s population is close to 115 million, with 18.2% estimated as not having enough food to eat every day. If you expand your definition of poverty to include assets, the number shoots up to 47%.

img_3695

Goodbye, Virginia. Mexico, here we come.

But I’ve seen what good work can do to change the lives of individuals, which then changes the lives of their families, which then changes the lives of generations to come. Our Mexican adventure is going to have that same mixture of somber reality and uplifting hopefulness as the rest of the trips I take with Luis.

Our flight brought us here late in the evening, and it’s time to turn in before we visit a home run by nuns for Mexico City children tomorrow. Check back for On the Road updates as we continue on our journey!

***

HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN MEXICO?

You can sponsor a child in Mexico in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Mexico that is available for sponsorship.