This is a story that I wanted to tell in June, then I got busy… But I thought you would probably still be interested. This is Juan Carlos, who is one of the most impressive kids in the center and gives me so much hope for all of the boys.
He first started living on the streets at five years old when his drug-addicted father began locking him out of the one room house at night that he shared with his parents and 7 siblings. He spent his days digging through trash for food, huffing glue to take the edge off of his hunger and either begging for money or stealing it with older boys also living on the street. Numerous times he was caught by the police or social workers and brought to different centers, but his addiction to glue and desire to be free always brought him back to the street. One of the homes he ran away from 7 times. He’s been in Proniño for nearly five years now and hasn’t run away once. I always try to pick the brains of the more stable kids to find out what magical trick worked to get them to stop running away and get serious about their lives (so that I can replicate it with the others…) I asked him what changed when he was 11 years old and he stopped running. He said he realized that he didn’t want to live the rest of his life this way, and that he wants to improve himself so that when he’s 18 he can take care of his mom and his little sisters. Wow. Honestly, my first thought was something along the lines of – Why do you want to take care of your mom? It’s not like she’s taken care of you. (Don’t worry, I was humbled by the end.) So, I focused in on his sisters. He hadn’t seen them in 4 years. He knew they were in the IHNFA system (sort of like Children’s Protective Services in the States), but didn’t know where.
On my way home from that trip in March I ended up getting stuck in the Atlanta airport overnight. I kept thinking about how Juan Carlos’ voice and demeanor would change when he talked about his sisters. Not being extremely tired, and not completely trusting the man a few chairs down who had promised to protect my stuff while I slept, I decided to do some research. I searched for children’s homes in Honduras and started sending emails to each of them explaining who I was and who I was looking for. I probably sent about 10 emails. To my surprise, I got some responses. Mainly, they were Directors saying the girls weren’t there, but good luck. Within a week I got an email from a Director saying that someone had forwarded my email to her and she had the girls. WHAT???? I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure that I was going to have to search for years before I found them, and even then I wasn’t too confident that it would ever happen. Not only had it only taken a week, but the only reason I found them was because someone I had emailed was kind enough to forward it on to other homes. I was overflowing with thankfulness knowing that there really are so many people out there that care about the kids!
He was able to visit them a few weeks later, but I really wanted to meet them as well. When I was in Honduras in May, I was able to take him on a family field trip. He also wanted to show me where he grew up. So, our first stop was his house that he swore up and down was vacant and his dad wouldn’t be anywhere near it. All I knew about his dad was that he was an addict that locked his 5 year old out of the house and was so violent that he couldn’t know where his daughters were. Not the kind of man I want to bump into. I should’ve known not to take his word for it. I mean, how could Juan Carlos have known where his dad would be? He was there, and very excited to see his son. Now, all of the things that I just said about his dad are very true, but something about this meeting was powerful. His dad was overflowing with pride to see him and kept calling him ‘Son’ over and over. I keep trying to figure out why this word nearly brought tears to my eyes. I think, in part, it’s because the kids growing up in centers are so often thought of in negative terms – addict, abandoned, abused – and this becomes their identity. But I was strongly reminded that he’s also a son. And that’s his true identity. It was so refreshing. His desire to help his family was starting to make sense.
Next, he suggested we find his mom and we proceeded to one of the poorest slums I’ve seen in Honduras. The houses are all made of scraps of tin, tarps and sticks. It’s situated next to a very dirty and trash-filled river where everyone bathes, washes their clothes and gathers their drinking water. I got to meet his brothers and an older sister along with her new baby.
Then I met his mom, and it all clicked. I didn’t see a woman who had neglected her son. I saw a woman who has had a really, really hard life and has done the best that she can. And Juan Carlos isn’t a bitter teenager who’s angry about what she hasn’t give him (which would be such a normal reaction). He’s a driven teenager who is striving to one day be able to give her the love and safety that she didn’t give him because she’s never had it herself. So powerful.
Finally, we headed to his sisters and it was just as sweet as I thought it would be. He spent a few hours pushing them on the swings, learning hand games and carrying them around on his back. At the end of the visit I heard him telling them that he was working and studying hard so that one day they could be together again. Such determination from someone so young.
Juan Carlos made the decision to do something with his life because of his character and maturity, but he also couldn’t have done it without Proniño. And he wouldn’t be able to continue chasing this dream without Proniño. There are only a few more days left of the fundraiser. Please give! You can be a part of supporting stories like these. Today I’m giving you a link to another person’s fundraising page. A past volunteer has found someone who is willing to donate $5000 if he raises his own $5000 this week. Your donation will be doubled!! Click here to donate!