He materialized from behind a newspaper stand while I was in my car at a stoplight looking for Wilmer. I asked about my prodigal child, and he asked me what home I worked with. Proniño. ‘Ohhhhh! I used to be in Proniño!! Is Reginaldo still there? Can I come back? I really want to come back. Call him Call him CALL HIM!!’ This was five years ago.
We were quickly denied. Essentially, he was too old coupled with the fact that he had been in Proniño multiple times and had always run within days after wreaking much havoc. Yep, that’s the Miguel (not his real name) I came to know. For years, Jilli and I would stumble upon him in various parts of San Pedro. He was always pissing someone off which meant hastily finding another stoplight, another cardboard box, another group of boys as lost as him.
We knew he would be a tough case. Too many years on the street. Zero education. Zero connection with family. So much humor used to mask his reality. (And I mean so much humor. Spend an afternoon with him and you’d feel like you were at a comedy club.)
But what do you do with a boy who’s nearly a man? He was ‘too old’ when we met him and every day he got further and further from hope. At one point he entered the short lived, city run home for street boys. (Catrachos Al Cambio) He had begged Jilli to get him in. He really wanted it. I visited him my last night in Honduras and he asked me for a radio to pass the hours with music. But Miguel, I’m leaving and I won’t be back for two months. He pats me on the shoulder. It’s ok, I can wait. I’ll still be here when you get back.
Less than 48 hours later he was back on the street.
When Proyecto Crecer was nothing more than a tickle in the back of Jilli’s brain, the seed was planted by him. Part of the original idea was for Crecer to be a halfway house/day center of sorts. We’d work with ‘the worst’ and start the slow process of holding them accountable to keep a schedule, giving them a place to shower and wash their clothes (increasing self esteem and self worth) and give them the basic blocks of an education. The hope was that we’d work with them until a home was found that would accept them. The reality is that if a home is going to gamble on an older boy, this most likely will be the child’s ONLY chance. Reality #2 is that most kids need numerous chances before they stabilize and thrive. We wanted to set them up for success by making that transition from street to children’s home less shocking.
But then nearly a year of research and planning got underway and the target population changed. Proyecto Crecer was opened for boys and girls under the age of 15. And Miguel disappeared. He was gone so long that we started assuming the worst. Then in typical Miguel fashion, he reappeared. Jovial. Older. He informed Jilli that he was no longer on the street, no longer using drugs and had a baby on the way. We were skeptical and our doubts were soon proven true as Jilli saw him on the street frequently.
Then one of our boys stopped coming to Crecer and it was said that he was working for Miguel on the street.
Then….a girl that Jilli has worked with on the street was raped….by Miguel.
Jilli has spent the past few weeks trying to find a safe place for her to go and figuring out how to best work with the system as she (the victim) has decided that she wants to press charges in a corrupt and degrading system. (This girl’s courage….to tell Jilli that it happened….to be brave enough to repeat this story to various strangers who doubt her every word because they see her as nothing more than street trash….)
I, on the other hand, have spent the last few weeks sitting in the States, thinking about Miguel. About us going to Subway and watching him stroll by the guard as though he hasn’t been stopped and demeaned thousands of times for not being worthy of entering this public place. About him chatting up the barber who didn’t bat an eye at Miguel’s long, lice filled hair. About him crying and clinging to my hand in a surprising flood of emotion as one of my trips came to an end.
And thinking about how angry I am that he has now become the enemy. He has become the one that we are trying to save the kids from. He is the one who is undoing our work.
We have always focused on the individual child. We believe that there is a purpose and plan for the life of every single child and that no one is too far gone. There is always a sense of urgency. In these weeks, the urgency has increased. I have now seen what can happen when a child slips through the cracks. I would never make the generalization that every child who stays on the street will grow up to become a rapist, but this is already one too many.
We must work hard for each child, and also for the other children on which the child can make an impact.
The reason why we must constantly keep learning, growing, improving, why our voices must become stronger, is because the repercussions of not… are far too great.