Carlos Peña visiting his family!

One of the biggest parts of my job down here is to take kids to visit their families. Sometimes it’s siblings, other times it is aunts and uncles. And sometimes, it’s reconnecting them with their mother that they haven’t seen in 11 years.

Yes, you read that right. 11 YEARS.

You could say that Edgar* has grown up in Proniño. He’s had his spurts of running away, but thankfully, he has always found his way back. He recently graduated 9th grade and is excited to continue studying, even if he has the “Mr. Cool-Guy” attitude most of the time. He is one of the three that I had the pleasure to take on a family visit a few weeks ago. On our rainy 2 hour drive to the city of Yoro, I asked him. “So, when was the last time you’ve been here? Who lives in this house?”

“It’s been over three years. I don’t really know who lives there.”

I immediately got the pit in my stomach. The reality of the questions that were without a
doubt running through Edgar’s head. What if they don’t live there? What if they don’t remember him? Or the worst…what if they are not happy to see him? Would we just turn around and go home?

We arrived in Yoro, a city about two hours from Progreso. We drove around and around, waiting for Edgar to see something that looked familiar that would lead us in the right direction to this house. We pulled up to a house that he felt sure about. I could see the nerves, but I could also see him reminding himself to be brave. To walk up to the house. And walk up to the house he did.

There were quite a few people outside. We approached them, awkwardly smiling, and Edgar stuck out his hand towards an old woman sitting in a chair.

“Hola Abuela, soy yo, Edgar”

“Hi grandma, it’s me, Edgar”

If I’m going to be brutally honest, none of these people convinced me that they had any idea who Edgar is. There were some cousins, an uncle, and his grandparents. We made small talk for a little while before I pulled Edgar aside. He was set to stay there for the weekend, but I needed to be sure. He convinced me it was fine, that he would come back on the bus the next day if he was super uncomfortable.

Turns out, Edgar enjoyed his visit. Not necessarily because of the time spent with family or grandma’s cooking, but because it solved a piece of his puzzle.

The next week, once he got back to Proniño, he called me.

“Haley, can you take me to Cortes soon? My mom and brother are there and I want to visit them.”

Edgar is a tough cookie to crack. I knew very little about his story upon starting these visits with him. So my first reaction? I questioned. Why didn’t we go there in the first place, instead of Yoro? He explained. His uncle had told him that his brother had come by and spent about a year with them. He then managed to reconnect with their mother, who is living on the opposite side of Progreso in a little town called Baracoa. He had a phone number and he really wanted a visit.  So I asked…”well, when is the last time you saw your mom?”

Yep, you guessed it. 11 years.

I put this on the priority list. Yep, we can definitely go and find your mom. We decided on Thursday. We’d go, meet his brother (a former Proniño child) in the center, and he would take us to the house. We planned to stay for a few hours and then make our way back.

Edgar sharing 11 years worth of photos with his family!

On our way there, I could tell his mind was racing. He talked about how weird he feels. Not excited, not nervous, just plain weird. I can’t fathom the feeling of being an 18 year old boy, having not seen my mother since the age of 7. His entire adolescence. The what-if questions hit our brains again.

Some of our kids know their families well. Others, like Edgar, do not. Either way, it is important for all of these kids to know something about their roots. Looking for families and discovering these relationships might not always be pretty, but it is always worth it. Family doesn’t always mean blood relation, which is something these kids have taught me more than I can explain. But to have pieces of their puzzle, like the pieces we connected with Edgar, is invaluable.

I’m not going to say that Edgar meeting his mom after 11 years was like a fairytale with a happily ever after, but to see her reaction to her grown, educated, smiling son was something to be cherished. He might not have any desire to go live there in the future, but the most important part about it? He now knows that. 11 years worth of questions answered. For that, I am thankful for the miles I’ve put on my car and the miles to come in the next year as we search the country for puzzle pieces.

The red circles show most of the cities represented by our Proniño kids!

*name has been changed for protection of privacy

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