Anyone who knows the story of ‘how this all got started’ knows that the climax involved Sean and I sitting with a 10 year old boy named Richar in a government run children’s home as he cried over and over again,

“I don’t want to be here.”
“I want my mommy.”
“God please help me.”

Those three sentences wrapped a monkey knot around my heart that has yet to loosen. Those who listened really, really closely to the story might remember the part before those three sentences were uttered when four of the biggest and toughest boys came strutting across the courtyard to each grab an arm or a leg to carry Richar kicking and screaming up to the boys dorm.

Let me introduce you to one of those four boys.


When he was in Nueva Esperanza, he was king of the hill. I didn’t see him terrorize the little ones as much as some of the other oldest boys did, but he ran with rulers. He was at the employees’ beck and call when they didn’t feel like dealing with a problem child. And he was an integral part of the mistreatment of the child who changed my life.

I don’t easily forget things like this. So when he was moved to Proniño, I probably was a little bit cold.  As he aged and matured, I maintained my distance.  My alter ego is mama bear and he hurt my very first cub.  Last year, he was chosen to receive a scholarship through TCHP to a technical school to study gastronomy.  (Turns out this has little to do with stars and more to do with our stomachs.)   I agreed because a grudge that I, the adult, am nursing isn’t allowed to affect the decisions of the organizations we partner with nor the chances that a child has to improve his future.  So a scholarship he received.

My icy chill has thawed out this year.  The reality that I should have realized earlier is that he left the bully behind the 30 foot walls of Nueva Esperanza.  That place created a survival of the fittest environment and it doesn’t take a child long to realize his options are torture or be tortured.  (I still remember watching Josue Nahum, another of the four, beat a younger child with a tube for stepping out of line.  JN then looked at me for approval like “Look how responsible I am in my ability to maintain order!” My heart broke for both of them.)  Pretty soon after arriving in Proniño, Peña settled into his reputation of being laid back, friendly, focused.

I think my thawing out began with this drawing.


I love that part of his identity is becoming his future career – Chef Peña.  I love that his heart is wearing a chef’s hat.  And I love that he thanks me for the scholarship.  It’s rare for a teenager to go out of his way to show gratitude.  Doesn’t mean that gratitude isn’t there.  They usually just need quite a lot of nudging to make it known.  And with children, we often need to pour a lot into them before anything comes back out.  You already know that I have not spent much time in the last few year investing …well…anything into him.  (Because…momma bear.  I know, I know.  I should have gotten over it sooner.)  Amazingly, from Peña, no nudging was needed.

When he was in Nueva, he was a follower.  I don’t think he would have dragged Richar upstairs on his own.  But his friends were and the adult told him to so, shrug.

Now in Proniño, he is clearly becoming an individual.  A few years ago, many of the boys started going to a church near where they live. He’s the only one who still goes.  He has created a world for himself outside of the foundation and he passes multiple temptations to get there.  He withstands teasing from his peers about being a goody two shoes.

It’s been amazing to watch him go from bully to brave.

The cost for him to study his second year of gastronomy (again, stomachs not stars) is $900.  This covers everything from the monthly fee, the $30 uniform, .75 cents per day for transportation.  Donating any amount, big or small, will be an affirmation of the fact that anyone can change and a vote of confidence that he will do nothing other than continuing this momentum forward.  He’s leaving his bullying days in the dust! Click here to donate any amount to this year’s Sharing Joy fundraiser!



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