On Saturday, I went to visit the children’s shelter to visit the kids I haven’t seen in a few weeks because of how busy we’ve been at the new daycare. I’m on a restricted visiting schedule by the owner of the shelter since I opened the new daycare, so I had to talk to the kids through the window. They had a lot of questions about the new daycare – are there tables? Do you have lightbulbs? What about bathrooms? Do you have parties? My main goal was to help the kids understand that they were not being forgotten again, that I was still coming to visit every Saturday just like before. I couldn’t tell them that I was doing everything I could to get them into a new living situation, that we were just waiting for the legal go-ahead.
After a half an hour when I was finally let inside, I felt angry again like I haven’t felt in a while. I’ve been caught up in the ‘forward feeling’, the excitement that we’re finally doing something to help some of the kids who spent all day in the shelter. But here were the leftovers – the 15 plus children still living in the dank, smelly house without adult supervision or care, clothes soaked in urine (and excrement), their teeth rotted and eyes full of stories I can’t even begin to imagine. Little Elsie, who shows strong signs of autism potentially triggered by a life of abuse and neglect, smiling even when the kids tease her, because none of them understand. Or her sister Cholita, who runs around hitting everyone in the face because that’s what the big kids do. And Jose Manuel, nearing 4 years old, still not talking and not even trying anymore; he’s gotten bigger now and his body is too big to support his weak legs that never developed properly because he has flat feet and no one ever helped him learn to walk. This is the reality that sometimes gets lost in the smiling photos of the kids.
I’ve heard people say, “What do you expect? It’s Honduras. Everyone is poor.” This narrow thinking characterizes much of the foreign aid and charity projects here, projects that often foster dependence and ignorance. But this is not a situation of children living in inhumane conditions simply because of poverty. The truth runs much deeper. The story of the children living in the orphanage is one of abandonment, neglect, and corruption.
When people visit the orphanage, they want to give food. Clean water. Medicine. Toys. Clothes. All things that children need. But more than anything, these kids need care. They need consistent attention and love, which is only possible in a new environment. Only possible with adults who actually care about them dedicated to helping them grow up and love themselves. Because without this type of care, the future is dim. A new environment won’t change everything, of course. The road ahead for each of the children – and for the adults that will help care for them – is steep and filled with obstacles. Overcoming abandonment, neglect, abuse, isolation, loneliness, and trauma is far from easy. But if I’ve ever met 15 kids tough enough to make it, these are the kids. They’ve already survived so much in their short lives that I believe they can survive anything. Our job is to help make the path a little smoother.
Join us in helping Elsie, Cholita, José Manuel and the rest of the kids at the local children’s shelter. Click here to make a donation to Casita Copán.