‘Culture makes sense. It just may not make sense to you.’ These were the words of former Peace Corps Country Director Joel Wallach during my first day of Peace Corps training in 2012.
Ever since, those words have reverberated in my brain as I have moved about the world and tried to work and integrate in my different host communities. Culture makes sense. It just may not make sense to me. For me, those words have always held within them a challenge: If something doesn’t make sense to me, find out why it makes sense for the people who are already a part of the culture.
When I arrived in Honduras to begin working with Casita Copán, the thing that didn’t make sense to me was that most of our foster children have living parents. I had always thought children living in foster homes were there because their parents were deceased. If the parents of these kids weren’t deceased, then where were they? Why weren’t they fighting to get their kids back?
Over the past six months, I’ve come to understand a bit more about the challenging circumstances under which some of our kids’ parents—mainly their mothers—had come to leave their children (or have them taken away). I’ve heard how some mothers became pregnant as the result of sexual abuse, I’ve talked to moms about the disabilities that they can’t afford to treat, and I’ve witnessed the tired and strained looks on moms’ faces when they come talk to us after a long, hard work week. If moms are leaving their children, or are not fighting to get them back, they must have their reasons.
One of the most common reasons is extreme poverty. Most of our moms work full-time and have to support an average of four kids on just $3.60 a day (the official minimum wage of $347 is not enforced). For our moms who are unable to work because they’ve never attended school and can’t fill out a job application or because they are dealing with some crippling physical or mental illness, I can only imagine that caring for a child must seem impossible. The majority of our mothers receive no help from family, because their siblings or parents are in a similarly difficult situation. In Honduras, a child’s father often disappears long before the child is even born, leaving mothers with the double burden of another mouth to feed and the stigma of being a single mother.
In a context where women get paid only a fraction of the minimum wage for their work, often pay more than half of their salary on just rent, and receive no help from family, partners, or the government, many take their only remaining option and choose to leave their children in a place where they believe they will be better cared for. In Copán Ruinas, child abandonment is a reality. Is it ideal? No. But does it make sense? Yeah, unfortunately, it does.
We know, however, that child abandonment IS preventable. About half of our mothers have lost custody of a child before joining our programs. Currently, with our support, most are now able to keep their families together and care for their younger children.
As many of you know, this fall we’ve launched the #ReSolve Campaign, where we have pledged not just to resolve child abandonment, but to also address the underlying causes of child abandonment: malnutrition and child hunger, gender inequality, illiteracy, and poverty. With your help, we can make the statement ‘Child abandonment makes sense in Copán Ruinas’ a falsehood.