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Fundamentally the Same

“That kid over there said he used to be in Proniño.”  Sure enough, there was Alfredo*.  I chatted with the boys I had come to see (who all happily live in a home outside Progreso), then crossed the street.  Alfredo.  Pleased to see me, but with a bit of embarrassment seeping out of his smile.  The last time I saw him, he was selling oranges downtown and living with a friend.  Not ideal.  Not terrible.  But today…  Two scabs on his forehead, a scratch on his cheek.  Dirt on his neck.  Clothes that are three sizes too big and no longer their original color.  This child is clearly living on the street.  We hug and I ask about the wounds.  He says that he got robbed and beat up two days before. Quickly following it up with “but I was so high I didn’t feel anything”.  He says it as though he’s trying to comfort me.  Sure, I’m glad you didn’t feel pain….but….

As we chat, I notice that the boys I  just left are watching.  One by one, they cross the street and join us, unabashedly looking Alredo up and down as he becomes increasingly uncomfortable.  They pepper him with questions about why he left Proniño, where he sleeps (“Over there” pointing to a piece of cardboard behind a bush), and if he does drugs.  Alfredo is clearly this evening’s entertainment.  I feel so torn.  I want to scooch myself closer to him.  Put my arm around him.  Physically reassure him that even though these boys are looking at him with such disdain, I want to be near him, that I don’t find him repulsive.  But the reality is that me just being me brings attention.  So, do I move closer, thus bringing all attention within eye shift distance or do I take a few steps away and start entertaining the boys with my gringaness, thus turning heads away from him….but leaving him so very isolated and alone?   Choosing neither, I remove us from the prying eyes with the excuse of going to get food.

Alfredo….we have never been close.  But on this night, he becomes more transparent than ever before.  He looks so dejected and tired.  We talk about him not having a clue who his family is.  About having absolutely no one to turn to for help.  (The child has burned his fair share of bridges.)  When I ask him if he wants to leave the street he sighs deeply.

“It gets harder every time.”

“What do you mean?”

“Every time I end up back here… It’s harder to deal with every time.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 12.33.16 PMA few months ago I started reading a book called “The Locust Effect” by Gary Haugen.  It’s….rough.  He is very raw and real in describing the injustices that people have faced.  And these injustices are so infuriating that I had to take a bit of a reading break.  (And by a bit, I mean I haven’t picked it up in months…)  In the first few pages he says:

“I have sat with many very poor mothers and fathers as they have shared their stories of surviving genocide, slavery, murder, torture, humiliating rapes, and abuse.  The pain they describe is unfathomable – and the mental temptation is to imagine that the people who endure it are somehow fundamentally different from me.  Maybe, somehow, they just don’t feel things like I do.  Maybe they expect less, care less, hope for less, want less, or need less.  But painfully, over time, I have seen that they are exactly like me and [what they endured] was in no way easier for them because they are poor.”   

This quote comes to life on this night with Alfredo.  Sometimes, I find an attitude creeping in that the kids can somehow handle this life more than me.  That they no longer notice the way people look at them.  That whereas I want to take a shower before snuggling into my comfy bed, they don’t notice the dirt caked in every crevasse as they lay on a piece of cardboard.  This is simply not true.  Alfredo felt every eye taking in his dirt and drug induced dizziness.  It would not have been hard to fill in the blanks of what his scrutinizers were thinking.  He feels and hurts just as deeply as you or I would.

I do a lot of thinking about these blogs before I start writing.  I try to create an interesting beginning, middle and then end that wraps everything up and leaves everyone with some hope or direction.  But this one?  I just can’t wrap it up.  Alfredo is still a child on the street feeling the disgust of all the clean and upstanding citizens bustling by.  And you, as a reader of this blog, cannot do anything about that today.  And I feel guilty that I’m laying this on your heart and putting this in your mind without giving you a next step, a ‘never fear! This is what’s going to happen!’  There’s an element of fear that if you feel too depressed by what I write, you’ll stop reading.

But then I go back to what Haugen says.  Our natural inclination is to want to put a bow on it.  (Not to be confused with Portlandia’s ‘put a bird on it.’)  To come up with some sort of assumption that makes reality hurt a little less.  And this is just not fair.  Because these assumptions we make affect how we interact with people in need, and they dampen the urgency we feel to do something about painful realities.  Watching Alfredo squirm as his peers stared hurt.  I hurt for him and he hurt much more.  I don’t know what I want you to do.  I don’t know what we should do.  But I know we should not alter reality in order to feel better.  I know I don’t want you to feel guilty about your reality being different from Alfredo’s.  Guilt is so paralyzing.  I just want you and I and everyone to know that we’re all so very human.  And even though we are so wonderfully unique, there are things that are the same for us all.  Suffering is suffering.  The easiest thing to do is give in to that mental temptation to forget that we are fundamentally the same.  Don’t forget.  Don’t form comforting assumptions.  Accept.  And let’s see where that takes us.

*Alfredo is not his real name.

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Celebrating the Cinco de Mayo Celebration

Non-profits have fundraisers.  The Children’s Home Project is a non-profit.  Ergo, The Children’s Home Project should have a fundraiser.

Gulp.

At the end of last year, a planning committee was formed.  We set goals.  We worked our arses off.

And in the back of my mind I honestly expected to fall short.  But I knew we’d be ok.  It was our first fundraiser.  I was told by a friend that the first few years of fundraisers need to be seen as ‘friend’raisers as they are unlikely to actually generate any revenue.  We would do the best we possibly could, learn from our mistakes, do better next year and keep on truckin.

Imagine my surprise when we

surpassed

every 

goal.

(I felt that that sentence needed to be constructed in a creative way to ensure that you got the full gist…)

Today’s post is a celebration of abundance.

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The decorations were gorgeous.

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We surpassed our goal of 100 people with a whopping 103.

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We had more silent auction items than we could handle. (This is one of EIGHT tables!)

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Thankfully some people were more than happy to take lots off of our hands.

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We had more than a dozen volunteers from Desert Vista High School.  These kids…they worked hard and happy all evening long.  I think my favorite moment was when I walked into the kitchen and overheard one say to the other “This event is pretty cool.” A teenager thinks we’re cool!! Victory!

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Incredible food donated by Los Taquitos.  (Really wishing I had eaten lunch.  I’m seriously considering putting this writing thing on hold and running over there real quick.)

Be right back.

……..

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And there’s no way any of this could have been accomplished without these guys.  (This fiercely independent only child is learning the beauty of teamwork.  I know, I know, I’m learning this a bit late.)

Thank you to everyone who came and supported our first major event.  (And thank you to everyone who couldn’t be there, but supported from afar!)

It’s officially official.  This will be a yearly event.

May 2nd, 2015.  Have you put it in your calendar yet?

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That Kid That Stole My Crayon

I mean, sure, I wasn’t really using that red crayon in my hand as it was actively colouring my Winnie-the-Pooh masterpiece.  Feel free to grab it mid color if that’s what you really want.

It’s very common for a child to struggle for a few days or weeks when he first arrives at Proniño.  The street is a place that is free from the norms of 188497_1919677509321_6317055_nsocial etiquette.  You go where you want to go when you want to and you do what you want to do when you want to do it.  So when you arrive and are expected to get up at a certain time, dress, go to breakfast, school, lunch, work in the garden, eat dinner, etc. all on a schedule, there’s a definite learning curve. Even knowing this, I sat in relative shock after having my red crayon stolen right out of my hand.  I watched Lisandro color frantically for a few seconds before he tossed it aside (my hand slowly inched towards it so I could reclaim temporary ownership) and grasped another tightly in his fist.  Impulse control was at an all time low.  He and his brother had arrived a few weeks before and they were majorly struggling with things like taking turns, asking for permission, speaking in general.

I recently found out that I wasn’t the only one to have a slightly disconcerting first impression of Lisandro.  Doug and Shell came to Proniño for the first time on a trip with Mountain Park Community Church.  As the team got off the bus, the kids mobbed them with their excitement.  And Lisandro, well, remember the whole not really understanding social norms thing?  Yeah.  As Doug got off the bus, he reached out, grabbed Doug’s watch and, um, broke it.  This did not fill Doug with warm fuzzies.  Exact opposite reaction, actually.  Doug is sort of like a big teddy bear.  But after receiving that type of greeting?  Quite frankly, he wanted absolutely nothing to do with Lisandro.  He thought some unkind thoughts and did his best to stay as far away as possible.

The next year rolls around.  Mountain Park again visits Proniño.  Doug gets off the bus and spots Lisandro.  He thinks something along the lines of “There’s that $^#% kid.  I’m avoiding him like the plague,” as he scurries away protectively covering his watch.  (I’m not sure if Doug actually cusses so please insert something mellow into that quote.)

Then comes February of 2014.  For the third time, Doug gets off of the bus.  I’m not sure exactly how it happened.  But somehow he finds himself with Lisandro.  And he’s overwhelmed.  He’s overwhelmed by how much Lisandro has changed.  How much he’s matured.  That he’s actually a kind child that Doug finds himself WANTING to be around.  By the end of the day Doug and Shell have made a decision.  They are going to sponsor Lisandro.  They are going to choose to invest in him, to pray for him, to get to know him.  They are going to be his padrinos. Out of all the kids, they have chosen him.  Somehow, the watch Doug is wearing comes up and Doug wants to give it to him.  But it’s broken.  And he doesn’t want to give Lisandro a broken watch.  A watch is what prevented them from getting to know each other three years ago.  And now a watch is what will solidify their friendship.

There are so many reasons why I love this story.

I love being reminded how much Lisandro (and his brother) have changed and grown in the last few years.  It’s not their fault that they had to survive on the street as opposed to learning the intricacies of how to behave with other people under the tutelage of their parents.  But I love that they have had that opportunity (and so many others) in Proniño.

I love that Doug and Shell come back regularly enough that they have been able to witness this change.  If it had only been that one trip, they could easily spend the rest of their days talking about that brute that broke his watch that one time.

And I love that they chose him.  There’s something so special about being chosen.    And it becomes even more significant when being chosen comes after being forgiven. I’m so thankful that Doug and Shell could move well beyond their first impression to a place of love.

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And I can also report that I can now safely color with Lisandro with no fear of having my crayon stolen at a critical point of my masterpiece.

 

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The Reason(s) Why I’ve Been Away

Oh my it’s been a while since I’ve blogged.

But I have some excuses.

Of course.

I’m trying to figure out the best way to steam the wrinkles out of these.

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And the evening is being planned where these donations are transformed into stunning, or at least eye catching, silent auction baskets.

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And I’m working out my final suggestions on this video.

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What am I talking about?

Oh, come on.  I know you know.

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The Cinco de Mayo Celebration!

Even though I’ve missed 1.2 weeks of blogging, I have been writing about the kids.  You see, this evening is about The Children’s Home Project.  And The Children’s Home Project is about the kids.  It’s an evening for you to get to know and support us and more importantly, it’s an evening for you to get to know them.  If you want to know:

how much he has changed in three years,

398 Bryan Geovani

why he is my hero,

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or, why these two suddenly have such a tender friendship

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you’ll just need to come.

May 3rd, 6:30-9:30 at The Rosson House in downtown Phoenix.

http://www.tchp.brownpapertickets.com

Now, excuse me.  I need to see if I can figure out how to work this steamer.

 

 

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The Reluctant Trip

In theory, I love family visits.  There’s just something about meeting mini-versions of the boys in the faces of the their siblings still living at home.  And there’s often a fair amount of awkwardness between the child and his parent(s).  I’m always happy to be the show and tell object that takes the focus off the fact that they are family and yet little more than strangers.  “Hey Mom!  This is Jenny.  She’s from the United States.  Let’s listen to her speak Spanish!”

But I just wasn’t feeling this trip.  I was tired.  And I couldn’t get a straight answer about how far away the town was.

“Yoro? Oh my, that’s 4 hours…one way.”

“Yoro? Not a minute over 4 hours round trip.”

How is it possible that no one could agree on the distance?  It’s not like the town moves or goes and visits relatives on the weekends.

Come on Google Maps, do your thing.

But there was one thing that everyone agreed on.

“Yoro?  The road to get there is THE WORST!!”

When we still didn’t have a departure time the night before, I was feeling pretty ok with just letting the trip go.  It’s kinda late to plan anything.  The kids going didn’t seem all that excited.  Eh, maybe I could take them the next time I’m in the country.  But there was this nagging voice in my head.  “What’s happening to you?  Why are you being so lazy and selfish?  What happened to going the extra mile?” Ok, fine.  I will go through the motions.  I will get there early.  When the kids aren’t ready and when I find out the psychologist who’s coming with us hasn’t arrived yet, I’ll be justified in cancelling the trip.  We can’t do an eight hour trip if we don’t leave at a reasonable hour.  Feeling better about the number of emergency exits I had found to get me out of this, I headed to Proniño.

Pulling in I was welcomed by the typical gaggle of greeters gathered around (and hanging onto) the window as I slowly parked under a tree.  Along with the typical “Jenny!  Give me your coffee!  Good morning!  How did you sleep?  Did you bring me chocolate?”,  I heard some new information.  “Milton has been awake and getting ready since 4:30.”  Oh really?  Walked up the steps towards the boys’ rooms and sure enough, there was Milton.  Dress pants with a belt, shirt (that said something inappropriate about someone’s sister in English) tucked in and enough hair gel to add a few pounds to his frame.  From another room I hear “Jenny!  At my grandma’s house you’ll be able to see a picture of my dad!  He’s identical to my brother!!”  This coming from a kid who tries hard to never get excited about anything.  Stuck my head in the room to find him looking snazzy as well, with a friend trying to figure out how to roll his sleeves and tightly button them about the elbow.

And that’s when something wonderful happened.

Suddenly eight hours in the car didn’t seem THAT bad.

And really how terrible could that road be?

Much faster than is customary in Honduras, things fell into place, we piled in the car and hit the road.  The road that is more pothole than highway.  Ugh.  But I saw two teenage boys treat their grandparents with unexpected tenderness.  I got to see that famous picture.  We let the boys be our tour guides and in doing so, learned so much more about their family and their past.

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An aunt told us we should take one of her boys back with us to live in Proniño because he misbehaves and I got to watch Saint Jenny, the psychologist, explain the importance of family, education and love that a child can only receive from family in the most kind and non-condescending manner and I gained even more respect for her.  I met a little sister that is 509 funez, clarissa, judy, jeisonthe clone of one of the boys, right down to her sass and confidence.  And then listened to this boy proudly tell his mom (with his little siblings gathered around) all the things he’s learning in his workshops and school and what he’s planning on doing with this education.

Being human, there are days when I feel tired and don’t want to follow through on the rather taxing plans I made at a time when I was getting more sleep.  But there’s nothing like the nervous excitement pouring out of the kids and the memories made on a road trip to bring about my second wind.

And for the record?

Yoro is about two hours away.

Hands down, it’s the worst road I’ve ever driven in Honduras.

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Cinco de Mayo Celebration

 Do you want to get involved in The Children’s Home Project but just aren’t quite ready to quit your job, pack up and move to Honduras?

Never fear.

An opportunity is right around the corner….

I would like to cordially invite you to our first Cinco de Mayo Celebration!!

(Some of you may be thinking that cordial means courteous and gracious, which it does, but I’m more going for the stimulating and invigorating the heart type invitation.  Who knew that was also a definition of cordial?)


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Why should you come to this event?

To taste the scrumptiousness of Los Taquitos?

Perhaps to sip on one of the Latin themed beers from Tuscon’s Borderland’s Brewing Company?

Maybe you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo while tapping your foot to the Mariachi band.

Or how about because you want to walk away with two Southwest tickets, a gift basket from Apricot Lane, or a haircut from Savage Salon from the silent auction?

These things will make your Cinco de Mayo weekend festive and well-celebrated.

But there’s more.

You’ll be present for the first showing of the short film about The Children’s Home Project.

I’ll be speaking about the kid’s and the work that we do (after I untie those knots in my stomach).

And the number one reason to come?

To support the work that we’re doing. To introduce your friends, coworkers, neighbours and maybe even your dog sitter to The Children’s Home Project. To whet your appetite to become more involved. To ensure these precious kids that I’m constantly telling stories about continue to receive encouragement, direction, education and hope.

Buy your tickets now!

And don’t forget about your friends, coworker, neighbor and dog sitter.

(For real though, it will make ordering our food much easier.)

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