25%

Midway through my last trip, I found out that 

Antony

and

Carlos

had run away.

I found out as I was attempting to gather a group of kids together to do a Christmas craft.  It was one of those moments where you feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach, completely lose your train of thought, but scramble to find some words to say since before receiving this news you had actually managed to get 20 little faces all pointed in your direction and you know that your window of opportunity to communicate the important message that you have now forgotten is rapidly closing.  But I am especially close to Carlos (read about him here) and I immediately started thinking about whether or not there were signs that he was unhappy that I had missed.  But four days before he ran, he seemed content and confident.  This news was discouraging.

The team was leaving on Sunday and we wanted to go to the market to buy souvenirs.  And what’s on the way to the market?  Ciento Cinco.  And what’s Ciento Cinco?  The area that I was confident we’d find Carlos and Antony.  And find them we did.

Along with

Walter

and

(ARE YOU KIDDING ME???)

Santos.

Who, as of the evening before, was safely and happily in Proniño.

Today’s post is actually about this guy, so let me go back and tell you about Santos.

I first met Santos on the street in May.  I was looking for David (read lots and lots of posts about David starting here) and found them together.  As far as I know, the story of Santos goes like this:  He’s from a very poor family in El Salvador.  An older friend suggested they go to Honduras to find work.  Instead, his friend found crack under a bridge in San Pedro.  Santos had been on the street ever since.  As I talked to David about returning to Proniño, Santos quickly said that he wanted to go, because “the street is no place for a child.”  (Amen, Santos.)  So, I called Proniño and was greatly dismayed to discover that there was no way that he could come.  The necessary finances to start working with a new child just weren’t there.  Because David has a history with the home, I was allowed to bring him back, but not Santos.  The dilemma was that Santos wanted to come, David didn’t.  So, I left Santos crying in the street.  This happened on two more occasions.  Santos would ask if I’d figured out a way to get him in.  I’d say no.  He’d cry.  I’d leave.

Back in the States in June, I was looking through a friend’s Facebook album of her recent visit to Proniño.  And who was sitting on the bleachers watching a soccer game?  Santos!!  A week or two before, a handful of kids had run away, but were quickly found in the street.  Santos happened to be with them.  And you can’t take a bunch of kids and leave one standing alone.  By default, he was accepted.

When I returned in July, I made a bee line for him.  He was working out in the field and said that he likes the feeling of hard work, of doing something productive.  He wants me to help find his family to let them know he’s ok.  But he doesn’t want to go back to them because he wants to take advantage of the opportunity to get an education here, then help them when he’s older.

The next day, it was raining.  All the kids had to play inside and you could taste the cabin fever.  He said he wanted to run away because he missed his freedom.  Herein lies the problem.  Yesterday he was going to study hard to help his family.  Today, the streets are better than boredom.  This battle is fierce and ongoing…

Thankfully soon after, he met Jilli.

They uber bonded and she’s now his sponsor.

(Well, technically, her parents are his sponsors, because she’s a volunteer teacher in Honduras who makes $5 a week.)

Now, back to October.  To recap the beginning of this post (which seems like forever ago, right?), on Saturday, Santos was fine.  On Sunday, he arrived in Ciento Cinco on foot at the same time we arrived in bus.  Our mouths collectively dropped.  We were able to convince all four boys (remember Antony, Carlos and Walter?) to come with us to the market and the airport.  As the team shopped, Jilli and I stayed on the bus and I alternately talked to Walter and Carlos as Antony slept and Jilli talked to Santos. She discovered that he had gotten in a fight with another boy over a pair of sunglasses.  And for that, he decided that the street is better.  Ugh.  Each kid at different times during the morning seemed greatly interested in returning.  Only to change his mind soon after.

The airport is about 30 minutes away from San Pedro.  I needed to get back to Proniño, which is in the opposite direction.  I said that if they wanted to return to Proniño, they could come with me.  If they wanted to stay on the street, they’d have to go back to San Pedro on foot.  They all said goodbye and started walking.    Jilli and I sat at our table and cried.  I couldn’t believe it.  I knew that chances were slim that all of them would want to return, but NONE of them??  We slowly pulled ourselves together and headed to Progreso.  We passed the boys who had been walking for about 20 minutes by this point and offered them a ride one last time.

Santos accepted.

We were so excited and told him how proud we were of him.  Oddly, his sheepish grin quickly turned into tears.  He cried the whole way back.  He never told us why, so all I have is a theory.  When we had talked to him earlier, he kept saying that he wouldn’t go back today, but he’d go back later in the week.  He wanted a few days to do whatever he wanted with his time.  It’s not incredibly easy to run away undetected.  And then he had had a long trip to San Pedro that he did partially hitchhiking and partially on foot.  Then he arrived to immediately find us.  And then we brought him back.  Kind of a lot of work to not even have one day of ‘freedom’.  But the reality is that the ‘one day’ that he wanted most likely would have turned into weeks, then months, then potentially a permanent decision.

As Jilli and I drove away from Proniño that day she talked about the roller coaster of emotions she experienced.  Sad Santos had run.  Happy he’s back. Sad that he’s sad.  Happy we found the kids.

And so very sad that only 25% came back.

(This is  part one of a 4 part blog.  Please click here to go to the second part.)

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