I am pretty sure yesterday was the worst day I have had since we decided to make Bucerias our home. Not because it was super hot or crazy loud or terribly far from those I love. It was difficult because I have grown to love children whose lives are just really painful to watch some days.
I generally love Fridays because that is the day we drive some of the children home for the weekend. Many live with grandparents, a few live with either a mom or a dad who just can’t care for them throughout the week. I don’t think any have 2 parents. I enjoy driving them home because I like to meet their families and see where they live when they are not tucked away safely at Manos de Amor.
Yesterday we took 4 children home – 2 brothers from San Vicente and 2 girls from Valle de Banderas.
I have been at Laurentino and Jose’s house many times – not just to give them rides home but for birthday parties and pizza dinners and badminton games in the street. They have been to my house many times too. Their story is difficult but I have grown used to it. Yesterday when we took them home, the road leading into what is often called Cardboardlandia – because most of the houses are made of cardboard – was undriveable because of the water filled potholes. Our little car couldn’t make it through so we stopped a block away and I walked the boys home. There were no adults around and I was concerned about leaving 11-year-old Laurentino alone with little Jose, but I checked in with their neighbor who told me she’d watch them. She probably thought I was ridiculous as little Jose has been wandering the town alone since he was just 2.
We then headed across country to Valle de Banderas. I was most excited because I really wanted to check in on 2 little girls who lived in that town. These girls are only 3 and 5 and until 2 months ago had been living at Manos de Amor. They were sweet and timid and would cling tightly to me whenever I came to visit. Unfortunately, they are now caught in red tape and family dysfunction at its worst. The children at Manos de Amor are there voluntarily – their parents have agreed to leave them there during the week so they can attend school and be fed and cared for. While the government does not provide any funding for this home, they do have regulations that must be followed and one of these is that any children staying at the home must have birth certificates – something that mothers must get for their children. These 2 little girls were brought to the home by their grandmother because their mother had vanished. She is a prostitute and an addict and cannot care for her children. Unfortunately, she has never registered the girls with the government and does not have legal papers for them – which means they cannot stay at Manos de Amor any longer. And to make matters worse, their mom has a very difficult relationship with her own mother – the grandmother of these girls – and whenever she is angry she takes the girls back with her. It is an impossible situation and I really wanted to see them and give them a hug. I was naïve.
When we arrived at their tiny house, one of the kids in my car yelled towards the house. Immediately the 3-year-old opened the door and behind her stood her 5-year-old sister. I was stunned. Since I had seen them just 2 or 3 months ago they had clearly lost weight. They had no clothes on except for some tiny underwear and their hair was unkempt. They looked at us with fear. I asked where their mom was and they said she was sleeping. As I started to go to them, their mom came to the door – clearly unhappy we were there she slammed the door on us. And what was left of my heart broke. I was so angry at myself for not bringing food with us. So outraged that missing papers were keeping these children from living in a safe place. And mostly just so very sad that I couldn’t scoop them up and give them hugs. We drove to their grandmother’s house and left a bag of clothes for the girls. I know she loves them and will do her best to care for them – but driving out of that town was the most painful thing I have done in a long time. I know Grant felt the same and it was very quiet in our car as we drove home.
I am so grateful for the blessed life I have lived up to this point and perhaps in that moment I was picturing my own daughters when they were 3 and 5 dancing around the house in silly outfits, laughing and singing and becoming confident and amazing young women. I admit I wonder what on earth I am doing wandering around cardboard slums holding the hand of a little boy and standing in dirty streets hoping to hug little girls who have been neglected and forgotten. I don’t have an answer except I am confident that Grant and I are just where we are called to be and even when it hurts, it is worth it to share love with a country that is often terribly dark. I have to believe that love makes a difference. Especially for two sweet little girls in Valle de Banderas.