Can you tell us something about the nature of Fundación Corazón de Niña?
We started out with a group comprised of mainly teenage girls but then began searching for their siblings which turned up younger girls and boys of all ages. In an effort to reunite them, we were inspired to open the rental home of Juan Meza’s (my partner and Corazón co-founder) next door for the boys.
Almost three years later, we now have thirty-eight children and youth — twenty-seven girls and eleven boys (February 2015). About half are under twelve, the rest between twelve and twenty-three.
Mexican law prohibits adults (persons over the age of eighteen) from living with children unless they are caregivers. So our over eighteens are officially live-in volunteer caregivers and in every way function as such. They have considerable responsibility in managing the children day-to day. And in return, they receive the benefit of a post-secondary education and extended time to develop their living skills.
Do they all come from Puerto Vallarta?
Most do, but we now have five children from the adjacent state of Nayarit, a thirty minute drive from here, and one girl from Acapulco. Our plan is to start another home in Nayarit. The need there is huge.
How would you describe their needs?
Every one of these children have endured tremendous hardship of some kind– unbelievable living conditions, sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, malnutrition, illiteracy, even prolonged isolation and human trafficking. To qualify for any help in Mexico, a child’s circumstances have to be nothing short of dire. Even then, there is little likelihood the help will be anything close to sufficient.
Every one of these children have endured tremendous hardship of some kind– unbelievable living conditions, sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, malnutrition, illiteracy, even prolonged isolation and human trafficking.
Yes, these children are victims. And they harbor all the emotional, psychological, social and physical maladies one would expect. One girl had been so traumatized, authorities told us there was no hope for her as she did not speak and rarely even made eye contact with anyone.
They mentioned the option of sending her away to another state (which we said wouldn’t be necessary)… she now participates in all activities, cares for our birds daily, knits and sells scarves, dances, runs at the track, socializes with others and actually sang a song at her sister’s birthday. She is receiving speech therapy from Maureen Priestley at Pasos Adelante with phenomenal results!
Many if not all of the children are unhealthy when they arrive. They have parasites, scabies, head lice, and infections. They need medical help, dental help, psychological counseling and a large measure of love and caring. And they get it all.
Many if not all of the children are unhealthy when they arrive. They have parasites, scabies, head lice, and infections.
Every person at Corazón has a story, a difficult story, and every one now has a new story of hope and growth and possibility.
Do the girls remain in touch with their families?
Some receive calls and visits from family. One mother takes her child out for the afternoon twice a month. We have to monitor the visits closely, though, because they can be very traumatic for the child.
What kinds of improvements have you noticed in your children?
I spoke of the girl who found her voice again. Improvements of that order of magnitude are not unusual here. Once the children are convinced that this place is what it seems — safe, nurturing and loving, the flower within unfolds and a unique, loving spirit emerges, bit by bit. It is magical to witness it, to be a part of it. The human spirit is a profoundly beautiful thing, both fragile and tenacious at the same time.
On a more practical level, our children have very few life skills when they arrive. Everything has to be taught — personal hygiene, how to use the bathroom, how to clean house, prepare food, relate to others, wash clothes, make a bed, care for one’s possessions — everything. It is a painstaking, time consuming process and eventually, they get it. They become healthy, orderly, productive and happy.
Why do you have a ‘no limits on stay’ policy? Might that not keep beds filled that younger children could use?
These children’s needs don’t end when they turn eighteen. They have serious challenges to overcome, challenges that they might well struggle with their entire lives. It takes time to undo the past and build a better future. We are not willing to say to our kids “Right, you’re eighteen now, time to be on your own.” I wouldn’t do it to my biological children and we won’t place limits on these children. When they’re ready, they will know, and then they will leave. And what better adult volunteers could we have until then than those who have grown up here?