Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Sometimes all you can do is do

My partner Paul, with Emily

So I did end up going to the Angelitos Felices foster home Monday, bearing a watermelon as planned. The director wasn’t in, but I went back the next morning – this time with a couple of bags of little plum-like fruit that’s in season right now. One of the women called the director at home and she came to meet me there.
We spent a couple of hours talking and wandering around the place, my Spanish having improved to the point that I can finally indulge my journalistic curiosities in the native language. And there’s nothing like a home for children without families in a developing country to get the curiosity going, especially one that so many people in Copan seem to have an opinion about.
I don’t know what to make of the place, which I guess is why I’m just going to start volunteering there. Time will tell whether it’s a good place or a bad one, but either way there are 38 kids living there who can use all the help they can get. I know I can make myself useful.
I’ve never been in an orphanage in Canada or anywhere else, so I have little to compare this one to. It’s dark, smelly, devoid of toys and with too few beds for too many children, but that could be said about much of the housing in the impoverished pueblos all around Copan. The food is mostly beans and tortillas, but that, too, is what poor families (and wealthy ones as well) eat in Honduras. 
There’s no outside space suitable for the children to play – not uncommon either in this town without a playground or a green space. But unlike other kids in Copan, these ones have too many developmental problems to just be left to run around in the streets.
The upstairs balcony where the children once got at least a little fresh air is currently off-limits because one of the iron safety bars is missing (I’ve made a note of that one for a quick fix, as soon as I find someone who can do a little welding). So for the most part the children pass the day entertaining themselves in the big, empty room on the main floor, where the gloom is barely broken by the light from a single window at the front of the building.
Any good-hearted Westerner wants to imagine abandoned children living in clean, jolly places full of toys, jungle gyms, gentle caregivers and loads of nutritional food. But that’s not how it is for the majority of children in Honduras even when they’ve got their own families, and I guess it’s not surprising that things would be just that much worse for children who the state has removed from their homes, which is how most of these kids came to be at Angelitos.
In a place like Honduras, where so many kids have it rough at the best of times, you don’t want to think about how dire a family situation would have to be before the Instituto Hondureno de La Ninez y La Familia would remove a child. And that’s all they do – there appears to be no funding or much follow-up after that.
It can’t be easy for a child to end up without family in Honduras. The norm here is sprawling extended families that all live near each other – there are whole pueblos where everybody is related. Any child that doesn’t get taken in by another family member when their own parents die or fall apart must be a very isolated child indeed, or one with more problems than struggling family members can handle. Several of the children at Angelitos appear to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; others have physical disabilities.
I asked the woman at the home where the children would live if not there. They’d either be on the streets or dead, she told me. I’m sure those grim fates await many of them even so, seeing as they can only stay at the orphanage until they’re 14. She wants to do better, and talks of a separate facility for the older kids where they could learn a trade. But most of her energy goes to looking for the day-to-day money to keep the doors open at the site she’s got, a problem that anyone who has ever run a non-profit can relate to. Operating costs just aren’t sexy.
Others in Copan have dreams of a better orphanage, and I’ve connected with them to see where I can help. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep showing up at this place and do what’s within my reach. I’m a doer more than a dreamer, and I know that there’s always room in any project for two more hands and a heart. Tomorrow, we’ll start with finger-painting.

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