Monday, December 07, 2015

Then and now: The children of Angelitos find their dreams at Casita Copan

It will soon be four years since we first met the kids living in squalor, smell and deprivation at what was then the Angelitos Felices home for abandoned children in Copan Ruinas, Honduras. 

We were on our first Cuso International placement and needed a side project for our weekend hours. Once we made our first visit to Angelitos, we knew we'd found it. Friends and family back home did so much to help us make life better for the children during our two-plus years in Honduras. 

Together we raised $30,000 for a range of projects that included new tile floors, a vastly improved water system and renovated bathrooms, clothes, school uniforms and supplies, and weekly excursions to someplace fun for the 14 children for pretty much the whole two years we were there. (The regular visits to a local pool were the highlights, and all the kids learned to swim during our time with them.)

But everything comes to an end, and in April, 2014, we had to return to Canada. One of the great joys of my life was that within weeks of our sad goodbyes to the children, the Honduran government finally stepped in and removed the kids from Angelitos. They were put into the loving arms of the fledgling Casita Copan project and Emily Monroe, a young American who had been living in Honduras for a number of years at that point and putting in enormous effort to try to get the children moved into a better situation. She had already started a day care for impoverished single moms and their children in Copan, and within weeks of the news of Angelitos' impending closure, quickly opened three "casitas" in Copan that now house these children in family-sized groups with a permanent house mom. 

Emily's involvement has not only changed the lives and dreams of these children, but has meant my partner Paul and I can continue supporting them and watch them growing up. Hope you enjoy this series of then-and-now photos of the children, who are all doing great. I urge you to add Casita Copan to your Christmas giving plan! 

Beautiful Belkis is 15 and a young woman with hopes and ambitions - so far from the silent, timid girl she was when we first met her. I will never forget the wonder and joy on Belkis's face as she learned how to swim during our pool trips.

Eduardo is now 16 and living with his brother Naun and two other former Angelitos boys in his great new casita run by Juana, who knew all the children from her Angelitos days. The future of Eduardo worried us because vulnerable boys are at such huge risk of being drawn into gang activity. But he's well-supported now and doing great.

Sweet Elsy is eight now and living in a casita with her two younger sisters. With a developmental disability, Elsy not surprisingly had behavioural problems at the old home, but is now a happy girl growing up in a proper family.

Alba is the daughter of one of the impoverished women with few options who typically ended up working at Angelitos in exchange for a place to stay and some food. Mom Fanny now works at Casita Copan, and her three children - Alba, 8, Juan, 5, and baby Iker - are all with her and the family is thriving. While the 3 casitas are an important part of the work that Emily's organization does, what is arguably even more important is the terrific day care program and support/training for single mothers that Casita Copan also provides.

Angie Nicole (seen in the 'before' photo with Angelitos caregiver Juana, who is now a Casita Copan house mom) was such a sick little baby when we first saw her, the youngest of three siblings all living at Angelitos. Now she's a sparkling four-year-old and lives in a beautiful, clean home with her two older sisters.

Little Zoila was one of three sisters living at Angelitos, and was significantly behind in her development when we met her. Happily, not any more! She's five now and living with sisters Elsy and Angie Nicole at one of the casitas.

Jesus is nine now, and he and his sister Maria are the other brother-sister set living in the casita with siblings Estrella and Alex (and "big sister" Rosario). Small donations make a big difference in Honduras - $100 will cover the costs of primary school for a child, and $500 provides a year of medical care and any necessary medication for 30 children.

Ah, Juan Carlos, we won't soon forget your mischievous grin - and it's clear you've still got it! He's 10 now and living in a casita with Jose Manuel and the brothers Naun and Eduardo. His nickname was "Chino" because he had a vaguely Asian look to him, and he absolutely hated that nickname. We made sure to never call him that, but I sometimes wondered if the other kids even knew what his real name was. 

Sweet Jose Manuel basically didn't walk when we met him at age three, which the Angelitos people told us was because his blind mother carried him everywhere for fear of losing track of him up until she had to give him up. True or not, I don't know. His walking did improve, although his feet always seemed to give him trouble. He was the heartbreaker at Angelitos, so often left to sit neglected in a corner, quietly crying. Now he's six and full of life, just like every child should be!

Juan is five and the brother to Alba. The two children lived at Angelitos with their mom Fanny during some of our time there. As noted in Alba's writeup, Fanny now works at Casita Copan and the family is doing much better, as you can see by Juan's smiling face! Emily did a great campaign recently based on what the kids want to be when they grow up, and Juan wants to be a policeman so he can "get the bad guys."

This photo of Maria disturbed me to no end when I took it shortly after we got involved at Angelitos, as her raggedy-tag outfit, giant shoes and the filthy appearance of the upstairs area where the kids all slept spoke volumes about the conditions at the place. But look at her now! She's six now and living in a casita with her brother Alex and others.

Naun and Alex - shown here in the 'before' photo with little Jaidy, who is now in state care elsewhere in Honduras - were a couple of our favourites, notable for their spirited cartwheels and backflips (Alex) and complete excitement over any outing (Naun). Alex took his time learning to swim during our pool outings, but slow and steady got him there, and he was so proud. Naun is now 11, and Alex is 10.

The lovely Rosario, who was always the one who I thought could be anything she wanted if she could just get out of Angelitos. She was the only true orphan of the group. And now she's an 11-year-old princess, finally in a place to be able to realize her dreams and put her significant intelligence and drive to work.

First to learn to swim, street-smart like you couldn't believe from his time as a seven-year-old living on the streets of La Entrada - Arnold must be 13 now, and has gone back to his family. I am choosing to believe he is well and happy. Here he is pictured during our time in Honduras, enjoying his new bunk bed built by a wonderful group of Louisiana men who came to Copan specifically to build beds for the kids at Angelitos. Up until then, they were mostly sleeping on filthy foam mattresses on the concrete floor, and some just slept directly on the floor. 

Fernando had gone back to his family before Angelitos closed, but ended up abandoned again. Happily, he has now been adopted by a woman who works for Children's International and is in a happy, stable home about 40 minutes away from Copan Ruinas. He's 5 now.

Jairo has gone back to his family and is living with his sister and grandmother. Casita Copan does whatever it can to help abandoned children return to their families, and when that isn't possible, it supports family visits so the kids can continue to maintain a relationship with their families.

These 3 sisters - Johana, Noelia and Janine (seen here with Angie Nicole) - were returned to their family in La Entrada very suddenly one day when we were still in Honduras. We never got a chance to say goodbye. They were from a very troubled family, but their dad regularly showed up at Angelitos to visit them and they often tried to sneak in cellphone calls to their wandering mother (Daisy, the woman who operated Angelitos, didn't like the kids to have contact with their parents). We will have to hope that they, too, are doing well. They would be 11, 16 and 17 now.

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