It is the ~25 kids at House of Hope that give it such life. Some of the children live in bodegas with their mom, while 9 girls live in the 'dormitory' with Brittany, a young American woman who took the position as dorm 'mom' just a few months ago.
The girls living in the dorm cooked me breakfast and dinner almost every day that I was staying with them (I ate whatever they were having that day). I was struck by how 'normal' the girls were when I first met them. They they joked, they did homework, they fought, and they made up, and they were excited to meet a new person -- me!
The dorm girls were aged 9-14, and with anyone that age you can expect a lot of cliques forming and in-fighting. Put a history of violence, abuse, and neglect on top of that and you can imagine how difficult it would be to parent and discipline these kids who have never had any structure in their lives. My heart goes out to Brittany and the overwhelming task she has courageously taken on.
April was open with me about the history of exploitation and abuse in the girls' lives. Many of the girls have been victimized in multiple ways - through neglect, sexual abuse, incest, forced prostitution, and physical abuse. Each has her own story wrought with pain and suffering and many have not communicated the full extent of their victimization to anyone at House of Hope, including April.
The emotional, mental, and physical health effects are clear when the stories are told. Besides the nightmares, depression, and aggression, at least one of the girls now suffers infertility caused by cervical cancer resulting from infection with a cancer-causing strain of HPV (surgery succesfully got rid of the cancer).
Sometimes the structure of House of Hope is too much for the girls. They run away.
The girls are able to see their families on the weekends. I saw one mom bring a lunch and have a picnic in the ranchón with one of the girls and their siblings. Some of the girls see their mom on Tuesdays after the card-making sessions and when school lets out. I think this is a great way to keep families intact; yet, I think it creates some challenges for the structure and discipline needed to help these girls develop the skills and behaviors necessary to rise above the pain of their past.
Some moms never visit, which results in yet another layer of rejection that must be acknowledged, grieved, and overcome by these girls.
What a priviledge to spend a week with these girls! I am glad that they have April, Brittany, and other volunteers investing in their lives and creating an environment of support and love. It is my hope that they will finish school, find their talent and passions, and pursue it in a career that brings them much satisfaction.
Is it too much to hope for?