Selling a Child for Drug Money

I believe I have perfected the prairie dog maneuver – the art of bobbing in and out of a cold shower to avoid outright freezing. Then yesterday Kina and Rodney were able to get the hot water heater to work. It was nirvana.

1506508_10152517000947222_83782250_n Nahum picked us up after breakfast, driving us the 45 minutes to Jocotepec and La Ola Orphanage to meet directors Bob and Becky Plinke. Becky gave up her nursing profession in 2009 and worked with the poor at a dump in Puerto Vallarta and saw first hand the need to care abandoned and orphaned children. She founded La Ola in early 2010, and three months later Bob gave up his practice as a doctor and joined her.La Ola is a girls only home for 17 abused street children. A rarity in Mexico, they take in older high-risk girls and their stories are often tragic. Three-year-old Valeria let me pick her up the minute I walked into the house. The child of a crack addict, her mother tried to sell her for 300 pesos (about 25 dollars) at age two. Angele came to the orphanage as a street savvy 12 year-old with purple hair and a blackberry. She was being used as a drug mule. When she first arrived she was illiterate and signed her name with an X.

But lives change after children enter the doors of La Ola. Now 15 years old, Angele has learned to read and write and she’s now in high school. Valeria, despite having a mother who smoked crack during pregnancy, is a bright little girl who speaks to you in both Spanish and English.

La Ola employs two housemothers, women who have raised children of their own and understand the world of teenagers. They share the responsibility with others at the orphanage of raising the girls. One is always present at the house. While the girls get counseling, they have also bonded with these housemothers and often talk with them as a parent.

A fencing lesson at La Ola

Eight of the girls are enrolled in Terranova, a bilingual private K-12 school, and others attend Cetac, the public vocational high school. Cetac provides skills training in everything from administration to accounting and computers to laboratory technology. Two girls are even learning nutrition because they want to be chefs. Job placement afterwards is very high. Sponsors provide scholarships for the kids to attend both schools. No effort to give the girls outlets is overlooked. While there we were treated to a visit by a local volunteer who was on the Mexican National Fencing Team, who gives free lessons at the home.

Unlike most orphanages we work with, La Ola is blessed to have an outlet to provide their children the skills necessary to live independent lives when they leave the orphanage. This extremely important in a society where the better paying jobs go to men.La Ola and other orphanages we visited here have been targeted by the local authorities and given a list of “safety” upgrades required at the Orphanage. The costs are an average of $3,000, a staggering sum for orphanages scraping by on budgets of about 100K a year. They are given little time to find the money, and if they don’t comply fines are imposed. It’s causing the orphanages to let people go because they no longer have the resources to pay them, and a stress on the directors. Already overworked and understaffed, the effect on the children is significant.

This targeting and the costs associated with it seem all the more baffling given the massive orphan problem in Mexico. To hear the Government’s side of it, they don’t have orphans here. Crisis would be an understatement. We will be helping La Ola with a grant to get them past the current cash crunch.

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