Friday, June 6, 2008

Sixteen to Life

Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn

Sixteen-year-old Wilmer of Honduras raised his two younger sisters while his mother served a sentence for dealing drugs...

Shots rang out, and suddenly, the dead of night erupted into a frenzy of shouts and screams.

“We were all inside the house,” recalls Wilmer, a tall, thin, sullen teenager who speaks with the gravity of an adult. “I was giving the youngest one a bottle, and we started hearing gunshots. They came to the house like thieves in the night.”

Four years have passed since the police raided Wilmer’s house in Vida Nueva, Honduras. At first, his two older brothers were taken away to prison. When his mother, Margarita, went to bail them out, the police released her sons and arrested her instead.

“She ended up in jail because she sold drugs to support us,” Wilmer says with a shrug and a sigh. “She was a single mother. She had to take care of us. Just her, by herself, and us.”

Ever since his mom was sentenced to prison, Wilmer has raised his younger sisters, 5-year-old Alison and 6-year-old Yosselyn, to the best of his ability. “We all help each other out here,” Wilmer confides. “You wouldn’t say it’s an easy life. When there’s food, we eat...when there’s not any food, we go hungry.”

Luckily for Wilmer and his sisters, Jacky Valdez, a well-respected volunteer mother at our local community center, found out about the situation and began checking on the kids. “The children were there all by themselves for four years,” Jacky says. “I would go over there and say, ‘Wilmer, do you need help?’ I would give him 20 lempiras (about $1) so he could go and buy food.”

Jacky tried to enroll the children in sponsorship, but Wilmer‪ was reluctant to sign up without his mother’s permission. So he and his sisters kept to themselves, making sure to heed their mother’s advice to be good kids and stay off the streets.

When Margarita was released on parole a few months ago, Wilmer and his sisters couldn’t have been happier. They’re eating regularly now that their mom is home and working as a maid at a public school.

But even as Margarita repays her debt to society, the financial debt she amassed in fines and lawyer fees may have sentenced her children to a bleak future. Desperate for a new start, Margarita fears she may have to sell her house to free her family once and for all. The decision could uproot her children and potentially leave them homeless. It could also bar them from getting an education.

Wilmer has completed sixth grade – the last grade required by Honduran law – but he would love to finish school and become a teacher. And his sisters, Alison and Yosselyn, are old enough to attend school, but it’s doubtful they’ll be enrolled without help from sponsorship.

With the right support, we may be able to build a case that will convince Margarita to keep her home and enroll her children in sponsorship. It may be the only way Wilmer and his sisters can separate themselves from their mother’s criminal past and finally break free from the shackles of poverty.

Photo 1: Wilmer and his sisters, Yosselyn (right) and Alison (middle), need a good role model they can look up to

Photo 2: Yosselyn, Alison and their niece, Nelsy, (right to left) may wind up trapped behind the wire without help from sponsorship.


Heather M said...

Kelly, your posts always insire action. Could some of the other parents of children that are already sponsored in that area convince her?

hilde said...

How much is her debt?

TK said...

Kelly and Damon,

I have similar questions. Are the children enrolled in CI's program now, and just waiting for sponsors? At the same time, maybe all other sponsors who want to help could chip in to help.

Damon said...

Wilmer and his sisters are not yet enrolled in the program. Our staff is trying to convince their mother, Margarita, to enroll them so they can be sponsored; however, she is still unwilling to commit. But we're not giving up! Sponsorship would drastically improve their lives.

Margarita tells our staff that she owes $1,000 in debt, but the details are sketchy at best. We're trying to learn more about the situation. If the loan turns out to be legitimate, we may be able to help her.

Thanks for your concern. I'll be sure to send you an update as soon as I learn more.