An article was recently published in El Mercurio, a Chilean newspaper in Santiago. While not specifically focusing on the House of Hope, it does a great job of explaining the need for projects just such as this. Please take a look at this translated version of the story.
The flight of the children:
By law, when they reach 18 years of age, the children in the orphanages must leave. But the landing is forced. Many find themselves without a home or pregnant from a man who has fled. With good will and love, some homes and young people have managed to change this destiny.
Written by María Paz Cuevas.
Seated in front of the Family court judge of San Bernardo in December of 2008, Daisy was about to cry. She had turned 18 a few days ago and was in the final stages of closing her case, and according to the Judge she would be thrown out of the Girls- Home in Quillahua on Maipo Island where she had lived since she was 10 years old, the result of mistreatment.
Daisy did not want to leave. She did not want to leave the house with lights, beds with decorative blankets, green yards and orderly rooms decorated with toys, the enormous kitchen and the permanent smell of home cooked meals. In that place she felt protected, loved, comfortable. However, now the judge, due to her age, insisted in questioning if she had some family member she could move in with. Before the law, the girl was ready to leave the orphanage and make her own life independently.
But Daisy did not feel prepared for that. She knew that to return to her father, who had a new family, she would live in a shack and she had never seen it in the past 8 years. It was not a good alternative. Her mother had died.
Daisy felt that she was being thrown out of her home. That was not far from the truth. The Family Court Judges are obligated to remove all minors living in orphanages once they reach 18 years of age. And the orphanages also must report whenever a girl reaches majority. SENAME subsidize up to 24 years of age only those who continue in higher education, but not all of the centers and not many of their students take that alternative. Many cut themselves off from the girls leaving, and they must take up their independent life from one day to the next, without anesthesia not transitions. Some leave early to stay with family members who many times do not offer optimum conditions for their growth.
But the “tias” at the orphanage in Quillahua do not think that way. They have decided that if the girls do not have anywhere to go and want to continue their studies, they will accommodate them for a longer time, until they are in better conditions to fly alone. Even though that signifies finding a way to do so outside governmental assistance.
In the tribunal, Maria Paz Hasbun, the social worker from the Orphanage where Daisy had grown up, calmed her. “Nobody is going to throw you out of the home. If you study, you may stay with us,” she said. Determined, the social worker repeated the same thing to the judge. Nevertheless, the judge closed the case and signed the exit papers for the girl to eave the center. Daisy was surprised when the audience ended and the official papers filed, when the judge approached her and said warmly, “I congratulate you that you will be staying with the “tias”. I truly congratulate you.”
The dangers of immediate flight.
Daisy returned to the home that same day and in march 2009 began to study as a nursing technician. She is now in the second semester of her career and continues to live in the home although she is 19 years old. “When I was a child, I thought that at 18 I would return to my parents’ home and live with them as before. But when my mother died my plans changed. Since then I have thought that I would have to finish my studies and prepare myself to be someone within the life of the orphanage,” she says.
She was convinced that that was the best path as the years went by and saw how it went with the other girls who abruptly left the home. “The majority of the girls go quickly because they want to be free, but they get pregnant, find bad partners, drifting from place to place. Many are bad, nobodies in life, and I don-t want that to happen to me,” says Daisy.
Lidia Massardo, the Director of the Orphanage, doesn’t want these stories to be repeated either. So the Home has opted for prolonging the girls’ time, if they want to study, in order to protect them and give them better tools for the future, so they will not run the risks implicit in going out into the world from one day to the next after an entire life-time within the protective bubble of a home such as this. Here where everything functions as a home, where many of the ‘tias’ invite the girls to spend Christmas in their own homes or when they are ill. “As they still do not have sufficient emotional maturity to be considered adults, they are exposed to emotional relationships that are not sustainable. The majority cling to the first person who sees them as pretty because their self esteem is so low. And the other great risk is physical neglect; when they leave here where they have had all the basics – food, hygienic materials – suddenly they find they don’t have even shampoo to wash their hair,” she tells.
In order to improve the self esteem and give them greater autonomy, besides psychological therapy, the girls do certain jobs. From 17 years, they leave during the summer to work, usually packing fruit, in order to earn how to administer their money. They also may leave the Home but must advise where they are and when they will return. When they wish to date, they must present their boyfriend to the ‘tias’ who in that moment are converted into inlaws.
Thus those who remain in the home respond.
And many of the girls who decide to leave return to ask for help. Maria Paz, the social worker, has suffered when at times the girls have returned with lice, no home, nowhere to sleep or bathe, sometimes with children whose fathers have abandoned them. In spite of the evidence, many times Maria Paz and Lidia find it difficult to convince the girls to prepare themselves before they leave. Lidia explains: “Many are bored with institutional living and want to leave as soon as possible. They carry the hope in their hearts that it is not our responsibility to guide their lives, but their relatives who are eternally waiting to do so but will never involve themselves in their things.”
The return to the Orphanage
Edith had that hope: she arrived at the Quillahua home at 8 years of age when her mother left her and her 7 siblings alone with their alcoholic father. Edith always dreamed of reaching 18 years in order to leave her and return to her mother who had left her. So she did so, in December of 2007, barely finishing 12th grade. She returned to her mother’s home in Maipo Island. The social worker and psychologist from the home went to visit her constantly and told her that if she wanted to study she could return to the Home. But Edith debated for two months, until she realized that living with her mother was not what she wanted. “Living together did not work out because we did not know each other. So in January of 2008 I told her I would return to the Home. She told me: “Okay, go.” When I arrived back, they welcomed me with open arms.”
Edith (19) studied to teach small children and got a dentist to fix her teeth free. No she has braces and is in her 3rd semester of studies. Something that she could only do after having compared the experience of living with her mother with the life she had in the Home.
Nora Sanhueza (28) realized the same thing after having left. She had arrived at the Home at 9 years of age when she was abused by her stepfather. He mother did not believe her and an aunt who brought her was not able to take care of her or send her to school. When she reached 18, she decided to leave and live with her aunt. “But her family never accepted me. They saw me as a nuisance. So I left with Juan, who had been my boyfriend for two years,” she adds. She married him shortly thereafter. And when she had to prepare herself, she returned to the Quillahua Home.
“I decided to dress for my wedding here because it has always been my home. They are my family. The ‘tias’ helped me dress and one ‘tia’ gave me shoes. The older girls went to the church. It was very lovely,” she recalls. That day, Nora went to the altar on the arm of the Director of the Paicavi Foundation which supports the Home. She had asked him to do so. “You watched me grow and mature. I am your daughter and want you to give me away,” she said. Now Nora has a home of her own and two children, aged six and eight years.
While in the Home, seated on their beds, face to face, Daisy and Edith converse. Daisy is sweet and at times leaves the Home to visit her father who never came to see her. “At first one is very lonely and wants to arrange everything with your family. That is way I went to see my father. I wanted him to say he loved me. Now I go to see him and want to help him later on because, in spite of everything, he is my father,” says Daisy. “Y intended to return to my mother, but now we are thinking of ourselves,” says Edith. Neither of the two feels ready to leap into the future, but planning for it. They dream of it. “I want to have my own house. My fear is leaving and not having any help, but I am projecting myself always into the future because I know that I am going to depend on that. The things that we have lived and the desire to be someone independent makes us more mature in many things,” says Edith. Daisy replies> “When I go it will be great because I will do what I want, but I’ll miss the girls and the ‘tias’ because here we are never alone. That is my fear: to be outside, alone, so alone. I am going to miss the noise, being always accompanied. I know that had I stayed in my home, I would never have finished high school. I am the only one in my family to finish high school. Had I stayed, I would be working for them all. Instead here the ‘tias’ have helped me advance. I want to finish my studies and have my own home.
Lidia feels satisfied with what has happened to both of them. Although at times we wonder how much to help, we don’t want to fall into overprotection or over-control. We simply want to help them for the future, even though that many times may mean calling upon the networks of solidarity that the very ‘tias’ in the home invent to sustain their crusade.
The Genios of the Home
Carmen Gloria Malpu (32) was 8 years old when the police found her walking alone at night in the Quinta Normal and brought her to the Ines Riesco Home, associated with the Congregation Maria Auxiliadora in Maipú. Previously, she lived alone: her mother did housework and lived in. She was left all wee alone in the house, with the neighbors taking care of her. “But I lived alone. I dressed myself, bathed, kept things in order, and played along. I was afraid. At times I ran into the street,” she recalls. When I arrived at the Home, everything changed. Carmen Gloria had clothing, food, and the loving care of the Sisters who celebrated Christmas with her and left her chocolate eggs for Easter. They even took her to the beach during the summer vacation.
In the Home, Carmen Gloria and her 50 companions studied, ate and played. They were registered in a technical school which was associated with the congregation. That was the strategy of the Sisters, that the girls leave with training and hopefully with sponsors who would take them to their home on weekends. “We tried to do everything possible : we got scholarships for them to study in good schools, financial support and even help to study in the university,” said Sister Isabel Jofre.
The Sisters even rented a house for awhile for girls that had to leave the Orphanage. “We didn’t dare let them go and had to rent that house so they could live together. We got them jobs that paid, and the rest we added ourselves, apart from SENAME. The idea of SENAME is that the girls be reinserted in their families, but often that is not possible. On the contrary, it may have sad results. Many families use them for their vices and they turn into the same terrible life conditions,” explained Sister Isabel.
When Carmen Gloria was soon to reach her majority, the sisters already had everything ready for her departure. “They had already spoken with my sponsors so I went to live with them and they got me a job as secretary in a business. It would have been difficult to leave the Home at 18 with nothing. The Sisters were our mothers,” she said.
Meanwhile in the Juvenile Village Mater Dei in Quinto de Tilcoco, a place surrounded by simple, clean, orderly nature, they were also thinking of the adolescents who were about to leave. More than half of the girls in the Home and the Director of the Home, Francisco Vega, want to give them the best start possible for an independent life. Here the answer had already arrived: “We sent them to learn a trade or profession in a technical school in Ranacagua so they would be self sufficient. Why did we do that? Because they are girls who have nobody besides us. More than a technical commitment, we are committed morally not to abandon them. If they leave from here, we want them to leave prepared to do well.
Now, 14 years after leaving the Ines Riesco Home, Carmen Gloria and her companions who have returned to see them, are happy, working, married, mothers and some are still studying. Carmen Gloria has her own home and two children. She sponsors a girl from the same Home where she once lived. She and her husband are in the process of adopting her. “It is my way of saying thank you and returning what they gave us. The sisters cared for us as real daughters and we left well prepared to jump into the world.”
María Paz Cuevas