Everyone loves the Little Girl House. What’s not to love? The favorite color is purple and there are ribbons in hair and sitting on laps and lots of giggling and every little girl is adorable with silver teeth in their smiles, and even sad eyes still glint at possibilities. They are loved here and they are safe here. And here is starting to become their home.
There are six older girls in the house. 16 years old and up they are spending their last days in the Orphanage in charge of the little ones. English is the ticket to a life in Honduras and I’m desperately trying to learn Spanish as a ticket into their lives, so we speak together all day. As we sit in the park or in front of the tv (Frozen is just as big of a hit down here!) or serve the soup or mop the floors.
Orphanage Emmanuel(OE) provides refuge and care to many truly distressed children. Many have been abandoned. Some have not. Some are removed from their homes from the government and considered ‘at risk.’ Some have family, and like an indefinite foster care system OE cares for the children until they graduate then release them, and some return to their families.
All are scared to leave. Honduras is a beautiful country and is also currently the deadliest country. It is lawless. Gangs and drugs are lord. People are fleeing. Poverty is king. There are so few jobs. Transition out of the Orphanage is intense. Although there are transition classes and small opportunities, for a child that has been institutionalize perhaps their whole lives, the freedom is immense, and the country is crushing. Some die right away with bullets. Some come back with babies. Some make it.
I talk with Yolani, an Older Girl that works in the Little Girl House. Two more years left here. I ask if she wants to leave. Yes, she tells me. One day maybe she will live in Costa Rica. I tell her to visit me in los Estados Unidos. She laughs loud and tells me that sure, when she is very rich she will. Speaking Spanish, she tells me she wants to be a secretary. She will work hard. I encourage her; I tell her she is smart, (I don’t know if she’s smart). I say she is hardworking, (I’m hoping she is hardworking). In a too-high pitched voice I brightly ask her how excited she is to leave. She looks at me and answers in English so I understand. She is not excited. Life is not easy for us here in Honduras she says.
And I know. I mean I don’t know. I don’t know what it is like to fear from going from three hot meals a day to maybe none. Going from guards on the outside and sleeping in safety to being afraid to walk down a street. Zero safety net. A high risk, low reward tightrope.
It is after dinner and I am watching thirty Little Girls play in the yard. They are laughing and running, their black hair glints in the sun. I speak with Carmen. She is sitting on the side of the yard, it is the best position to catch older boy’s attention as they walk by. She is 20. She has been here 12 years. She has stayed two years after graduation because this is her home. As we talk a seven year old girl sits next to us. Carmen takes the small toy plastic drum the child was playing with, she twirls it and taps it. Carmen has worked in the Little Girl house for many years. She is like a big sister to them. A kind, sweet, manic big sister. She tells me she will leave here soon. She is sad to go, but she wants to go, she wants to make a family. She wants to be a translator. She will work hard. She tells me she has family a few hours away. She hasn’t had any contact with them in over three years. Esta bien. She tells me. It’s fine.
I look down and realize that during our conversation she has punched through the toy drum’s plastic face. She flatly shows it to the Little Girl and tells her it is broken. Esta bien. The Little Girl says softly.
Within three days of being here I was given keys to different buildings. A key also to the pantry. Still a stranger, the adults in charge entrusted to me access to a closet that holds shampoo, ibuprofen, tomato sauce, lice combs, toilet paper, powdered milk, rice, pasta. 20 year olds that have been here 12 years still don’t have keys. The adults know that being from America I have no interest in the goods in this closet. They’re not worth anything. To others, those who had to hoard food, those who never get shampoo, these are important properties. The past dictates what we determine valuable.
To have. To need. To want. To be.