Now I will tell you about Kayla our 17-year-old mother who is living in our foster care facility. Unbelievable is all I can say... She remembered seeing me in Palosaco, a small village five hours up river. This was in March of 2001 which may not be such a big deal except she was 12-years- old and had been abandoned for two years. At that time, she had been assaulted in every way, and survived it all. I will be interested to hear more of her story as time passes. She is special and is quickly winning the hearts of those she meets.
She is just a little thing. The first time I saw her I thought that this could not possibly be the 17-year -old that they were taking me to meet. She wore tattered clothes, thin from years of wear. Her shorts had been long pants at one time. Now they were cut off and hand stitching were visible indicators of an honest attempt at making a seam. The front of her t shirt was covered with milk stains from feeding her 6 month old baby, Kevin. Some stains were still wet from nursing with no pads or burp rags. Her feet didn't touch the ground from the bench she was sitting on and her turquoise flip flops lay on the dirt floor below her. You could see at a glance that they were much to big for her tiny feet.
Various family members gathered from the household that took her in. It was the woman who lived there that had compassion and invited Kayla to stay with them for awhile. We were a welcomed into this humble wooden home and the scramble for chairs only lasted a moment or two until everyone was seated.
I could see the kitchen behind the row of curious onlookers. There was a rustic stove where food was cooked over charcoal, much like a campfire on your kitchen counter top. There was a tattered towel draped over a small pile of cheap aluminum pans and some dishes that had apparently just been washed, though there was no sink or running water visible. Some boards in the living room had been painted but there was no apparent pattern and only a few of them were done.
The thatch roof was in decent shape. Some of these houses require strategic placement of the sitting area or beds due to the many leaks from aging woven palm panels.
Jimmy, Camila and Lorenzo had been here a few days earlier so they were not strangers but I was not only new...but a Gringo. There is an immediate suspicion that accompanies any foreigner that takes interest in children here in Peru. People buy and sell children and the profit margin for an unscrupulous foreigner is high, creating an instant barrier for those of us that are helping for other reasons.
Baby Kevin is a big boy. I couldn't believe that he was only 6 months old and that Kayla was the mother. He was so big on her lap, for as young as he is, that there is a comical element when watching them. Kevin was restless but happy. Kayla randomly breast fed on and off during our conversation. In this culture there is no attempt to hide or cover something that is so natural. As I asked questions and listened to her story the rag that was tucked between the babies legs soaked through. Kayla unceremoniously removed it and set it on the table behind her. The baby started to cry and in the middle of her story she made the shooshing sounds and patted him like she had been doing it for years.
I have felt fairly uncomfortable the few times I have held babies that were not wearing diapers but when baby Kevin produced a green stream of diarrhea that puddled on the floor below his mothers chair there was barely a hint of surprise on Kayla’s face. Her leg and ankle were involved in a direct hit but that didn't seem to concern her Kevin has had diarrhea since the day he was born. She simply adjusted the baby into a sitting position that made herself less vulnerable.
Kayla is soft spoken but looks you in the eyes when she speaks. She is comfortable engaging adults in conversation but there is a shyness that is endearing. She is genuinely interesting to listen to, and her stories are detailed and funny. She was eager to come to our facility as the family she was staying with could not afford an unemployed young mother and a baby. Taking in a young girl is one thing. There is work to be done and a capable child earns her keep but as soon as she becomes a mother they become a liability and are often put back on the streets.
The father of baby Kevin was a relative of her host family, that stopped in Iquitos while on a break from his job in the jungle. He is in his mid twenties and his age and aggressiveness was more then Kayla knew how to deal with. The intimidation factor for a young girl with no family support is huge. Either way it goes, you face consequences. In this case Kayla was pregnant and the father, who had never even pretended to have long term interest, was gone.
So there we were. In kind of an interview process. The supporting family, checking us out to make sure we don’t have bad intentions for Kayla. Us checking out the host family wondering why she got sexually assaulted while staying in their home. Kayla was wondering if this dream could possibly be true; a home, an education, diapers for the baby, a bed to sleep in at night and clothes to change into while washing the others. She told us later that she wondered, for the 5 days between our initial contact and our return, if this opportunity could really be possible. I assured her it was.
By the end of the interview she had tears in her eyes. She told us about her little sister and how badly she wanted us to find her. The step mother still tolerates the nine year old but her animosity toward Kayla forced her onto the streets. On rare occasion when they see each other the little girl clings to her big sister and cries. “This is the worst part of having no home,” she said. I really miss my little sister.
The conversation came to a natural stopping point. I asked if she was still interested in seeing Santa Thomas, our crisis foster care facility. She gave us a huge grin and an emphatic, “Yes.”
So we loaded up the whole group and 3 motor cars and two motorcycles later we were on the way. It took about 15 minutes to arrive in Santa Thomas. The hundred yards of 12 foot high, Terra cotta block wall, looks quite impressive while your approaching but the beauty that is behind the wall goes beyond the fruit trees, small river and soccer field. This place is quiet...tranquil. You feel like you entered someplace special when you walk through the big iron gates.
She was delighted. Kayla was grinning so big she looked guilty of something. immediately she was surrounded by Lorenzo’s family. Three girls ranging from early teens to early twenties and one handsome young boy of 12. Lorenzo’s oldest daughter has a special needs baby and her and the babies father are frequently visiting the grandparents from across the river. There was an instant bond...you could tell right away this would be “family.”
We showed Kayla to her room. New, white, baby furniture made it quite obvious that we were ready for Kayla and her baby. The little mosquito net over the crib made the sleeping quarters look like it is ready for royalty...and indeed it is.
They have been with us for over a week now. I could already write a couple of chapters about this girl. The first morning Lorenzo stuck his head into the room early, as he is the first one up and Kayla was gone. He told me later that his heart jumped into his throat. He ran into the other area of the house to get his wife and there was Kayla sweeping the kitchen floor...at 5:00 in the morning. She was so excited to be a part of this family she said she just couldn't sleep.
We took her to Heidi and Luis, the dentists that our organization put through school. She needs one more of two extractions and 16 fillings. Kevin had a pretty bad intestinal infection which explains his diarrhea for the last six months. Really she said, “since the day he was born.”
I saw them tonight. They look so good. Martha my youngest Peruvian daughter emptied her room of all her clothes that were too small and delivered them to Kayla. She was cheery and all smiles when we arrived tonight with our new girl, Anna. Kayla is a one week veteran and lead the charge in making Anna welcome. Anna is 17. Her baby is only three months. Her mother has been dead for 13 years Her father is working near Brazil but Anna will be a story for another night. She too, is precious.
There are thousands of girls like Stephanie, our first, Kayla and Anna. Some are barely hanging on. Some have given up. Susanna, our elementary education student told me of a neighbor girl that is prostituting for the family she lives with. This is the alternative that she picked, over being on the streets.
How can we help them all? We can’t, but by God’s grace we will come along side some of these kids one life at a time. We are humbled by the privilege of serving these precious girls. Girls who have been used, abused, lied too and thrown away. Girls that are now raising babies in conditions that claim the lives of children every day. We will educate, love and protect the vulnerable of this society. I believe with all my heart that in the future, girls like Kayla, Anna and Stephanie will be the ones going door to door looking for more girls that need a chance.
We need sponsorship for Kayla and Anna. We took them both in on faith that somebody would help us support them. They will attend the local school but first we need a tutor to get them caught up. They are being “mothered” by Lorenzo’s wife and all the expenses associated with providing care for two more mothers and two more babies will need to be raised in the near future. If you have a heart for these kids please help.
You can’t give too much. We have a $108,000 project to fund in order to house the 15 girls and babies that will fill this facility. Our operating budget is creeping up as we develop the project and hire the staff. We need transportation to get back and forth to town, more baby furniture and financial reserves for education, food, clothes, medical care and baby supplies. (diapers)
This is good work. Trust me, your dollars will be well spent.