Ever been to Tijuana? "T.J."? Even if you haven't, I'll bet you think it's shorthand for anything-goes partying, a bit of lawlessness, cheap prescription medicine and pervasive hopelessness. What Tijuana really is, is a border town that is experiencing tremendous growth in population, as people relocate from rural areas in hopes of a better life. The search of a better life sometimes ends up rather bad. And often, it is the children that get the worst of the bad. Poverty often brings abuse, neglect and abandonment in its wake.
I won't make any assumptions about the Mexican foster care or child welfare systems, because I really don't know anything about them. However, I've seen a thing or two relating to the American foster care and child welfare systems, and, suffice it to say, that no matter a nation's wealth or relative position in the world, every nation often falls short in their obligations in protecting and caring for the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Child abuse, neglect and abandonment all belong to our collective human shame.
The hills are covered in ad hoc dwellings. The ingenuity of many makes it a shame to call them shanties. The people do the best they can with what they have and that is something to truly admire.
"Find your honor in trustworthiness. Laugh and sing during difficult times."
But there are people and there are places that are doing good by our children. Yesterday, I had the honor to visit one such place, a wonderful, happy place. Corazon de Vida, is, year by year, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, giving child by child a fighting chance at a great future. About 60 children, ranging in age from infants to teens, are cared for, clothed, fed, educated and nurtured, day in and day out, at this home in Tijuana.
Corazon de Vida ("heart of life") is a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) non-profit charity dedicated to empowering children. This is from their Web site:
"I don't know if I should be happy or sad," my son Jack says to me after our visit.
Blood determines lineage. But what about hearts? I have a working hypothesis that says hearts determine families. Corazon de Vida is not an orphanage per se. It is a home. And a home is a place for families. Families are where children are loved, nurtured, cared for, given boundaries, responsibilities, brothers and sisters, a place of their own and a chance to grow and blossom into the greatest version of themselves. Some of these children may be reunited with their mothers as their circumstances improve. And some will be with Corazon de Vida until they are 18. Or older. Because family is forever.
Mexican public (free) schools go up to the ninth grade. After that, schooling costs tuition, as does a university education. Children of Corazon de Vida will be sponsored--given room and board, school uniforms, books and the rest of it--for as long as they are in school, past their 18th birthday if need be. "I want to make these kids become millionaires one day," remarked Corazon de Vida board member Nicholas Sandoval, "That way, they can come back and end the cycle." Right on, brother!
A volunteer donates belly tickles and hugs.
This home runs its own school, which also teaches children from outside Corazon de Vida.
A hand up (not out).
Teenagers at Corazon de Vida are given private rooms to share with one or two others. Each child has his own belongings and clothes, so that each child can develop his own sense of self.
"Every child’s life is valued and holds the same potential, excitement and opportunity as any other life."
Everything at Corazon de Vida Tijuana is super clean, organized, well-maintained and neat as a pin. The children are instructed in how to keep their toys and spaces neat and do their small part to make this home their home.
I think I can...I think I can!
Board Member Andrew travels from Los Angeles to Tijuana 2-3 a month times to volunteer and give some love.
A roof. A shoe. A gaggle of boys. And my son right smack in the middle of all this. Yep: looks about right.
It's only a foul if it's called! Final score: USA - 6, Mexico - 10. (Also, 6 Mexicans against my one gringo, but, in the end, the final score is all that counts, right?)
Here's something my surfer boy might have a better shot at.
Sweet, sweet baby girl.
To save on the grocery bill and teach the kids a thing or two about botany, the home has planted vegetable gardens.
A blessed home.
If you look in your own corazon and see that you may have even a small donation in your budget, please consider a gift to Corazon de Vida. It only costs about $60 for all the needs of a child for a month. Think about it: Could you clothe, feed, house and educate your kid on $60 a month? I've already discussed this with my daughter Anna: She has a birthday coming up and one of her "presents" will be a donation to Corazon de Vida. Her idea. (Did I ever mention how wonderful my Anna is? Well, consider it mentioned!)