Orphanages in San Miguel, protagonists of their own story
By Sandra Ríos
“The lack of reliable official data on how many children are in shelters, who they are, where and how they are, further increases the risk of abuse and impunity against them,” reported the Red por los Derechos de la Infancia en México (Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico), which estimated that in 2010 Mexico had a total of 29,310 children who did not have family or institutional care. According to INEGI (National Institute of Statistics and Geography), there are currently, 682 orphanages, homes for minors, or nurseries for children which are officially registered. Until 2012, they had counted about 28,107 children and adolescents inhabiting homes for minors and orphanages across the country.
Most of these institutions survive with the support of benefactors because they have no government assistance. In San Miguel there are two orphanages, Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco for girls and Santuario Hogar Guadalupano Mexiquito for boys, both managed by nuns from the order Hermanas Dominicas de María (Dominican Sisters of Mary). Founded in 1949, the order established its main house in El Cortijo, near Atotonilco.
Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco AC, located in colonia Santa Julia, was formed from the merger of Casa Hogar Santa Julia with Casa Hogar Don Bosco, formerly on calle Sollano. As the two houses were growing, they realized that they had the same goals. Upon merging a year ago, the girls from Don Bosco moved into the Santa Julia community. The house where the girls are located belongs to the Dominican Sisters of Mary congregation. All together Santa Julia has 48 girls, most of whom range from 4 to12 years old, and another ten girls between 15 and 19.
According to Mother Laura, director of the casa hogar, most of the girls come through the Sistema para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, DIF (System for Family Integral Development) in Juventino Rosas, San Luis de la Paz, Dolores, San Miguel de Allende and Querétaro.
“For us, donations are very important…from 50 pesos—which are very valuable—as well as (from) those who can give us 1,000 or 2,000 pesos,” said Mother Laura. The support they currently have comes mainly from individuals who donate in kind, like a farm which donates milk. La Espiga gives them 50 pieces of cake and 30 rolls from Monday through Saturday, and the Dr. Simil drugstores and Feed the Hungry give them food for a small pantry each month. There are also people in the United States who sometimes make donations, as well as individuals in San Miguel de Allende.
Mother Laura said that all girls go to school, and some donors provide scholarships for ten girls to attend private schools, like Atabal or Academia Internacional. The other girls go to government schools like Independencia, 5 de Mayo, Francisco Villa, and different nurseries and kíndergartens.
“There are girls who spend much of their childhood and adolescence in Santa Julia. Three have already completed senior high school. One of them is going to Guadalajara to study medicine, and the other two will study gastronomy and fashion design, both at local universities.
Among their activities is mentoring in English, Spanish, and mathematics, and every Saturday they go to La Biblioteca for computing classes. The girls also have three TV areas to use during weekends.
Casa Hogar Santa Julia has a volunteer coordinator who programs dates and times and organizes people who want to help the girls. Volunteers teach classes in crafts, clay modeling, photography, or classical-contemporary dance, among others. “Girls write letters and make paintings and crafts to thank people who make donations,” says Mother Laura.
Santa Julia-Don Bosco belongs to the CONANIMAC (National Council for Children of Mexico AC), led by Salesian priests following the spirituality and philosophy of Don Bosco. “Every year there is a meeting in a different city in this country. All congregations and secular institutes gather and monitor the work they do with children,” says Mother Laura. “Regionally, we convene every month to learn how to handle urgent situations for children, such as lack of affection and sexuality, as sometimes children arrive very hurt and with distorted thinking about the richness and beauty of affection and sexuality in humans.
A social worker and a psychologist are currently available; they have taught workshops to all the Santa Julia staff. “We are also in constant review with the psychologist and the social worker to have assertive communication with the girls,” says the Mother Laura. She adds, “If one day they were victims of neglect or rejection, we teach them that they are protagonists of their own story, that they will never be victims again but will also be neither an executioner nor a silent witness to injustice. I tell them,’Take your life in your hands. You have all the ability to succeed and be productive in life. What happened was something that life put in your way so you might you grow up, and now you receive the elements and tools to be a happy and productive woman in society.’”
Santuario Hogar Guadalupano Mexiquito
Father José Guadalupe Mojica founded the Santuario Hogar Guadalupano Mexiquito in 1950. He wanted to protect poor children, build a school for them to attend classes, and provide them with breakfast and lunch.
Currently, they receive support from private individuals and a little money from the local and state government. The biggest fundraiser event they organize is a large party on December 12 (day of the Virgin of Guadalupe). People donate food for them to sell during this fiesta.
Mother Teo, director of Mexiquito, said, “The attention the boys need is now more demanding, both physical, emotional, and spiritual. They come with much need for affection. Once they are in good health and nourished, they attend school from kindergarten to high school. As of three years ago, Mexiquito has been able to keep children through college, if required, as long as they want to study and they behave well.”
The ages of boys at Mexiquito range from a year and a half to 14 years old. There are now about 35 boys, but next year the home will widen its capacity to 40 children.
Like the girls in Santa Julia, most boys living at Mexiquito come here through their own families and also through DIF. “The procedures for receiving a child are first to evaluate his needs and (then) check (to determine) if he was indeed abandoned, malnourished, or beaten,” says Mother Teo.
When the boy comes through family auspices, the relative signing as responsible can come and visit him at least fortnightly, which is not usually done. Few families have achieved getting boys back. Most boys here lack the nurturing of their closest relatives.”
According to Mother Teo, Mexquito belongs to the National Confederation of Children in Mexico, which gathers every two months for continuous training. This network, based in Aguascalientes and grouped into six regions, consists of 120 group homes nationwide, both religious and secular. Mexiquito belongs to the Bajio region, with the largest number of foster homes in the association—36 homes.
Twice a week, boys at Mexiquito have sports, and they also have a voluntary program offering workshops, such as painting, computers, violin, guitar, and a garden shop, where they cook what they sow when the harvest comes. On weekends they are taught bicycle repair and then they go biking. Others go to soccer games or participate in reading and storytelling.
To offer support, call Casa Hogar Santa Julia Don Bosco A.C. Tel. 152 4897, or Santuario Hogar Guadalupano Mexiquito Tel. 152 5082.