The photo above is one of the lighter moments of my trip last month to northern Mexico. After the suffering I saw there, I was grateful to these children for giving me a chance to smile. Because of A Chance In Life's reputation as an advocate for vulnerable children, I had been invited by local organizations to explore possible partnerships in support of the children victims of ‘narco-trafficantes’. They offered me an all-expenses paid trip – including the cost of a bodyguard …
I want to share with you a brief note I wrote to the Chairman of our Board while I was in Mexico to give you an idea of what I experienced.
Dear Mauro, I hope all is well …
I am writing from Mexico. We are at the center of the area where the terrible killing of a family took place a few days ago.
The situation is very tense. While people try to get back to their daily routines, it is clear that the city of Chihuahua is under high alert. The news on tv constantly shows bulletins of people shot. Today, someone was shot outside my hotel. Yesterday, I was invited to a cultural event at the theater and hours later there was a fatal shooting right outside. It looks like a war zone.
Today, I’m going to Ciudad Juarez, a city bordering El Paso in Texas. There are more than 12,000 migrants from Latin America amassed there hoping to cross the US border. Kids wander in these camps with no food and no schools, setting the perfect stage for drug lords. Some children are introduced to cheaper crystal meth as early as 13, 14 or 15. The powerful rush kids get from using meth causes many to get hooked right from the start, making this drug highly addictive. Once the dependency kicks in, these children are enrolled by the drug cartel clans.
Tomorrow, the plan is to fly by helicopter with the First Lady to the Sierra in Guacochi, a mountainous area nestled between the golden triangle of ’narco traficantes’ between the States of Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa. We will explore an abandoned military base that the Governor would like to donate to create a Boys’ and Girls’ Town using our model. The plan is to create a youth center and a boarding school for children who are left home by their parents who work as farmers. Most of the times, these kids end up in the net of the drug cartels. Their tiny hands make them excellent opium harvesters.
Yesterday we visited a camp of Tarahumaras, an indigenous group discriminated against by Mexicans of Spanish descent. In this particular camp, about 200 people live in 20 small units, the size of a closet, with only two public bathrooms and no water. I saw young kids sniffing glue, their eyes lost ... looking at me without seeing me, babbling some non-sense answers to my questions. Getting high on drugs is the only pastime they have.
One of them signaled to me that someone had just died. He pulled me into one of these basic rooms. Our bodyguard was reluctant to let me go, but eventually we went in. We saw a little memorial altar on the floor with lit candles and a picture of a young boy. On a sofa in front of it there was a young girl with a baby in her arms and another toddler looking scared. The boy who died was only 23. He had committed suicide, and I wondered if he had felt useless because he could not provide food for his young family. He was the father of the two babies, and the young girl on the sofa was his wife. I am enclosing her photo. I will never forget this scene.
We also visited a juvenile prison. What moved me the most was a group of teenage girls (14, 15 and 16) doing time for homicide. They were recruited by the drug cartel and forced to commit despicable crimes, mostly under the influence of drugs. As we entered into their cells, they were instructed to put their arms behind the back and lean against the wall. All of them were looking down.
I began speaking to them and with the permission of the guards they came closer and could move their arms. We joked about my Spanish. As they became more comfortable the lost childhood in them came out. They are just kids … I asked them what their dream was. Each of them was eager to respond. Their answers surprised me. They all wanted to do something good for others. They spend their day in the prison tending to chickens, some studying and others knitting.
In the boys’ section, I asked Jesus, a 14 years old inmate, how long he had been there. He looked at his hand as if the answer was written on the palm but could not find the answer. He said, “No lo sè … lo siento…“ “I don’t know, sorry.”
My note to our Chairman continued, but you get the sense of what you would see in these regions. We will see how this partnership progresses, but I hope to bring you the news next year that we are providing a chance in life to the children I met.
Our international reputation for helping at-risk children - a reputation our donors have helped us build over the decades - is why A Chance In Life was invited to Mexico. With your support, we have created programs for children so successful that people all around the world look to us as a model to help children in their own countries. Thank you for making this possible.
This holiday season, you have the opportunity to help us provide a chance in life to even more children, from Latin America to India and all that’s in between. You can give with confidence. ACIL has been rated with the highest possible scores by the most influential and independent charity evaluators in the USA: Charity Navigator and GuideStar.
Maya Angelou once said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” We all have received a chance in our lives at some point. This season, you have a chance to give back and help an unknown vulnerable child who will remember you forever. Thank you.