It’s always fun to visit Safe Passage. My first trip was back in 2005; back then I felt like a johney-come-lately because I didn’t know the program in its earliest days, but now I realize I am sort of looked at with awe by the staff because I knew Hanley Denning, Safe Passage’s founder who died in 2007. In fact, at one point yesterday I was sharing history with one of the staff who works with the volunteers and is often called upon to fill in the gaps.
It’s also fun — sometimes painful but always fun — to watch the progress of “our” sponsor students.
We started sponsoring Juan Carlos when he was about 12 and in first year basico (7th grade). When we found out that his older brother Jose didn’t have a sponsor we began sponsoring him as well, and when an adult literacy class was opened and their godmother Angela was one of the first to enroll, we decided to become sponsors of the whole family.
We first met Juan Carlos in 2007. That was 10 years ago. Angela died three years ago, but not before she could read and write a little, not before she saw Juan Carlos graduate from diversificado (high school) with Jose well on his way to that goal as well. Jose graduated in November 2015, with his degree in accounting/interest in IT. The brothers live together with their older brother, girl friends, and three babies under the age of three.
Juan Carlos was selling insurance over the phone, which sounds just dreadful to me, but apparently he was enjoying it. And, of course, it’s a job in the formal sector, which is a big deal. Unfortunately, he recently got fired — no, I don’t know the story — so he is currently looking for a job. His lady, Brenda, is also a Safe Passage graduate, with a degree in secretarial work and a good command of English. The baby, Genesis, is now at two years old in Safe Passage’s preschool, so now Brenda can look for a job as well.
As for Jose, well, he has his accounting degree, but not his license, and he can’t get a license without a street address, and since the family are officially squatters, there’s no address. It’s a real Catch 22 – he can’t afford a place to live until he has a job, and he can’t get a job until he has an address. But actually, he does have a job — janatorial work in a public school. It doesn’t pay much, and it’s below his educational level, but it is also in the formal job sector, and it’s something until something better comes along. Which I hope is soon.
And then there’s the next generation of sponsorship kids.
After Jose graduated, Safe Passage asked us if we would consider sponsorship of another student. We asked for a “hard to place” student — it’s easy to find sponsors for cute little kids, after all, and that’s how we met Josua. Yesterday was the first time I met him. I met his older brother Jesus as well, and it was deja vu all over again when I learned that Jesus didn’t have a sponsor as well. So once again, I spoke for Frank and said that we couldn’t well sponsor one boy and ignore his brother, and I signed the paperwork on the new sponsorship on the spot.
The father of Josua and Jesus is out of the picture, and their mother died several years ago. They are living with an older brother or half brother or some such relationship, but they are really on their own. They are approx. 12 and 14, just about the ages of Juan Carlos and Jose when we first met them, and they are both in Basico 2, or 8th grade. Jesus is retaking the grade; I asked him what course he had trouble with last year, and he said that it wasn’t academics that had been the problem, but his attitude. And he said he had now conquered that. I was impressed that a 14-year-old kid was able to take responsibility for his own failings so readily, and I am assuming that it was his family issues that led to his attitudinal problems.
Maybe a sponsor family is what the boys need. I told them that Frank and I hoped to return in September. By that time, it will be clear whether or not they will be passing their courses, and I said I looked forward to good news.
We shall see.
Many sponsor families want their sponsor children to be, you know, incredibly hardworking, intelligent, A students and the like. But they are not. They are regular kids, with more problems than most courtesy of their environment, and prone to mistakes. And they need caring and understanding, not a bar held to some impossible level. So I look forward to getting to know Josua and Jesus, and maybe, to be able to help grow them into responsible adults, whatever their academic success.