This House Is A “Home!”
By Herbert W. Piekow
Recently some friends and I went to visit La Ola in Jocotepec, where I learned how a simple house is home for previously unwanted, unloved and abused girls. For the first time in their young lives these girls are learning about family structure and receiving genuine love.
Three years ago a child was taken to the door steps of La Ola as a screaming, drug addicted baby who had been delivered on a Guadalajara street by a taxi driver. The addicted mother later tried to sell her baby for 250 pesos to buy drugs. Bob and Becky Plinke now have state custody of her. Today the child is a part of, “This crazy Mexican family,” says Becky. “She loves to swim in the family pool, go to the water park with everyone and she tries her best to stay up past her bed time.” Like all girls her age she also loves her dolls. This is the only home this child has ever known and she shares it with her “sisters.”
This is a home for girls, though there is one young boy who is here with his sister and a cousin. Each girl has a story of tragedy, abuse or abandonment. One young girl told me that her father used to strap bags of drugs to her 12-year-old thighs, his hands would often stray to places no 12-year-old should be touched. Another girl was used for sexual purposes and… well, you get the picture; these girls know more about life on the streets than most of us could imagine.
Privately, I asked each the same question. “Do you have a family?” Each one replied, “Yes.” Then I would say, “You have been placed by the State in this home. Where would you rather be, with our family, or here?” Without exception, the girls replied they would rather be in La Ola. Karla summed up their feelings.
“Sometimes I miss my family and think of them, but I know I’m better off here. I have the opportunity to go to school.”
Thanks to sponsors, some of the girls are able to go to private schools and currently there are 18 children in the house and 13 have learned to speak English. Several of the girls, sent by the State, came never having been to school or were quite behind. Some adapt because of their strong desire to have a life and education. It is difficult, but somehow most of the girls surpass even their own hopes and expectations. For the first time there is structure and love in their lives. They are required to help with chores for at least fifteen minutes per day. Homework is scheduled between 3PM and 6 PM; help is available. There is a small “classroom” with desks, computers and good light. Younger children color and draw while their “older sisters” solve math problems or write compositions. Each girl has hope for a future. Sixteen year-old Angeles would like to be an architect; some have expressed interest in teaching or nursing. One has her heart set on earning a Hospitality degree from nearby Jaltepec. Although State law requires the girls to leave soon after turning 18, La Ola does not set them adrift. Bob and Becky take personal responsibility for the future of their girls. One young girl is studying to be a beautician. A sponsor of La Ola helps her with rent for an apartment, as well as paying for a part of her schooling, “because she is a part of our family.”
When I was talking privately to the girls, I asked; “What happens when you have a personal problem?” All teenagers have personal problems; they let me know that there is always an advisor and that Becky is like their mother so they have adults to talk with. Later Becky told me that sometimes the girls arrive so damaged that it is impossible for them to adjust to a home life and that private help and housing is required, “because it can be too destructive to have one with too many severe problems.”
Later I learned one girl who could not adapt had been both abandoned, abused and a sex slave from the time of her sixth birthday, so how could she possibly adapt? The girls live in dormitory styled rooms with bunk beds. They are involved with the Youth Group of the Presbyterian Church in Riberas, although some of the girls are Catholic and are free to remain so if they wish. Mostly they like to be with one another.
The children are covered by Seguro Popular insurance and other donors to help with medical expenses. A psychologist and a social worker are contracted to provide these corresponding services. One sponsor pays for all the girls’ dental work, including orthodontics. He says a girl needs to be able to smile in order to gain self-confidence.
Before retirement, Bob Plinke was an Emergency Room Physician and Becky was a Trauma nurse. Now they devote all their time and much of their retirement income to looking after their family of young girls. Four state agencies work independently of one another, but each of them are calling frequently to see if there is room for another child. I asked how frequently the home is inspected and what did the process include. Procuradoria, which is like the domestic violence authority, appears unannounced once a year, usually with several inspectors and they spend a full day looking over the facility, kitchen, baths, dorms and interviewing the children.
This last time the inspectors spent nine hours, took photos and wrote a 100-page report. The fire and civil defense agency and Consejo Estatal de La Familia also provide inspections. La Ola is considered a show place and in fact other operators have been brought here on occasion to observe and learn. IJAS, which is the State Family Services agency, supervises and licenses the care at La Ola and provides many other support services.
“There is always a need for volunteers and funds are always scarce,” Becky said. “School will be starting back in August and we like to get new uniforms for the girls and of course they need lots of school supplies.” It takes quite an effort to take these girls from street kids to young women with hope.
All contributions are tax deductible and help brings its own rewards. You can find out more about La Ola, which means “the wave,” by visiting their web site at: laolacasahogar.org. If you would like to drive out and volunteer, the best way from Chapala is: As you enter Jocotepec, turn left at the PEMEX station located just inside the city limits. Go two blocks on Colon to number 148, La Ola is a corner house surrounded by a brick wall.
(Ed. Note: La Ola is but one of many well-run orphanages in the Lakeside area. Our readers are encouraged to visit them.
As the Ojo slogan says: “For those who give as well as for those who receive, the key to a more meaningful life can be summed up in a single word: compassion.”)
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com