Covenant House President Kevin Ryan Documents Reports of Kidnapping and Trafficking in Nicaragua and Honduras
On arrival in Nicaragua, we met with the staff of Casa Alianza (Covenant House) and they welcomed me with open arms. Meeting the children was extraordinary - first of all, there are so many of them, and secondly, these are truly children - 9, 10, 11-years-old. They shared stories with me that were so grim - and the poverty that is just outside Casa Alianza is unlike anything I have ever seen. Families are living with cardboard walls and sheets for roofs. No running water. Children - very young - are out on the streets at all hours of the day and night selling mangos, ice and water, trying to bring money to their families.
But inside the Casa Alianza Nicaragua campus, it is an oasis. The children lined the entrance when I arrived and cheered, and so many of them hugged and kissed us. It was overwhelming. Even though they have been so hurt in their young lives - some of them have been kidnapped and abused - they are still full of love and want to be loved in return. Some of the children described to me how they had been stolen from their families and sold. One little girl - she is just my daughter Nora's age - was repeatedly attacked by her father and her eyes filled with tears as she was telling me the story. Then she buried her head in my chest and she wept.
This trip humbles me. Many Nicaraguans have a lot of respect and devotion for the President of Covenant House - and I realized in a new way this is not about me or my predecessors as individuals, but about our honoring in this office all that Covenant House represents to the world.
We visited also with our young mothers and babies living at Casa Alianza in Managua. The rainy season begins next month so I brought fresh bed nets with me to protect the children from malaria. The moms are 14, 15, 16-years-old. Most became pregnant from their fathers or johns who bought them in a trafficking ring. I know it may sound incredible to you that a society could function like this - I ,too, am overwhelmed. Just imagine hundreds of faces of abandoned street children - and Covenant House is their refuge, their sanctuary and their love.
I wanted to bring each child a simple message - "We love you, you're beautiful in the eyes of God and in our eyes, and be hopeful." And sometimes - actually many times - that message was too much for the children to take in, and their smiles turned to tears. Though, I should say, just as often the smiles became even bigger. These kids are starved for love. And that is what Casa Alianza represents down here - it is a force of love, pure, hope-filled unconditional love.
We then traveled to Honduras, where we were greeted by hundreds of homeless and abandoned children - more than I have ever seen. And some kids are very young - 6, 7, 8. It is stunning. They rejoiced at our arrival - clapping and singing and dancing and they clung to us. "Hug me Kevin" I heard over and over. And again many of these children are orphans of the street. But the program in Honduras is working hard to connect kids with extended family, so it documents the children's stories, tracks down grandparents and aunts/uncles and then helps the family reunite. We offer these relatives job training - I saw two classes of women in their 50s and 60s learning to sew as part of a micro-finance project, and as they develop these skills, they can then take their work to market and make some money for the children, who can then return home. And I participated in a graduation ceremony for 30 teenagers who we taught to pack mangos, so they can bring fruits and vegetables to the open market and earn some money.
In both countries, most of these kids came to us hooked on drugs. That's how the traffickers keep them sedated, so we do a lot of work detoxing them, treating their addiction, getting them back in school and sending them to universities - and I met children at all phases of this process. I'm convinced that what we are doing in Latin America is the most powerful human rights movement for children in the world. And it begins and ends with love.