On the other side of the spectrum is Casa del las Flores. The brainchild of a local woman named Claudia, this non-profit gets funding for rent and her salary from a lawyer in Mexico City. Funding for one teacher's salary comes from Amigos de San Cristobal, a local coalition of foreigners and locals who raise money for worthy projects and non-profits.
Casa de las Flores is a day-home, five days a week, for children who live on the streets selling woven bracelets, stuffed toys, chewing gum, and shoe shines. Most of these indigenous kids have parents struggling to feed a large family, but some are orphans, and some are being raised by an older sibling. The children begin working at a very young age, some no older than four years old. Many of them are cute and win the hearts of foreign tourists. They may sell more than their mothers, who spend the bulk of their lives wandering the streets with textiles draped over their arms. For years at a stretch, the mothers also carry one infant after another in a reboso.
|Learning to write and spell.|
Claudia told me, in an interview, that she originally envisioned a homelike atmosphere where there would be stable parents, rules, chores, good nutritious meals, and expectations. She is the constant "mom". For the first two years she ran the home almost single handedly, but then suffered from a medical crisis. She asked her friends for help, the word went out, and now she has more volunteers than she can use. Some of the volunteers are men who gladly fill the role of dad. About half the volunteers are foreigners who serve for short periods of time while others live year round in San Cristobal. The other half are local Mexicans. Claudia's role has changed thanks to all the volunteers and extra help. The vision for the center has enlarged to include training in sales, computer skills, and business.
|Watering the plants in the rooftop organic garden|
Recently, the front part of the home, with large doors that open to the street, has been turned into a store. On one side used clothing, toys, and household items are sold, on the other side they sell fruits and vegetables. The children came up with the idea of the store. They buy produce from a mayoreo (wholesale grocer) and sell organic vegetables they grow on the roof. The kids work in teams. The team running the store each week gets a salary which is probably better than they would make selling trinkets on the street. They learn math and business skills, and how to interact successfully with customers. Other children cut up produce for packaged fruit salads (topped with chile) that are popular all over Mexico.
The school is home to two cats who serve a unique purpose. Most indigenous people have no use for an animal that does not provide food, wool, or work. Dogs and cats are often treated very badly. The children have no experience with a pet. They have no idea how to treat an animal with affection, or get animal affection in return. Most of the children have never been cuddled and have no idea how to pet an animal. Learning to love and take care of another living being is great training for getting along well in life, and it dovetails into Claudia's secret purpose for Casa de las Flores: to change Mexican culture.
There are flexible rules for the children about working, studying, and doing chores before they can eat lunch, but there are only two house rules: No drugs, and all must show respect for women and girls.
|Everyone has some chores|
The kids are allowed to come in off the streets if they are high (inhaling solvents is a big problem) but they are not allowed to bring drugs inside. If they do, they are permanently banned. They must also show respect for women and girls and that's a much tougher rule to enforce because it goes against the grain of so much Mexican culture. The kids have to be taught what respect is, what words and actions are not allowed. The girls must be taught to respect themselves, to stand up and not allow others to treat them badly. Claudia told me it was a lot easier to ban drugs.
Each child coming in the door for the first time must be trained. They need to learn about honesty, social skills, what is expected of them, and the rules. Sometimes a child never comes back. Some return once a week, or once a month. The time spent at Casa de las Flores is time they are not out selling their wares. Women and children are often punished with beatings if they don't come home with a certain amount of money. About 40 children show up regularly. An average of twenty kids a day are fed and taught. No paperwork is kept as that would create a "government agency" atmosphere, and Claudia would lose the trust of the children. She has no statistics on how many of them are truly homeless, how many have families, or what their family circumstances are, though she has a pretty good idea from talking with them.
I have a feeling that Casa de las Flores will still be in operation, and probably with spin-offs by the time I return to San Cristobal. Claudia's integrity will see to that.
For more information about the school, and if you'd like to make a donation, the website for Casa de las Flores is: http://www.casaflores.org/english.html
|Two girls on the roof watching the antics of the other|
children in the house's patio.
|The school's library and|
computing center, housed in
the old living room
|Three girls in charge of the lunch dishes|