IN THE OPINION OF CHILDREN
By Fr. Joseph Curcio, S.F.M.
As we jostled along on the only road to the east coast, the children showed signs of restlessness. Our destination was our village of Muelle de los Bueyes ("Muey" as the villagers say). It is located about a five-hour drive from Managua, and about three hours from the eastern shores of Nicaragua. At that time Nicaragua was being invaded by attackers (better known as "Contras") controlled by the former Somoza soldiers and financed, armed and trained by the United States. Travelling was not safe in the north. Indeed, there were attacks already taking place within the distant parish boundaries.
A woman of our parish had volunteered to accompany me to Managua to bring seven orphans back to our village for the Christmas holidays. There were five boys averaging eight years of age, one little girl and a 12 year old girl who was mentally challenged. To help them pass the time, my companion and I led them in singing the popular Sandinista song: "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita!" (Nicaragua, my dear little Nicaragua). As we shouted out the song, it seemed to me that these children themselves were indeed "Little Nicaragua".
This trip came about through the initiatives of a former lay missionary named Ed Carson, a friend I had known in Edmonton, Alberta. Some months before, Ed had invited me to meet him at the orphanage in Managua shortly after his arrival there. He had been asked by the Sandinista government to serve as a special education consultant to the orphanage.
No sooner had I arrived, the director appeared on the scene and within minutes she had described a plan to send some of the children to our village for the Christmas holidays. Would I do that for these poor orphans? (I still wonder if Ed Carson had this planned before I arrived!) At any rate, I had to consult and find seven welcoming homes in our village. I do admit it was an offer I could not refuse. Nor did any of our parishioners refuse.
So here we were, arriving back to the village, with a small group waiting outside the parish house. Inside, there were the representatives of seven families. Sister Agnes had helped them decide how the children would be allocated. Names were called, children were embraced and the new experience began. We could already hear the children say "mamá" now and again. It was an emotional affair for all of us. However, one boy was devastated. His name was Daniel.
Daniel was the last child to be assigned to a family. He wore soiled running shoes, denim shorts and a bright red T-shirt. His white skin was tanned. Dark brown hair covered his ears and reached his neck. A frown of apprehension was partially hidden by his downward stare. His new "mom" was young and pretty with a complexion similar to his. She offered an embrace, but he withdrew, burying his face in his arms. She tried again to draw him to her embrace, but he ran to a corner of the room and began to sob deeply. He was unable to understand. God only knows if Daniel knew who he himself was, or where he was, or where he came from.
Everyone else had left, happy and full of hope and adventure. I told the young mother to return home and that I would try to pacify him. I then knelt on one knee beside Daniel and gently turned him toward me. He saw that the room was empty and buried his face on my shoulder.
"Do you want to stay with me?" I asked with all the kindness I could muster. While still sobbing, he nodded approval.
In silence I showed him the kitchen, my office, his very own bedroom, the chest of drawers, the small lamp and its switch, but to no avail. Once again I knelt beside him, embraced him and rocked gently side to side. He began to sob softly. After about two long minutes, he pulled his reddened face away from me and took a deep breath. For the first time he consented to look at an adult eye to eye. We both smiled.
At length, with food, new surroundings, other children looking through the doorway, he surrendered himself to his childhood. He went out to play soccer. One lad offered his kite to Daniel to fly up and down the street. Sister Agnes appeared again to inquire about him. "Right at home!" I reported proudly. "Well," she said with raised eyebrows, "his home isn't here, you know, so you are not finished yet".
I couldn't deny that. So I offered Daniel and his friends a ride in the jeep up the hill to the edge of the village. We stopped at the home of Daniel's "mom". The children got out to play. I told Daniel to stay there until I got back. Hoping for the best, I returned early in the evening to see him. He was away with the other children of the house, fetching water, and all seemed well. I left with a grateful heart.
The other orphans had their own stories, their own cries for a home and a hug. Some had lost their parents to the Contras. But Daniel was really special. When I inquired about his background, I realized that he had been to hell and back. He had lived in northern Nicaragua where the Contras entered from Honduras. Daniel was just a baby when it started. His father was killed and his mother was captured. She became a prostitute and drank heavily to escape her reality. Daniel was often abandoned and left in danger. He endured frequent changes of guardians and houses. Without recognizing it, he too yearned for home and hugs. Daniel's memory was of death, terror of explosions, fire, cruelty, hunger, homelessness, and rejection by frightful strangers. His spirit was crushed. I wondered what he saw now when his beautiful "mom" wanted to take him away? Only this work of adult hands, no doubt.
After Christmas Fr. John Medcalf, another missionary working in the parish, and I returned to the orphanage with Daniel and two other children whom we, the parish and the orphanage, decided should return. The remaining four are still in the village with their new families.
Strengthened by the likes of Ed Carson, Daniel would later return to Muey. On his return, his face was simply two big eyes resting on a very wide smile. Daniel looked to the realization of his dream to be with "mi mama". Shortly after returning, he revealed his inner peace as he confided to her: "Muey es muy bonito!" (Muey is very pretty!)
This was the plan of the folks at the orphanage: send the children to our village for Christmas with the hope that the families would fall in love with them and keep them. Well, there truly was love and commitment to these children. There was such a demand for more children that other orphans came to our village for a trial run. All in all, 22 children were adopted in this, a poor, war-weary village of about 90 families.
I was advised to leave Nicaragua because of ill health shortly after this heart-warming adventure. Sister Agnes and Fr. John Medcalf continued to be as shepherds to the children and their families. Several months later, the villagers suffered death-dealing blows by the Contras, which Fr. Medcalf poignantly described in his writings. All our children survived.
How many times must the "Contras" of the world we adults threaten the survival of children, before we understand that life, especially that of children, is beautiful and sacred? Yet, we can be assured that, in the opinion of all children, "Muey es muy bonito!"