Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Torreon, Mexico

We went through some beautiful mountain ranges to get to our destination of Torreon, Mexico.

Torreon, along with it’s two neighboring cities, boast a population of over 1.3 million people. It is a city that never sleeps, and is a city of great contrasts. It has great wealth, beauty, and pride. But, it also has great poverty, like the rest of Mexico. I was constantly struck by the poverty that I saw. Like nothing I have seen in the U.S. I know that we have poor--when I was a divorced single mother, I lived well below the poverty level. But it is a different dirt poor, no means of escape poverty. The countryside is dotted with huts made from cardboard, scrapes of wood, blankets, or sheet metal. Whatever that can be scavenged to be used to make a barrier from the elements are used. No electricity or water in the most rural desolate areas imaginable.
I had planned to get pictures of some of the huts and poor areas of Torreon to show, but somehow it seemed so voyeuristic to do so. Instead, I want to focus on a lower middle class area where we spent a good portion of our time visiting the cottages of three children’s homes, which are called: Casa Sonrisa, or Smile House.
My DH in front of Cottage #1. Isn't he cute?

For many years my husband has organized two golf tournaments a year to raise money for this children’s home. Because most of the money that is raised comes from individual donations, we felt that we needed to see the operations first hand so that when asking for money we would have more of a feel for their needs and wants. We both are feeling so grateful to be a small part of such a worthy undertaking. There are 41 children divided into the three cottages in as much of a home-like setting as possible. There is a set of parents to oversee each house. The father still holds down a full-time job, so the majority of the responsibility of running each home is the woman’s job (what's new?). Each woman has the help of a cook and a laundress. These women work tirelessly to make sure that the children are well fed and clothed. Most of these children come to Casa Sonrisa through a state agency much like our CPS. Most have been abandoned by their mothers and have been physically and sexually abused. The day to day operations are overseen by Pedro Rivas. Although “retired” now, for many years he was the President of the University of Mexico in Torreon. This man is a saint! The children love him and call him Grandpapa. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that these children be given every opportunity to make a better life for themselves than where they came from. He has worked out a deal with a private primary school to give the children a first class education, which of course, is near and dear to his heart. One of the first children to come to Casa Sonrisa is now in college, and he has worked his magic once again to ensure that she and any other child will be able to go to college and get the education they will need to succeed in life anyway they may want.
I just can’t say enough good things about this man. He is a very genuine, good person. We were walking down the street from one cottage to the next and people would walk up to us to shake his hand and say hello. He knows everyone, and everyone seems to know him. I found that amazing in a city the size of Torreon.
Mauric Kemper, our guide on this trip and founder of Casa Sonrisa, along with my DH.
Pedro Rivas, along with an attorney at the University of Mexico, who does legal work for Casa Sonrisa, and Maurice.

Torreon has a soccer team, which has been undefeated. The city is very proud of their team, and soccer-mania is widespread! They were having a big game last Thursday, and we were warned to be back in our hotel room before the game let out because pandemonium would rein after the game. Wild celebrations if they won, fights if they lost! They are also passionate about their driving, as is all of Mexico, seeming to make up the rules as they go, and seeming to have a sixth sense about what the other driver is going to do! Liberal use of the horn is necessary to drive in Mexico, and indeed, it seemed as if it is a second language! Everywhere we went, horns were blaring. Friendly--and not so friendly honks depending on the situation. Cabs going down the street with their bip-bip-bip to let you know they were free to pick us up if we needed.
We found it frustrating to not be able to speak the language, and hope to be more fluent the next time we go. I told my husband that I felt like my IQ dropped about ten points the minute we crossed the border! When we visited the children it was hard to communicate. They would ask, “Americanos?” When we would say , Si`, they would wrap their arms around our legs and hug us. They were shy when we first got there, but after we took them to the park, they were hamming it up for the camera and losing their shyness. We planned one day at the amusement park and the next day a pizza party at Pizza Hut. While at the amusement park they wanted cokes, but when we told them, manana coke and pizza, they understood perfectly. What a wild time that was! Forty-one pairs of shoes came off. They had a ball pit that they dove into. It was amazing to watch as the older children looked out after the smaller ones, and if they got hurt or couldn’t get out the older ones would pull them to safety.

The tall thin gentleman is Maurice Kemper. He truly is a gentle man. Casa Sonrisa is his brainchild. When he and his wife were first married, they taught English in Mexico City. It was there that he began thinking of someday establishing a home for the homeless children of Mexico. He saw a need and has worked tirelessly to achieve his dream. If you would like to learn more about Casa Sonrisa, they have a web page at http://www.casasonrisa.org/. Both my husband and I felt privileged to make this journey and hope that we will one day have the opportunity to go again.

Dios bendiciones sobre usted


Nola @ AlamoNorth said...

Welcome back, you were missed! How nice that you were able to go over into Mexico. I will go check out the website. Sometimes it is hard to realize that other people don't have things as easy as we do; we take a lot for granted here in the USA!

Rose said...

This looks like a very worthwhile cause to support. How wonderful of you and your husband to visit firsthand so you could see the need for help. The children looked like they were having a great time at the amusement park.
Kudos to both of you!

Morning Glories in Round Rock said...

Nola, it was an amazing experience for me. It is the first time I have every been out of the U.S., and I really see how blessed we are here!

Morning Glories in Round Rock said...

Rose, we always knew it was a good cause, but to see the houseparents and the children really put faces on it and made it personal for us. We do so little in comparision to what others do! The houseparents and workers are the ones that deserve our kudos.