Due to a complete lack of facilities in the Tijuana area, orphan boys are usually only cared for until the age of twelve when they are put out. Forced to fend for themselves, the majority end up living on the streets. This sad situation leads to neglect, abuse, criminal activity, and even death. Initial attempts to survive may be innocent enough: selling gum on the streets, dusting cars at intersections, and other odd jobs -- anything to earn a few pesos for a mouthful of food. Authorities agree, however, that this lifestyle quickly and unquestionably leads to criminal behavior such as stealing, drug use, prostitution, illegal border crossing, and serving as "coyotes" (i.e. leading other illegal immigrants across the border into the U.S. for a fee). Obviously, these children have absolutely no access to education or social and spiritual training. Without intervention, they are destined to live out their lives as criminals, addicts, gang members, and prostitutes on the streets of Tijuana and San Diego.
Project Mexico has purchased a beautiful eight and one-half acre ranch, complete with buildings and a fresh water well....an ideal place to raise young boys! Situated near Rosarito, Mexico, the orphanage is home to boys aged nine through nineteen. St. Innocent Orphanage seeks not only to meet the boys' basic needs but to accomplish much more. They are guided in the Christian life, receive a quality education and are encouraged toward academic success, learn vocational skills, participate in sports, are counseled appropriately by trained professionals, and are showered with a tremendous amount of love from the staff and frequent visitors both from the United States and Mexico. All of this, plus a structured and loving environment, allows a miraculous transformation to occur. Instead of fending for themselves on streets filled with crime, drugs, and prostitution, they now have the freedom to prepare for a bright future and to become givers, not takers.
Because we believe that each person's relationship with God is of the utmost importance, spiritual training is given priority. While the boys cannot be forced to participate, daily prayers are held, along with special training and events. The boys are always happy to participate. They're responsible for a large portion of the chanting, reading, and serving in the church. They also have their own charitable efforts at a home for the elderly. We're teaching them that when their needs are met, they must look to assist others.
Education is key. The recent completion of the 2,500 square foot St. John the Merciful Computer Learning Center has enhanced the on-site educational opportunities for the boys. They now have a computer lab, classroom, and an audio/visual area. The impact is obvious as the boys have a growing appetite to learn and are improving in their school work.
We also have a library and reading program that has proved to be a blessing far beyond our expectations. Instead of playing video games or watching TV, our boys are content to check a book out of our library and spend a few hours reading. We're teaching the boys to love to learn. With the addition of our ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program, the boys are steadily becoming proficient in speaking English. They're excited about learning a new language and are always anxious to try out what they know on visitors who come to the ranch.
There are many firsts for the boys - a first Christmas present, first birthday party, first home where there is no fear of abuse, first uninterrupted school attendance, first time a warm meal was a sure thing, first time that love and reason would be their guide. These many firsts add up to promote healing and the building up of souls.
The boys participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities. This year, two boys joined an esteemed folk dance troupe performing at a number of functions and appeared at the Rosarito Beach Hotel. The boys also participate in sports teams, music lessons, and a variety of clubs. These activities bring much pride to the individual and the orphanage as the boys grow and excel in different areas.
A strong work ethic is a gift we hope to give each boy during his time with us. Based upon the boy's age, he is given a variety of responsibilities at the ranch. The boys are in charge of all irrigation, ranch cleanup, livestock, the on-site store, chapel cleaning, some kitchen duties, and some of the older boys serve as counselors in the mornings to prepare the younger ones for school.
The livestock operation continues to be a source of learning and income for the boys. We have diversified to now include chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats, sheep, and cows. The boys enjoy their role of caring for the animals. It is a wonderful blessing for them to learn the valued skills of animal husbandry which include population inventory and simple veterinary procedures, as well as bookkeeping and maintenance.
Through their participation in profit-making ventures attached to St. Innocent Orphanage, the boys acquire work expeence and an appreciation for the value of their labors.