When Thriving is Missing

(Photo above: Ignacio after finishing up his after-school job of washing tombstones)

On Tuesday, my wife Betty and I found ourselves speechless, sitting in the school in El Limonal that serves SuNica’s sponsored students. After a long patch of silence, as we attempted to process all we’d just heard, Betty looked over at me and said, “You have that look on your face.”

My face always gives away my feelings. I was overwhelmed by the heartbreaking stories involving the lives of the students in El Limonal. When I didn’t respond, Betty broke the silence again, telling me I had that trying-to-solve-the-world’s-problems-in-my-head look. I get that look often. I guess it’s just how I deal with the harsh realities facing so many people, especially innocent children. I tend to go to a place in my mind where all these problems are fixed.

But on this day, I couldn’t stop thinking about the stories. Principal Florentina, an admirably strong-willed woman, had just finished telling us about Ignacio, a 15-year old boy who doesn’t exist in the system because his parents never got around to registering his birth. He’s currently in the 3rd grade of primary school because his birth mother never enrolled him in school. And one of the most frustrating things about Ignacio’s whole situation is that he’s a great student.

But he’s facing a tough future. Tell me which of these options you’d go with: Continuing in school, hoping to finish high school by the time your 23 or opting for “Adult Education” to expedite the process while being forced to work in the mornings because the classes are in the afternoons. Oh, and there’s another option. He could always change schools to study multiple grade levels at a time, commuting each day out of town down a road ripe with glue-sniffing “Vagos” who sift through trash for recyclables to earn enough to support their habit.

My mind then flashed to the other story Florentina had just told us. A 13-year old girl had passed away on Monday. She was crushed between a trash truck and a concrete wall accidentally when she should have been in school. You see, she’d been living under the care of her grandmother, who made sure she went to school and kept her grades up, because her mom had flaked out on the family. But then a year ago, the girl’s mother decided to come back into her life and began sending her to work in the trash dump instead of going to school. Now she’s an example of what can happen when kids don’t get the education they deserve. When they’re not put on a path to Thrive.   

For me, imagining all these things made right is a way of processing the helplessness I feel when I hear about them. It’s difficult to work in a place with such a dark reality, but I know there’s hope. It comes down to time and relationships. It comes down to setting these kids up for success. Take Ignacio. He’ll have to choose how he wants to finish school. And the only way he’ll be able to make it through is by becoming a man of character who sees things through to the end, no matter the risk.  And somehow, I know that SuNica is in his life to see that manhood to fruition.

The kids in El Limonal wake up everyday to challenges we could never imagine. They have little chance of Thriving, though they may try, unless someone steps in. At SuNica, we strive daily to bring hope to these kids. Through our developing partnership with Young Life, we’re matching students with older Christian mentors to help guide them through their studies and own walks of faith. This guidance coupled with the community of other students being mentored is putting our students on the path to Thrive. We know God has called us to El Limonal, and he will do the work of changing lives. And we’re blessed to be able to walk this road with our students.

-Josh Pease, SuNica Co-Founder 

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