Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘kids’

One by One They Died

Life of Nane Alejandrez. Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

naneOne by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. 

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

More of Nane’s story, and others, at: Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

From Under Her Feet

An excerpt from the book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. An interview with Sybil Anderson-Adams.

Adams-AndersonHer life was the picture of success. Her husband was an attorney, they were drawing up plans for their dream home, and she recently quit her teaching job, to spend more time with their three children. Suddenly, the rug was pulled out from under her feet. What started out as a headache in court, turned out to be a leaking aneurysm. In spite of the doctors’ assurances to the contrary, within three weeks Sybil Anderson-Adams husband was dead. Without comprehension or time to have said good-bye, she struggled to survive and make sense of the incomprehensible.

As a result of her desperation and need to find answers, Sybil reached out to her friends, neighbors, doctor and church, and formed a support group for young adults who’s partners had died. The first meeting brought together twenty-five people who’d previously thought they were alone. With her need, and ability to communicate her process and grief to others, she continues to open the door of life for those who thought it had been slammed in their face and locked shut forever.

SYBIL ANDERSON-ADAMS: “When I arrived at the hospital the doctor said, ‘I have some bad news. Your husband stopped breathing.’ I’ll never forget those words. ‘He stopped breathing.’ He finally said, ‘I’m sorry . . . he’s passed away.’ It was then that it hit me . . . like a wosh.  I doubled over . . . just like you see in the movies.

After the shock had subsided, I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was the loss of identity. I was the type of person who always had my entire life planned out. Before Neal died, I’d never really had a traumatic event. I had things all figured and scheduled . . . which, as you know, gives you a sense of control. But I had no control over this one and that was my undoing. I had to decide where I was going; who I was. There was an urgency. I remember going to a counselor and saying, ‘When will I not feel this way? When, when, when?!’ The reality was so strong that I wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to cry anymore.

Then one day, I remember making a decision. it was something one of my kids said. You know, ‘Out of the mouths of babes!’ One of my sons says, ‘If you hadn’t stopped and talked to Dad that one day long ago, you might never had known him or gotten married.’ I said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ And I had this vision where I decided that whatever came up I’d say, ‘Yes!’ That I would do things no matter how hard it was. When my kids had stuff they needed to do . . . cub scouts, swimming . . . I made a decision that no matter what, I wasn’t going to hide at home anymore, I was going to go. And what I found was that doing that made me stronger, even though a lot of the events I attended were absolute disasters! Taking some kind of action made me feel brave. it gave me confidence.

I remember sitting with another friend who was at that same juncture. She said, ‘I hate this. I want to be out of here.’ I felt the same at the time and replied, ‘Yeah, just get me out.’ And that’s one of the reasons I started a support group, and keep it going to this day. I needed those people so bad. They were my reality. If somebody else could make it, so could I.

For awhile I could only live for the day. The future was nonexistent. I’ve met many people throughout the years that say the same thing. They said, ‘Good-bye” in the morning and their spouse was dead by the afternoon. It changed my whole concept of how I look at things. I laugh more often now. We’ve got three teenagers and one in early adolescence. They can make you laugh or cry. If I wasn’t able to laugh once in a while our life would be one miserable hell.

I think all survivors make that decision at some point. You have to decide to live. My kids forced me into it. I’d be in bed with the covers pulled over my head, not wanting to get out, and one of them would come in and say, ‘What’s for breakfast?’ What are you going to do; I couldn’t stay in bed? I had to get up. I was the only one they had left.

We had a saying in our house, ‘Life sucks.’ It was kind of our motto for awhile. The kids would say, ‘Life sucks!’ and I’d look at them and say, ‘Yeah, then what?’ They’d answer, ‘Then you die.’ I’d continue, ‘So, then what are you going to do about it?’ They’d look at me, roll their eyes and say, ‘Come on Mom.’ It’s made them real. They see a different reality then most kids.

Life has become a really interesting place. Neal’s death and where my life has gone since, has added another dimension. God knows I wish it hadn’t happened, but without it I could have lived until I was eighty-five and never discovered this! Life is such a gift, though I’m not thrilled with the way I had to really find this out. I love being in this state of mind. I’m doing things that I never knew I could or would do. There was a point two years after he died when I realized, ‘My God, I can do anything!’ I survived something that at first glance seemed like an endless hole of despair. I didn’t think I’d ever climb out . . . but I did.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

Papa Times Five

Papa Times Five

I’m 59 years old and for 37 of those years I’ve been caring for children.

That is the realization that struck me like a high school football team a few months ago when our youngest son left home and transferred to a four year college in Southern California. “How can this be?” if anyone is reading this or should ask. None of the children stayed beyond the age of 20 (though a few returned every now and then for short or prolonged stays). I didn’t have my first child as a teenager, and I didn’t marry into a family that already had children. Everyone came by choice, when and how we wanted.

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At the age of 23 I married a kind woman who wanted to have children as much as I did. She also worked in the health care field and cared for others. Shortly after we married, our daughter Darcy was born and two years later she birthed our son Brendan. About four years after that we adopted Jason (who was 4 at the time), but it turns out that that is not something she wished to do. We separated and I became a single parent of Jason, with Darcy and Brendon staying with us half of the week.

About a year later, I met Audrey, who tentatively became a step-mother when we married the following year. After getting my vasectomy reversed, we had a child named Shona (who was the last to recently leave home). Shortly after Shona was born, we had our 14-year-old foster daughter Leti move in with us.

If you’ve kept track so far, that makes five children. Darcy and Leti both married and each now have two children, so we don’t have any lack of children around, but it’s quite different. The wonderful grandchildren are Jupiter, Ilee, Lola and Neiva. Audrey and are are respectively known as Oma and Opa.

When I mention that our last adult child has left home, friends say things like, “Oh, you have an empty nest.” Or, “That must be hard.” Or,”It must be nice having the house to yourself.” It’s difficult to give a definitive reply, as it feels like a combination of all the above. At times I miss the kids. At others, it is wonderful to have time alone. And at other moments I’m not sure what I’m feeling. Knowing all the children and grandchildren are fundamentally healthy and happy, alleviates a lot of anxiety and worry. Of course, there are always a mixture of feelings when there are issues of concern or difficult transitions.

So, out of choice (Was it really choice or conditioning or karma?), I’ve been partially creating, raising and nurturing children for well beyond half of my life. I have no regrets.

I wonder if we should perhaps adopt another child who needs a home? Why not 4 or 5 more? Oh yeah, there is the reality that they are with you the rest of your life, whether they leave home or not and unlike radishes or broccoli, you can’t just plant them in the soil and water them once a week for them to grow into adults. It takes a little more attention and love that that, as I’ve discovered five times (so far).

ROP’s First Photo Exhibition

Rwandan Orphan’s Project First Photo Exhibition
Rwanda, October 14, 2013 by Jenny Clover
ROP Stories

As you may have read here our boys have been getting weekly lessons in photography from American teacher Amber for the last few months. We’ve all be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work the kids have been producing and are often amazed at the shots they take, which show the Rwandan Orphans Project through their eyes. Last week Amber organised an exhibition at a communal office space in Kigali – called The Office – to show off some of the photos the kids have produced.

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We picked 9 names out of a hat, they got dressed up in their best clothes, and we all excitedly set off in a bus from the ROP to town.

The kids’ photos were mounted around the large office space, everything from close-ups of their friends’ faces, to the acrobatics the boys are so good at, to documenting daily life at the ROP. One wall was dedicated to photos the boys had taken of their own bodies, which they’d colored in and written over. Some chose to write about themselves or their bodies, others about their hopes and aspirations. For us to see them writing about their dreams for the future when we’ve seen how hopeless some of them can be at their lowest point was really nice.

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The evening was packed from start to finish. Hundreds of people came to see the boys’ photos and ask them questions about their work and their lives. The kids told us that at first they were nervous and didn’t know what to say to all these adults. But gradually, and probably with the help of the multiple sugar-ey drinks people kept buying them, they opened up and were confident enough to go round pointing out their photos and explaining them.

When not busy playing on the table football and ping-pong table and slurping their drinks, the kids were happy mingling, meeting different people and showing off their photos. They told us afterwards that they held a meeting around the football table where they discussed how nervous they were. One of them pointed out that all these people were here for them, and to see their work, and they agreed that they shouldn’t be nervous and should instead enjoy it. It’s great to see our kids developing into mature, proud, open-minded little people before our eyes and it makes us very proud of them.

Read complete story, with additional photos at ROP Stories.
Donate to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project HERE.

Runaways in Rwanda

Runaways
9 June 2012
by Sean
From ROP Stories

People often ask me what is the most difficult thing about running an orphanage. Well, to be honest there is no lack of challenges and frustrations, but for me the most difficult challenge is dealing with runaways.

You see, the boys we bring in the from streets and from the far off rural areas of Rwanda are usually very young. In the last year and a half we’ve added many new kids between the ages of five to ten years of age. Although life on the streets is hard, these boys become used to being out there on their own, able to do what they want when they want without any sort of authority around to prevent them from doing so. They can eat when they want (if they can scrounge up enough change), wash when they want (which isn’t often, I can tell you) and move around town as they want. Sure, life on the streets can be harsh, but they become accustomed to it and it becomes normal for them.

When we find them on the street and invite them to come to the ROP, promising them education, food, clothes, etc, they jump at the opportunity. Usually they settle in very quickly and all might seem well for a short time, but for some, experiencing rules, structure and discipline – in some cases for the first time in their lives – is not easy for them to handle.

Taking boys who are used to fighting, begging and stealing, and getting them to fit within the ROP family is tough work. If one commits an offense – or “mistake” as we call them – the solution isn’t as simple as punishing them. If you make the punishment too serious – and for a street child any punishment is excessive in their eyes – they’ll wait for their opportunity and run away. If you take away a privilege, they’ll try to run away. If they want you to buy them a radio and you refuse, explaining to them that we can’t buy everyone radios, they’ll threaten to run away or just do it anyway. Sometimes something as simple as wanting some type of food they don’t get at the Center will cause them to try to run away.

To be honest it can be incredibly frustrating. I often wonder how these kids can choose to run back to streets when we’re offering them so much. But then I remind myself that these are young kids. They can’t see past their own noses, let alone far ahead into the future when everything we’ve providing will really mean something to them. They want a sweet roll, a radio, or the freedom to wander around NOW, and if they can’t have it they’ll go back to the street where they can do whatever they want.

Read entire story, with additional photos at ROP Stories.

Children Killed In Syria

Dear Friends,

The pictures from Al Houla, Syria, last Friday are almost too brutal to look at. I have a 5 year old daughter and I know it’s only luck of birth that separates her from this horror. But my shock led me to write this today as I know there is something we can all do together to stop this.

Dozens of children lie covered with blood, their faces show the fear they felt before death, and their innocent lifeless bodies reveal an unspeakable massacre. These children were slaughtered by men under strict orders to sow terror. Yet all the diplomats have come up with so far is a few UN monitors ‘observing’ the violence. Now, governments across the world are expelling Syrian ambassadors, but unless we demand strong action on the ground, they will settle for these diplomatic half-measures.

The UN is discussing what to do right now. If there were a large international presence across Syria with a mandate to protect civilians, we could prevent the worst massacres while leaders engage in political efforts to resolve the conflict. I cannot see more images like these without shouting from the rooftops. But to stop the violence, it is going to take all of us, with one voice, demanding protection for these kids and their families. Click to call for UN action now and send this to everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/syria_will_the_world_look_away_ndb/?vl

A child’s death is tragic in any circumstance. The UN says 108 people were killed in the onslaught, 49 of them children under the age of 10, and the youngest was a 2 year old girl. 90% of the population of Al Houla has now fled their homes. As I put my daughter to bed last night, I tried to consider what the mothers and fathers and grandparents of these children feel. The sheer pain and desperation is unimaginable, but there will also be deep anger and hate for those that did this. Until all of us stop these attacks on the people of Syria, the cycle of violence will not end.

Let’s not forget — this bloodbath began over a year ago with thousands of people peacefully protesting on the streets — calling, like their brothers and sisters across the region, for freedom and democracy. But the regime responded with brutality and violence — murdering, torturing, abducting and laying siege to entire cities. The international community did not intervene, letting geopolitical concerns obstruct our responsibility to protect. Then, in desperation to protect their families and fight back against the repression, some took up arms. Now it is an armed conflict — and if the world continues to do nothing it will become a full blown sectarian war that may last for generations and breed the kind of terrorist attacks we have yet to imagine in our worst nightmares.

When dozens of children are murdered in cold blood by the army and their militias — it is time for serious action. Assad, his henchmen and his murderous army must be held to account and the people of Syria protected. Nothing the international community has done yet has pried Assad from his murderous grip on power. The few UN monitors on the ground were powerless to stop the Al Houla killings — they only served to count the tiny bodies. But if we sent in hundreds of monitors to each of the fourteen regions of Syria, Assad’s assassins would think twice.

The world looked away with Srebrenica, and with Rwanda. If all of us respond today — we can make sure that these children’s tragic deaths act as the tipping point for all of us everywhere to say NO MORE! But if we turn away, so will our leaders. Let’s join voices from every corner of the earth and make it impossible for our leaders to ignore our cry. In respect for these dear children and their families, click to join the global call to demand a massive UN presence on the ground now!

http://www.avaaz.org/en/syria_will_the_world_look_away_ndb/?vl

The Avaaz community has stood with the people of Syria for fifteen months, denouncing the Syrian regime, calling for sanctions, supporting communities across the country with aid, and giving equipment to citizen journalists to get the word out about the violence. Let’s today make the Al Houla massacre the watershed moment for change and insist that our governments no longer stand by shaking their heads and turning their backs.

With deep sadness and determination,

Alice and the whole Avaaz team

This Is Us

From The New York Journal of Books

This Is Us: The New All-American Family
by David Marin
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

“It was no mystery why California had 98,000 children stuck in foster care. There were not 98,003 because I was stubborn.” Thus proclaims the proud single father David Marin, who adopted three young siblings and lived to tell about it. Not only do he and his children survive, but they also thrive.

If This Is Us: The New All-American Family were simply another ill-fated personal memoir about someone who believes his or her life story is worth sharing but has no storytelling chops to make the read worthwhile, it would have gone quickly to the bottom of the “to read” pile or been dumped in the recycling bin.

Lucky for us all that Mr. Marin has not only withstood the tribulations of parenthood, racism, and ignorance, but also is a fantastic writer who knows how to tell a tale that is equal parts heartbreaking, confusing, honest, and inspiring. This guy can write.

Here are some examples of his adept use of metaphor. “There were small mammals with more parenting experience than me.” And, “I wanted to help them before their pain metastasized, like mine, from memory to rebellion, permanently roosted in their psyches like the beaked shadow of a dark-winged bird.”

This is the story of a single professional man who gets fired for going to adoption classes (and later wins a lawsuit against the company that did so), learns about the frustrating and mind-boggling social service system in California, and proceeds to fall in love with three young children who have been through the ringer.

In spite of his own perceived inadequacies as a new parent who continually steps in one mess after another, he learns the ropes. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it is the inadequate and inept social services system that presents the greatest obstacles—not the biological mother nor the trauma the children have experienced that reflects in their behavior making them impossible to place in a foster home for any length of time.

Frustrations with county classes moved, postponed, or canceled altogether; court dates changed again and again; a distant relative coming out of the closet at the last minute; or prejudice from some county social worker with a chip on her shoulder about a single father adopting children of an apparent different race—all are grist for the mill in Mr. Marin’s winding road to final adoption.

At one point, while thinking of his own father, he says, “He was the Hispanic father of pale kids. I was the pale father of Hispanic kids. We were a human anagram.”

There is a telling moment in this story when the author is finally made privy to his children’s records and he sees what has (or hasn’t) been done to protect them and/or support their adoption. He says, “My Kafka transition from an observer on the wall to a fighter on the floor took just a few moments—I would protect my kids, not with Social Services, but from them.”

Read the rest of the review at The New York Journal of Books.

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