Monday, October 5, 2009

Reyna- Queen of Hugs

I remember the first day I met Miss Reyna at Casa Ayuda, a foster home in San Miguel. She ran up to me and suddenly stopped. She began to scan me methodically and put her face so closely to mine I knew what she had for lunch. Suddenly, she smiled and embraced me like a long lost cousin. Su Casa became Mi Casa and Mi camera became Su camera. Later on that night, she sat directly in between my dad and my sister. While the rest of the kids continued their nightly chaos bartering their food, Reyna started intently the entire time, focusing a bit on my Dad and then on La Hermana. When it became time to clear the table, Reyna had yet to eat a bite and had quite the confused look on her face. She consequently decided to end the confusion. In a loud whisper she turns to me in confidence to inquire who takes care of the old man (my Dad) when La Hermana and I work during the day. Many things can be said about Reyna, unobservant is not one of them.

Reyna was born outside San Miguel in Viborillas, a place with really just a tiny store, a plastic table set outside of it, surrounded by the shacks the locals call home. Reyna's mother died and her father left for El Norte soon after. As a consequence, she was raised by her older siblings, many of whom are not much older than she is.

Reyna's educational history up until recently has been sparse at best. Although most children in the Mexican countryside do no have access to anything beyond 8th grade, Reyna only attended kindergarden. After one year of school, it was made clear to her family that her needs could not be accommodated beyond kindergarden.

Although Reyna has not been formally diagnosed with any condition or disability, she has not followed the 'normal' path of development. Reyna is developmentally delayed, has crossed eyes, and is legally blind. Nobody will say for sure what she has, but the collective best guess among several doctors and non profit people is that she has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Reyna's journey to the foster home Casa Ayuda began in February of 2006, when her sister, a teenager herself decided she could not care for her any longer. When the young teenage Reyna arrived at Casa Ayuda, it was evident that social services had failed her and her family. She did not brush her hair, did not know how to bathe, and her speech was grammatically/cognitively discombobulated. Her education consisted of well, nothing. Even the knowledge of shoe tying, letters and numbers had not been passed on to her.

After three years plus years of living at Casa Ayuda, her social skills and education have improved immensely. She has worked with a certified teacher five days a week and has learned letters, handwritten, numbers, colors and has far improved her grammar. She has also learned basic living skills and has even excelled at them. Each morning she takes a shower, makes her bed, dresses,and does her hair and makeup before breakfast. She takes pride in the responsibility of cleaning her room and keeping up the living room.

When it comes to the issue of Reyna's future and her ability to be independent, the general attitude is as La Hermana states concisely "focus on survival instead of independence'. Although several people believe that Reyna can reach higher personal/educational goals, the director of the foster home would like to have Reyna focus on more practical goals such as cleaning houses. Regarding Reyna's living situation, she will likely live at Casa Ayuda for the foreseeable future.

I suppose in an area where non disabled people struggle for daily survival, its hard, especially as a foreigner, to argue for more self determination and education of people with disabilities. But as I am looking at this pretty, well-put-together and polite young woman before me, I cannot help but wonder what other potential she has yet to reveal


  1. If you come visit EP around Christmas, we will take you to Arbol de Vida and you can meet Ivan. He's around my age but still lives there and is hilarious to boot. This is the guy who when I handed him his Christmas present last year shouted "Praise Jesus, Allelujia!" Arbol de Vida seems to kind of focus on the same things...actually, all of the kids learn practical skills in addition to their formal education just in case that's the work they can find right out of school. It's a very different educational philosophy than what we have here in the US, that's for sure.

  2. Im starting to get an idea Steph...involving you mhahahaha