By Agustin Duran
Eastern Group Publications
For many children in Baja, California, not far from the U.S. Mexican border, living in an orphanage is the only way to stay off the streets and survive. Home for many of these children is at “Casa Hogar el Faro” in Tijuana, Mexico. What makes this story unusual is that most of the children have parents.
Many of the children are placed at Casa Hogar, not by the courts, or social service agencies, but by their parents who are unable to financially support them, and without the availability of Casa, would be forced to live with their children on the streets of Mexico. The children’s home, often referred to as an orphanage, is supported by generous private donations from regular people and organizations. Without those donations, many of the children would be living on the streets with little chance of getting an education or healthcare, according to Hilda Pacheco-Taylor, director of government funding for California Training Cooperative.
Casa is more than an orphanage, it is the last resource for many women that are trapped in the city, working 10 or 12 hours everyday for far less than the American minimum wage. Some of the women have abandoned their children, but many willingly take them to the children’s home to ensure that they are supervised and cared for while they work. The children are not put up for adoption, even when they have been there for a while.
That was the situation of Hilda Pacheco, now Hilda Pacheco-Taylor.
She grew up in Puerta de Fe (Door of Faith), an orphanage in La Mision, a small town between Tijuana and Ensenada. Her memories of Door of Faith are positive. It gave her a bed of her own and good food every day. It gave her a chance to be a child instead of having to take responsibility for her two younger brothers and a sister while their single mother worked as a tortilla maker for low wages in Ensenada, leaving the house at 5 a.m. and returning at 6 p.m. every day.
Pacheco-Taylor recalled an incident that made her mother decide it was too dangerous to leave her young family alone while she worked. The family lived in a one-room house with dirt floors. The father had abandoned the family. Pacheco, 7 years old at the time was in charge of taking care of her 4- and 5-year-old brothers and 3-year-old sister after school. One afternoon her 5-year-old brother nearly drowned in a reservoir near their home, before being rescued by a neighbor. Her brother survived, but the incident did serve as a wake-up call to their mother.
“It was a miracle that any of us survived. It was at that time she realized it was better to take us to the orphanage,” Pacheco-Taylor said. She was happy at the orphanage. Her mother visited the children about once a month for a few years until she went to Santa Ana to try to make a better life for herself. The staff consisted of dorm parents with a ratio of about 10 kids to one adult. The adults were U.S. missionaries and Mexican nationals. Many of the children stayed long-term at the orphanage like Pacheco-Taylor and her siblings.
When she was 15 Pacheco-Taylor had finished the ninth grade and had to make a choice about what to do next - technical school, university preparation, work. She decided to join her mother in Santa Ana. She went north on a one-day visitor’s pass and never returned.
She tried high school and took a full-time job to help support the family. By the time she was 20, she and her mother succeeded in getting all the other children to join them in Santa Ana. (The family gained citizenship during the amnesty period in the 1980s). Pacheco-Taylor remained grateful to Door of Faith, but her mother, who died last year after returning to Mexico, could not forgive herself for leaving her children in a home. “She was always torn. She apologized to us her whole life,” said Pacheco-Taylor. “I told her, ‘Mom, that’s the best thing you could ever have done for us.”
Pacheco-Taylor returned to Door of Faith about eight years ago, and found it to be in disrepair and facing a severe funding shortage. Pacheco decided to do something to help the children’s home and established the Corazon de Vida Foundation, which today helps support five orphanages similar to the Door of Faith, including Casa Hogar.
Mama Carmen, one of the women in charge of one orphanage in Tijuana, and who cooks and washes for almost 100 kids, said the donations are very important, but she also appreciates the volunteers who play with the children. “The volunteers don’t know how happy the children are when they know people are coming to play with them. They feel more important and they know that outside of these four walls there are people that worry and care about them,” said Mama Carmen.
Jim McAleer, executive director of the foundations couldn’t agree more with Mama Carmen, he is the one who organizes the trips and the donations to the orphanages. “Even if you don’t have money, it is ok, because the most important thing we look for is for people who want to share valuable time with the kids.”