Desert Exposure June 2013 Pigeons Orphanage The House of Love for Children

D esert E xposure
South of the Border

Recalling life-changing experiences with Pigeons' The House of Love for Children, as the former orphanage embarks on a new mission. / blockquote>

by Morgan Smith

It was May 7, 2010, and I was crossing the border at Palomas, Mexico. My destination was an orphanage called The House of Love for Children. A woman we know in Santa Fe has a friend named Martina Ontiveros who worked there as a volunteer and suggested that I visit. Little did I know how much this visit would change my life.

Martina Ontiveros and her two daughters and two granddaughters at The House of Love for Kids in Palomas. (Photos by Morgan Smith)

I headed south on the main street, turned right by the Coca-Cola sign as directed and worked my way to the west along dusty, potholed dirt streets. Due to the violence, many residents had fled and it seemed like half the homes were in bad or abandoned. Eventually I found the building and, sure enough, Martina was inside, working with the 30-plus children who were living there.

These were dangerous years in Palomas. Tanis Garcia, the popular elder, was murdered in October 2009. So one of my first questions to Martina was, "Are not you afraid?"

She said that she is a soldier of salvation. " I do not care what the danger might be.

With those words, she opened a window to a world that I did not know existed - a world of persistent and courageous humanitarians, some affiliated with specific churches but all deeply religious. In short, people who have a mission and will not be deterred. I'm not a churchgoer so this is a completely new experience, one that has led to a continuing project of visiting, photographing and writing about these many individuals and organizations, mostly in Palomas and Juarez.

At the time, the House had 32 children, ranging in age from a newborn to 12 years. One child, Wendy, came when she was only three months old and addicted to crack via her mother. By the time of my arrival, she had recovered from early seizures and seemed like just a bright, cheery six year old. All of them were thrilled to see visitors, as I discovered on many subsequent trips.

The house was managed by a coalition that included the 12 New Mexico churches as well as a church in Palomas. The president was and still is Jim Noble, the pastor at the Light at Mission Viejo in Santa Fe as well as an immigration attorney. This was a huge team effort, however, including among many others his wife, Pat. Dale Giese, a member of the Good Shepard Episcopal Church in Silver City, had received a Rotary Club grant of $ 10,000 to build the wall around the building. Tom Bates, the deacon from the same church, would buy 1,000 pounds of beans every month. Tanis Garcia had been on their board until his murder. Maria Lopez, who took his place the mayor or president, was active in helping the food and supplies through customs and continues to run a program for "granny." The Mondragons from Durango, Colo., Were developing vocational programs.

More news: BIRDS OF COLOMBIA / BIRDS OF COLOMBIA Photo Gallery by Robert Scanlon at

That December, I attended their Christmas celebration and there must have been 600 attendees. In addition to music, food and games, each family received the "dispensa" with household goods. At the Mother's Day festival in 2012 there were over 800 attendees, gifts for more than 300 families and volunteers from Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

After Maria Lopez left her position as and the DIF (Integral Development of the Family) began to refer to fewer and fewer children. As a result, the orphanage had to close last year.

The House's supporters then shifted their focus and began sponsoring kids to go to school. This means providing a uniform, a pair of new shoes, a backpack and school supplies, some food and the instructional fees. The cost is about $ 150 per year for elementary children, $ 250 for junior high and $ 500 for high school.

Several of the kids in The House with the author's dog, Bella, p>

Why is it so important to keep these kids in school? A report from the Port of Entry in Palomas indicated, for example, that 40% of the marijuana seizures involved smugglers under the age of 17. This is understandable in a community where so many young people are totally unprepared for any kind of legitimate work and where dealing with drugs may seem like the only option.

In 2011, La Casa secured sponsorships for 80 children; now there are 165. I'm a sponsor, for example, of a 13-year-old boy named Miguel Ángel Paredes Chavira. I hope to have a chance to meet him and his family on an upcoming trip. A woman in Pigeons named Betty Jurado is in charge of the program.

Noble and other board members believe that they can provide a "family atmosphere" for these children, help them in school, provide tutoring after school and, later on, prepare them for trade schools, technical schools or college. >

A huge task lies ahead and involves:

  • Modifying the interior of their building to provide bedrooms for girls.
  • Finishing the security system for the gates as well
  • Upgrading the kitchen and bathrooms.
  • Pressurizing the water system. li>
  • Setting up a business office.
  • Updating their computer training capacity and furnishing a study area.
  • Finding a program director and the right house parents. The strategy for taming violence in Mexico has been the "top-down" one, especially the carried out by former President Felipe Calderón. By that, I mean going after the leaders of the cartels. An equally important issue is the "bottom-up" one. That is, finding opportunities for young people to develop careers and obtain jobs. If this does not happen, they will continue to be drawn into cartels or gangs where they can make quick money with carjackings, kidnappings, extortion and eventually killings.

    Therefore, what Noble and his team members are trying to do - give young people the guidance and the skills to function in a legal society - is critical. It's also encouraging that the DIF has recognized its commitment to pigeons and eats them for help.

  • Adam Floyd