After her hometown became overrun by criminal groups, Marlen would be lucky to have a teacher at school. Now at NPH Mexico, she has been given the platform to thrive and break the cycle of poverty. October 30, 2020 - Mexico
Marlen relaxing at Casa San Salvador in Miacatlan, NPH Mexico
Guerrero is the second poorest state in México. With a population of over 3.5 million people, 66% live in poverty, with little or no access to education, health services, social security, good nutrition, and basic services like water and electricity, according to CONEVAL (Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Politica de Desarrollo Social). Around 40% of the children and youths who arrive at NPH Mexico come from Guerrero. And Marlen is one of those children.
She entered through the doors of Casa San Salvador in March 2020, just 11-years-old. She comes from a small city named Coyuca de Catalan, a 220-mile car journey from her new NPH home in Miacatlan. With a population of approximately 9400 people, the town was named after Nicolas Catalan, leader of the resistance against the Spanish in Mexico’s war of independence in 1810 throughout Guerrero, while the name Coyuca has two different meanings in the native languages: in Nahuatl, it is “place of coyotes”; in Purépecha it means “place or cliff of eagles.”
Situated inland on Mexico’s Pacific coast, the town lies in the Tierra Caliente (hot lands) region, named after its dry, hot climate where temperatures rarely drop below 34 °C. It is mountainous, but speckled with flat areas used for agriculture and mining. Coyuca also sits close to the Rio Balsas basin, just over 110 miles from the famous holiday resort, Acapulco.
However, despite the beaches and rich history, Guerrero is also known for its violence, being a hotbed in Mexico’s war on drugs with poppy and marijuana fields forming part of the illicit trades throughout the state. According to Mexico’s National System of Public Security, Guerrero had a homicide rate of 29.7 murders for every 100,000 people in 2019. For that reason, Marlen’s father, Oscar, wanted to get his daughter as far away from the area as possible.
NPH Mexico social worker, Griselda Aguero, says, “Marlen’s father is very worried for his daughter’s future. He tells me that criminal groups have taken over the main town [Coyuca de Catalan], where Marlen used to go to school and many teachers have left because of this insecurity. Also, he doesn’t want his daughter being around or inspired by the gangs. It is a route many children go down due to the lack of opportunities in the area.”
“People here are worried about their families and children,” adds Oscar. “I just want my daughter to have an opportunity to a better and safer life which I can’t give her here anymore.”
These criminal groups not only grow and sell illegal drugs; they also compete for territory in the neighborhoods and barrios where everyday people have to survive without being caught in the cross-fire. The gangs also extort local businesses trying to make an honest living, threatening their lives or kidnapping family members, leaving community cohesion to erode and people to live in fear.
Oscar works in agriculture. Finding steady work is difficult in the community. There are no clear statistics which indicate unemployment levels in the town, but Oscar says that he knows too many people in the same situation as himself. He steers clear of the criminal groups and prefers to eat and live from the land, where he grows corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, and chilacayote (a type of pumpkin), rather than embroil himself in illegal trades. However, if they have a bad harvest, Oscar becomes worried.
“I then can’t feed my daughter and give her the meals she needs to grow and be healthy,” confides Oscar. “To bring her up her here, with a lack of food, poor education because the teachers keep leaving, and the insecurity caused by the criminal groups, it saddens me deeply. She deserves a childhood.”
Marlen’s mother abandoned the family due to personal problems when Marlen was aged two, which left Oscar in even greater financial hardship. Marlen barely remembers her mother, and doesn’t know where she is, so she doesn’t talk about her much. “I used to play hide and seek with cousins who lived close by. It was fun. Sometimes we had nothing to do because the teachers would leave the school, and our parents had to work, and it was dangerous.”
She is a smart girl, and very mature for her age. “I understand why I came to NPH. I miss my dad, but I like being at NPH. I have food, I have school and I have new friends,” she says.
Marlen entered NPH Mexico just as COVID-19 began to impact Mexico and Latin America, which has made everything even more surreal for Marlen, having to adapt to health protocols, as well as a new way of life at the San Salvador home. However, according to Nancy Orquídea, who was the first caregiver to receive Marlen, “She wasn’t shy. Instead, she liked to talk about where she came from and how she loves dancing and playing soccer.
“It’s normal that when a child arrives, it takes some time for the other children to accept the new ones, but they always do and Marlen is not an exception. She has passed through this process and now I see she has formed a good relationship with the other children,” explains Nancy.
Since Marlen has moved to a new section of the home, Rocio Sanchez has become her caregiver. She says Marlen is still adapting but she is much better now, “Marlen has more interaction with the other children and feels more comfortable and secure here at NPH.”
“I want to be a nurse in the future,” says Marlen. “I like taking care of people and seeing them get better.”
Marlen says that she feels grateful, both to God and to NPH, for allowing her to have a safe place to live and study. She also thanks everyone who supports the NPH family and children because, “nothing would be the same without your help,” she smiles.
Names of the children have been changed to protect privacy.
Are you able to support Marlen receive an education and professional childcare from experienced caregivers? Please donate to NPH Mexico by visiting nph.org. Make a difference.