Jose Luis and his youngest son in front of their new home.
“I didn’t go to school because I liked to work better.”
“How old were you when you started working?”
“Six or seven.”
“Where did you work?”
“I worked on the streets selling gum.”
Despite being 34 years-old, Jose Luis struggles to write his daughter’s name in the sand. He apologizes and tells me his spelling is not very good because he didn’t go to school. By the time he was 15, he had left his hometown in Oaxaca, Mexico, because there were no jobs that could sustain him.
“My dad and I were hired to work in the fields of La Veronica in Sinaloa. When our contract expired, we decided to stay, eventually moving to Tijuana,” Jose said.
In Tijuana, Jose found a job at a taco shop where he’s worked for ten years. He couldn’t get hired at the factories because of his lack of education, so he considers himself very lucky to even have a job.
Paola is Jose’ wife; she’s 27.
When I visited their home, Paola had just returned from a trip to Guadalajara, in the Mexican State of Jalisco. The devastating news she received forced her to make a quick journey there.
Paola was only 17 years old when a judge gave her ex-husband full custody of their three children. She didn’t have a job or a place to live, so she was unable to care for them. But one day, her ex-husband took off with their children. Without resources, all she could do was file a Police report. Eventually, she gave up the hope of ever getting her children back. Later on, she met Jose and started a new family. They have two children, Yareli and Luis, who have filled their days with joy and hope for the future.
Yareli and Luis.
But their joy was shattered when Paola’s worst fears became a reality.
At the beginning of this year, Paola got news that her youngest child (with her ex-husband) had been murdered at the hands of the child’s stepmother. Her ex-husband is now a fugitive. Paola’s two older children were placed under government custody in Guadalajara. She made the trip there to try and recover her children, but again, not having the money, she was not successful. Jose was not able to go with her because he had to work. In ten years, he hasn’t taken a vacation because he can’t afford the time off, especially now that their daughter, Yareli, will need surgery.
“I do it for my children. I’m getting older and they grow fast. They’ll need a house because there will come a time when we won’t be here. I thank God that I like to work hard, but I hope my children don’t make the same mistake I did -- school is important.” Jose said.
Jose and Paola had been living in a one-room shack that Jose built with used garage doors and other pieces of wood. It was not a safe place for Yareli and Luis.
Paola and her children surrounded by the short-term missionaries from Dublin, California who came to build their home.
But when Paola returned from Guadalajara, a surprise awaited her. A group from John Knox Presbyterian Church had nearly finished a new home for her and her family. She was overwhelmed and extremely grateful.
“Last night, when Yareli saw me, she was jumping up and down. ‘Mami! Look at our new house!’ she kept screaming. It comforted my heart to see her so happy. She’s been lethargic, and I’ve been worried about her health, but at that moment I could only feel joy." Paola said.
For now, Paola’s older children remain under the guardianship of the state in Guadalajara.
“I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t get them. I feel guilty and devastated for what happened, and I only pray that my children can forgive me one day.”
She still can’t make sense of what happened. She feels she can barely go on and isn’t sure she’ll ever recover from the shock of what happened. But she continues to work on getting her children back. In December, she has an appointment to try again.
Yareli will have a surgery in the upcoming months to remove a tumor in her leg.
In the meantime, Jose and Paola are moving forward with Yareli’s surgery.
“We have faith that God hasn’t forgotten us; that’s why you are here to build a house. May God keep giving you strength, because you didn’t know what we were going through. It feels good to know that someone cares.” Jose said, as he thanked the group for his new home.