I would like to bring to your attention a new local organization which provides foster care for the children of prostitutes and marginalized single mothers in Oaxaca . The Casa Hogar Hijos de la Luna A.C. or CHILU is run by Sra. María del Socorro Ramírez González (Coco) and her family. The program began as a baby-sitting service in 2001 and since then has developed into a long-term foster care project for more than 50 children, ranging in age from 2 weeks to 11 years. The average number of children at any one time varies between 6 and 10, depending on how many extra children Coco´s family can maintain, the average age is 4-5 years, and the average length of stay is approximately 4 months. The children live in Coco´s modest apartment, but the project needs its own facility in order to grow. The family has been gradually refurbishing an existing structure on the property (a former metalworking shop) which will serve as a future center for an expanded project.

Yet they have also realized that in order to create a worthwhile and proper facility, outside help would be necessary and a proper legal organization would be necessary. The project was legalized in 2007 and named “Casa Hogar Hijos de la Luna” in reference to the night time employment of most of the mothers. In fact, many children become accustomed to a reversed sleep schedule, often even before they are born, and it may take months for them to readjust after being used to noise and activity in the middle of the night. In some cases the children have been traumatized, abused, beaten, malnourished or are the product of rapes. They are often slow to speak because no one has ever taken the time to talk to them and may be falsely judged mentally deficient. The transformation of these children under Coco´s loving care is dramatic.

[New quarters for the children, under construction in the compound.  When completed, it will provide needed space outside the family home. ]

The mission of the CHILU is to provide a safe and loving environment for children from high-risk family situations whose mothers seek their help. It aims to bolster the self-confidence of these children and to teach them practical skills which will give them a better chance for future happiness and success. The children are provided with food, clothing, schooling, medical attention and some enrichment activities. All of these will be enhanced and specialized therapy and counseling will be available as the project develops. The mothers are asked to contribute something toward the upkeep of their children, at least enough to cover their food. In some cases even this has been impossible, so instead they may help with laundry or cleaning when they come to visit. No child is ever turned away based on the mother´s inability to contribute and the neediest children are usually those who receive little or no help from their mothers.


[Coco holding the youngest of  the children she shelters.]

Coco encourages the mothers to visit their children regularly and maintain a relationship with them so that the children may someday be reintegrated into their natural families. Some mothers come every week or so and may take their child home for the day, but in many cases months may go by between visits. The younger children call Coco “Mamá” (and her husband “Papá”) and are more attached to her than their own mothers. The mothers often come from the most marginalized sector of society and in some cases have been so traumatized themselves that they are unable to relate to their children. What matters to Coco is that the mothers work on getting their own lives straightened out and that their children are safe and cared for in the meantime. The most urgent need is to remodel the unfinished building so that it can serve as a base of operations for the project, because until this happens, the CHILU will not be able to grow. The building will be able to house 20 or more children and will have a kitchen, two dormitories and two bathrooms, office space, a laundry area, and a large general work and play area. A garden and play space has already been delineated with a bamboo fence. An architect estimated the cost of the improvements at around $8000 USD, and these will include electrical and plumbing installation, roof insulation, painting, masonry work, doors, windows, furniture and appliances. There have already been some advances in the CHILU. Students from one of the local universities have been helping out with the children in the mornings in order to fulfill a community service requirement. The “Libros para Pueblos ” project has donated books. Contact has been established with a new children´s library in Xochimilco to set up regular visits and receive more donated books. Once the new center is properly established, there will be plenty of opportunities for volunteers to help with reading, study skills, music, art, sports, etc. But first we need to create the center. We are fully aware that the CHILU will need legal protection against possible charges of abuse or kidnapping. So we are creating a document which the mothers will be asked to sign, based on recommendations from the DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, the state and federal institutions which oversee the protection of children and their rights). Besides accepting Coco´s legal authority over their children while they are in her care, the mothers must agree to receive orientation and counseling from the Casa de la Mujer (the Oaxaca Women´s Center). Since many of them may have suffered abuse, were forced into prostitution from a young age, or are drug addicts or alcoholics, they are unable to provide a positive model for their children and they themselves need support and help. The agreement will also require that the mothers have an AIDS test and that they use birth control so as not to bring more children into the world unintentionally.

[Lining up on the piñata at the Three Kings Day (Epiphany) party.]

We will work through the DIF to make sure that the children are protected from being returned to an abusive or unsafe environment when the mother decides she wants her child back. We are close to having tax deductibility in Mexico , a process that has been held up by a ridiculous bureaucratic snag. This will allow us to solicit tax deductibility in the US , but for now we are seeking non-deductible donations. Ironically, the legal requirements and snags over the past year have absorbed time, energy and resources which could have been focused on the approximately 20 children on Coco´s waiting list For more information about this extremely worthwhile and generous project, please contact Cicely Winter . I would be happy to arrange a visit for you to the CHILU so that you could meet Coco and the children and see for yourselves the possibilities for growth.