Figure 1: The breathtaking view of Lake Atitlan from Eagle's Nest.
Visiting and working at EN as an individual contributor provided a totally different perspective than that of mission group member. Working mostly as Pedro’s sidekick and filling-in wherever needed, such as assisting with logistics of other visiting teams, the experience was closer to that of a staffer than a visitor, which I loved. It also gave me the chance to get to know some of the kids and staffers a bit better and appreciate their lifestyles, wants, needs, struggles and dreams.
In particular, I got to spend a lot of quality time with some of the teenagers living there, a growing age group in the children’s home that is presenting EN with some new challenges. Since EN’s inception, its main objective was to serve as a safe, temporary place for housing and educating orphaned or mistreated kids while the government and private parties worked to find more permanent circumstances for each child, such as adoption.
However, since the Guatemalan government suspended all international adoptions in 2008, EN has had to face the new reality that it will likely be the permanent home for many older aged kids until they turn 18 and go out to live on their own, which for many is a scary prospect in and of itself.
Teen Life at Eagle’s Nest
As the father of two teens, I was naturally drawn to try and understand teen life at EN, and to do a little comparing and contrasting. At some level, kids are kids, no matter where you go. All kids need and appreciate love, and some kids are good at giving it back. Kids seem to have boundless natural energy and motivation for stuff they love (like, say, ￼soccer), while having no energy at all or perhaps boundless creativity at avoiding things they don’t (like, say, chores). And no matter where you go, teens are very clever at inventing ways of pushing rules and boundaries, especially when it comes to...let’s call it...”matters of the heart”.
Many of us adults remember teen life as an awkward time of trying to “figure things out”. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? As the adolescent brain blossoms, one gains new perspective on one’s sense of time and place in the world. I’m not a psychologist, but I can imagine for a child who has suffered mistreatment or abandonment, the teen years might be an especially painful time to reconcile those experiences and resulting scars with questions of identity and future.
For the kids at EN, though most have lived through drama and trauma few of us could ever imagine, they are at least fortunate to live in a safe and supportive environment surrounded by maternal, paternal, and familial love, in such amounts again that few of us could ever imagine. And though nothing could ever remove the sting of child maltreatment, there’s no doubt that life at EN is itself a beautiful blessing for these kids, a credit to the vision, service, and love of Larry, Claire, Pedro, and Felis.
Education and Training: The Gift of Future
As I learned more about the histories of some of the teens, I began to appreciate and think of how EN has really provided for them the priceless “Gift of Now” – a safe, loving life, here and now, that might have been denied them otherwise. And as these kids grow up, it’s equally important and apropos that EN work at providing them continued, high quality education and training they’ll need to become independent, successful adults – in short, the “Gift of Future”.
Unfortunately, due to checkered past circumstances causing them to miss school, all the teens at EN are two to three years behind where they should be, relative to US standards. These deficits are common challenges for all the EN kids, but the differences start to compound as the kids get older and have a lot of ground to make up. Further, EN’s school, Colegio Nuevo Dia (CND) only goes up to sixth grade. There are plans to try and raise money for a junior high at some point, but for now the teens have to be sent to private junior high and high schools, causing additional financial burden and logistics challenges.
And what about life beyond high school? Over dinner one night, I asked a group of four of the teen boys what they wanted to be when they grew up, I heard chef, architect, lawyer, and doctor, all of which require at least undergraduate level studies or higher. Like most kids, there is a need and a love for learning here like anywhere else.