The children who come to live in our residential centers in Texas – New Life, Krause, and the Nelson Center – often bring with them pasts and stories of unbearable hardship and emotional pain. Miracles do happen, and sometimes seemingly insurmountable odds are overcome, and we witness a child’s life turn around from the brink of despair in front of our eyes. Perhaps the most gripping stories come from the “unaccompanied refugee minors” living at the Bokenkamp Children’s Shelter. Bokenkamp serves undocumented children under the age of 18, most from Central and South America, traveling alone in search of a better life in the United States.
As the administrators and our volunteer committee serving the Bokenkamp Children’s Shelter busily gear up for the 19th Annual Fashion Show this Saturday in Corpus Christi, we’re reminded of our purpose and our mission to help, heal, and provide hope for those most in need.
Bokenkamp children are often survivors of journeys they’ve been forced to take. Some travel thousands of miles alone, and many pay large sums of money to human traffickers to cross the border and find jobs. Undocumented and often unable to understand even rudimentary English, they risk falling victim to sweatshop labor, gangs, and even sexual slavery. The following is just a glimpse of what three young boys experienced.
Somewhere In America
Jose (not his real name) was kicked out of his house in Honduras by his abusive parents, and had been living on the streets for four years before deciding to make the journey to America. Motivated to reach his biological sister, living “somewhere in America,” he was determined to create a better life for himself. He was kidnapped by gang members while on a train traveling through Mexico, escaped, and made it across the border on his own. Jose is now safely settled at Bokenkamp, where we are working with the Honduran Consulate to locate his sister. He said no one had taken him or his dreams seriously before this.
A Belt, An Asthma Inhaler, and a Heavy Glove
Alberto (not his real name) said he went days without sleeping as he traveled to the U.S. on the roof of a train, because if you fall asleep, you may fall off. Stopping to rest is not an option because of the gang violence and general hostility toward fleeing refugees. Alberto saw a woman with her baby fall asleep and fall off the roof of the train. He traveled with three essentials: a belt, an asthma inhaler, and a heavy glove. The belt was to tie himself to the rail, in case out of pure exhaustion he fell asleep; the asthma inhaler was necessary because when the train goes through a long tunnel and the fumes from the train are overwhelming, it causes shortness of breath; and the glove is for holding on, literally for dear life.
Hiding in a Boxcar
Fausto (not his real name) was one of six children born to an impoverished family in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Abandoned by their father, they were forced to move in with an abusive grandmother. When Fausto’s little brother was raped and beaten by an older cousin, the grandmother took the cousin’s side. Because Fausto stood up to his grandmother, she broke his arm and banished him to live alone on the dangerous streets of Tegucigalpa. Fausto was determined to make the journey to the United States, in search of a more hopeful future. He travelled by bus and train, hiding in box cars and surrounded by the tragedy and violence his fellow passengers endured. Upon crossing the border into the U.S., the train was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The guards pulled a frightened Fausto out from his hiding place. He was not sent back to Honduras as he feared, but was taken to a shelter for lost and homeless children like himself. That shelter was Bokenkamp.