Las Alitas is in a rough area of east Juarez with much poverty and vice. Besides giving groceries to families in need, we also teach catechism to the children of the area every Saturday. After the kids have received their First Communion, however, it is very hard to keep them interested in coming to the center. We wanted to be able to continue teaching them about their faith and also provide a wholesome environment where they could hang out.
So one of our volunteer teachers came up with the idea to start a soccer team. It met with instant success and has changed the situation completely.
Soon we saw the need for a soccer field where the kids could play and practice. In the providence of God, a company that installed artificial turf for big stadiums called us and said they wanted to donate a field of turf that they were replacing. So now the kids have a great little field of their own, thank you Jesus!
Many of the children in our program come from broken families and have sad stories to share.Lucy (not her real name) is 15 years old. Her mother and stepfather get drunk everyday. She sighed, “I’m tired of my family. There are fights everyday and then they get drunk, and then they get ‘happy’ again. If it wasn’t for Las Alitas, I don’t know what I’d do. The only day I am happy is when I come here on Saturdays. I forget about all my problems and everything is okay. It’s like I’m in heaven. That’s why I am here – I feel at peace.” For her it is a refuge.
The boys say the same thing. Albert (another alias) first came to us when he was 11. His parents were not interested in him and he started smoking marijuana to ease his sadness and depression. He is now 16 and shared, “I stopped smoking pot. When I came to Las Alitas and got involved with the soccer team, I had no desire for it. It’s when I’m at home all alone, that’s when I get tempted. When I’m here, I forget about it.”
Our latest undertaking at Las Alitas has been to start a community garden on a piece of property next to the dining hall. Joshua O’Halloran, a full-time volunteer who has a degree in sustainable agriculture, led a group of men from the neighborhood in this project.
“We planted squash, cucumbers, chilis, tomatoes, watermelon, radishes and green beans,” Joshua explained. “It’s been a very positive experience for our crew. The men come with various questions they want to discuss – about family, marriage, God, etc. – and we have some great conversations as we work.”
“It’s humbling to me,” Josh continued, “to see these guys trying to provide for their families in such extreme poverty. When we get a bologna sandwich for lunch they give heartfelt thanks to God since they know what hunger is.”
The youth often drop by to find out if anything is ready for harvesting yet. “We just harvested our first watermelon,” Joshua said, “so they’re pretty excited about that.”
When asked what he thought of that first juicy bite of watermelon, 12-year-old Bernardo replied, “Mmmm!”