Every child at Bokenkamp Children’s Shelter has a story. These stories are often heroic, sometimes horrific, and all are remarkable. These are minor refugee children, mostly teens found in emergency situations, who have been placed at Bokenkamp by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. They have experienced more during their young lives than most of us can imagine. We are constantly impressed by their positive attitudes, and in awe of their resilience.
Here, I’ve summarized just a few stories of our recent Bokenkamp residents.
· Felipe, age 17, was the oldest of seven siblings living with his mother in Guatemala. He came to the United States to find his father (whom he hadn’t seen in six years) and to work and send money back to his impoverished family. Once Felipe was safe at Bokenkamp, staff noticed that he cried every day at mealtime. The counselor discovered he felt guilty for eating the meals that were provided by Bokenkamp—because as he enjoyed this good food, his brothers and sisters back home were starving.
· Eva, a 16-year-old girl from Honduras, traveled to the U.S. with a family friend, was apprehended by law enforcement, and placed at Bokenkamp. When told she could call home to notify her family of her whereabouts, she refused. Eva only wanted to get in touch with a sister she knew was living in Laredo, TX. When Eva was hospitalized for an injury, her sister and another family relative surprised her by coming to visit. This was just two weeks before her birthday and to Eva it was a miracle! The sister submitted all the necessary paperwork and the two sisters were reunified shortly after.
· Adolfo, a 15-year-old boy from Guatemala, arrived at Bokenkamp on a quest to find his uncle who was living somewhere in the U.S., and convince him to return home. Adolfo wanted to help rebuild his village, which had been completely wiped out by a mudslide, and he needed his uncle’s help. Adolfo told stories of destruction and despair, and how he had pulled dead bodies out from under rocks. His plan was to work, and send the money home, until he would be able to go back himself. Adolfo has been very patient, understanding, and humble. He recently celebrated his 16th birthday at the shelter [and his uncle has not yet been located].
· Fourteen-year-old Corina escaped from El Salvador to the U.S. on a search for her mother. She did not know her father and had been raised by her grandmother, uncles, and aunts. Corina fled her home country after four men raped and assaulted her one day after school. Once Eva was safe at Bokenkamp, her mom was found living in Houston. She visited Corina regularly and finally was able to take her home.
· Upon his arrival at Bokenkamp, it was obvious that 16-year-old Estuardo had a great personality and an uncanny ability to positively alter the mood of a group. The performer in Estuardo came shining through at the Bokenkamp Talent Show, when he wrote and sang a Christian song about hope and faith. He sang that God put us here, for a reason, and that each and every resident of Bokenkamp was meant to survive. He sang that they all must be resilient and stay positive, and always look forward to what was to come. This fine young man left a lasting message in the hearts of everyone who heard his song that day.