This is an update on the various projects that are underway in Meggan's memory.
We have been able to send just over $7000 to help Los Romeritos continue their work with children at risk in Guatemala City the past year, and about $2000 so far this year. Thank you all for your generous help in making this possible. We continue to raise money however possible so the project may continue to exist. Further contributions are always welcome. We have just discovered a way to send money to Guatemala for free so now every dollar goes to them. (Before electronic transfers were costing $30 each time.) Also, we have finally established a tax deductable way to contribute to Los Romeritos. Gifts may be sent to the Oregon City United Methodist Church, 18955 S South End Road, Oregon City, OR, 97045. Checks should be made out to OCUMC and "Los Romeritos" written in the "for" line on the check.
In a tragic coincidence Laura Romero, a young woman also in her early twenties from Cartegena, Spain, died in an automobile accident in Spain last year just a month after Meggan's accident. She had worked for Los Romeritos in Guatemala City the semester after Meggan, while Meggan was in Africa. Laura then went to Africa while Meggan was in Europe. Laura was as much inspiration in her work as Meg. The result is that Los Romeritos now has two young women to honor and has done so by hanging pictures of Laura and Meggan side by side in the shelter's entry room and by calling the shelter La Casa de Laura y Meggan. Laura's family and friends have also been assisting Los Romeritos.
Also, the first Brigada de Meggan y los Romeritos (The Brigade of Meggan and the Romeritos) in her name and memory went to Guatemala the first week of August, 1998. When Meggan was 19 & 20 she & a friend of ours, Jaime Mancia, founded los Romeritos, named for Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. We went to continue her work. The brigade was composed of myself and 5 adults and 4 teenagers from Oregon City Methodist Church.
Los Romeritos now provides safe day care & all the accompanying services for children at risk of becoming street kids in central Guatemala City. It provides food, education, legal, social, & other services for children from the ages of 1 to 12. All but a very few are children of single mothers who are sex workers in an area known as la linea (the line). It is the largest area of prostitution in the city. It consists of a huge number of rooms, cribs, running along an abandon railway line in a very bad part of Guatemala City. A great many of the mothers are undocumented immigrants from even poorer countries of Central America & many of the children, though born in Guatemala are also undocumented because their mothers could not afford the 1500 quetzales (6 quetzales to the dollar) fee required to register your child at birth. It is a very vulnerable target population & one that virtually no one else wants to work with. (Meggan always seemed to delight in the most difficult of jobs. In Zimbabwe she worked with women in the national prison & in Los Angeles she worked in a hospice with children of AIDs patients.)
I arrived a week before the rest of the brigade to prepare things, to renew relations with family & friends In Guatemala. Things went very well. The last two days of that first week I met with the staff, the team of los Romeritos, to prepare work & lesson plans for the arrival of the others.
One of the things we wanted to accomplish was to take over care of the children for a couple of days so the staff could attend training workshops, hence the lesson plans. About 30 children were in attendance that Thursday & Friday, so I got to renew acquantances with some of the children & get to know others as well.
The brigade arrived Saturday and we spent 2 days in orientation & tourist activities, visiting downtown, the central market, plaza, & cathedral, & Antigua Guatemala, the original Spanish capitol with another nice market & a lot of 17th century architecture. We also went to mass in Colonia Santa Marta (a working class neighborhood where Meggan lived & where the brigade stayed), met with our host families, & learned a bit about the history of Santa Marta. Thus we were ready to begin work on Monday morning.
When we arrived at los Romeritos at 8:30 AM to begin work we found only 3 children in attendance. We learned in great detail from the staff that on Friday after I had left and after the children had returned home, men with guns arrived at la linea in panel trucks, saying they were from "Human Rights", that children should not be living under such conditions, & they took about 30 children away with them, away from their mothers - among them about 25 of our children. Our carefully constructed work plans were abandoned. A similar incident had occurred in a smaller area of prostitution a few weeks earlier and the children were never seen again. One of our mothers had fought with the men and saved her children, thus we had three.
So on that Monday we created a flier telling mothers what to do if their children were taken, to try to get descriptions of the people involved, to ask for identification, to note license plate numbers, to note vehicle descriptions, & to run immediately to report to los Romeritos. The flyers also stated that we would struggle with them and called for a meeting the next day. Then we locked up all our watches, jewelry & money (It is a tough neighborhood.) & went from crib to crib up and down la linea, talking with the mothers & distributing the flyers. We also simply walked throughout the neighborhood as a group and through the market area, so word would get around that a bunch of concerned Gringos had arrived right after the incident.
Tuesday two of our women, Helen & Meggan Kelley, went with one of the staff & two of the very bravest mothers to visit every government office & non-government agency that had anything to do with human rights, law enforcement, or children. The five women demanded at each stop that something be done to recover the children. Late in the day they then attended the meeting of the women of the area. The rest of us worked on the physical conditions at los Romeritos, doing some painting, plumbing, carpentry, & setting up a fish tank & garden with turtles for when the children would return.
Wednesday a few children were returned. We probably had 8 or so then, so we cared for the children & continued our work.
Thursday & Friday we were scheduled to go to Santiago Atitlan, a very interesting indigenous town in a beautiful setting with a most exciting history of resistance. We did so, studied the history of the area, did a lot of shopping, & took two beautiful boat rides across Lake Atitlan, perhaps the prettiest spot on earth.
Saturday morning we went back to the center of Guatemala City to meet with the staff of los Romeritos to evaluate our work and see how to continue it & improve it. We found that the recovery of our children & some 10 or so others was the banner headline on the daily paper. The national police, who had never acted in one of these case before, had raided 6 houses scattered around the city and arrested the poor women in the houses caring for the children. In all 39 children were recovered.
The article gave much information about the marketing of children from Guatemala to the United States & Europe. About 1200 children were stolen from Guatemala last year. To June this year about 700 had been stolen. It is a $15 million a year business for Guatemala with each child fetching a price from $15000 to $25000. The business seems to be run by Guatemalan lawyers with clandestine houses to keep the children until papers can be forged showing them to be orphans so they can be adopted out of the country. This all seems pretty well documented. The economic importance of this business gives one pause, when one has blundered into opposing these people. Nonetheless los Romeritos intend to continue to work against this terrible business of the marketing of children, and we shall continue to accompany them in Meggan's name. I am certain she loves this work.
One of the many problems is that most of the mothers are in Guatemala illegally, doing illegal work, & have not documented their children's births. Los Romeritos are struggling with this now, trying to find a way to document all the children of la linea. There is all sort of international & local law saying each child has a right to a national identity, but in fact that right is meaningless if the documentation it requires is priced beyond the means of the mother. This is one of our big tasks now, along with the investigation of this business, documenting it & bringing it to the attention of the world.
All in all La Brigada de Meggan & los Romeritos was a stunning success, well beyond our wildest dreams. We did get a lot of work done making the shelter a better place, training the teachers, & delivering a lot of financial help. We got to work and play with some wonderful children & some wonderful mothers. We all learned that brave, caring people can be found anywhere. I think (and the Guatemalans did as well) that we saved some children's lives & saved some mothers from a lifetime's anguish. We did a lot of sightseeing, shopping, eating, & partying. Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. Guatemalans are very good at teaching one how to have a good time & throw a great party in the midst of horror. We learned to appreciate that. I think that each of the brigade members is committed to continue the work started.
We are to continue our relationship with los Romeritos and we invite you to join us. More brigades are planned for the future, including a medical brigade in the spring of 1999. If anyone would like to work with Los Romeritos in a future brigade, just contact me. Neither skills nor Spanish are necessary to participate. Thanks to the Brigade and to all of you for making this tribute to Meggan possible and so successful.
Claremont Colleges Health Education Outreach Center
The fund for AIDS/HIV education at Scripps college now has about $2000 in it. We hope to award the first scholarship to assist a Scripps College student to attend a national AIDS conference this academic year.
Oregon City High Scholarship Fund
A fund for a scholarship for an Oregon City graduate theater student who wants to attend college outside the state of Oregon has been fully funded in perpetuity. It requires that the student want to use theater as a vehicle for social awareness. We hope to make the first Meggan C. Parkinson Scholarship award this coming academic year.
A recreation center for youth in Oregon City has been completely funded and is presently being constructed. Meggan's Corner will provide a place for youth to meet and enjoy themselves while also providing a model of socially conscious work opportunities. Los Romeritos has sent a large photograph of Meggan working with children in Guatemala (the same photo that hangs in their shelter) and the First Brigada de Meggan y Los Romeritos has presented the center with a weaving from the widows and orphans cooperative in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala both to be displayed in the center.
Other acts of kindness
I want to mention various things people have done in celebration of Meggan's life. First are the many masses that have been said for her in Guatemala, the United States, Spain, and Italy, I believe more than one in each country. I thank everyone for those acts of faith.
Also trees have been planted in her name in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia.
In southern Spain two tiles have been placed with her name on them.
And most of all I want to thank Joe Distler, the greatest ever American bull runner. Meggan and I had planned to run with the bulls in Pamplona this year. It was to be my reward for quitting smoking for more than two years. I'm not sure she was very excited about the prospect, but she loved Spain and knew that I was. She agreed to accompany me, carrying a video camera to film the event. She joked that her first film was going to be called "How My Daddy Died." We could not accomplish this.
Joe Distler, whom I had not met, heard about Meggan and our plans to run in Pamplona. He asked if I had some thing of hers that he could carry and if he could dedicate his run this year to her. I was overjoyed to send him a Guatemalan sash she had brought back. So on July 7, 1998 at 7 in the morning, Joe ran with Meggan's sash and spirit and in her name. He has sent back the sash, a report on the day, including the bull runner's mass that was said for her that morning, a San Fermin and a panuelo, a reproduction of a painting of him running in younger years, and an inscribed color photograph of him running this year. All these things are now displayed with her ashes as he asked they be. I can not express my appreciation of this kindness.
I am sure I have left something out. If it is your something, I apologize. Let me know please.
Again I thank everyone for the moral, physical & financial support you have given us.