San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Program Creates New Hope For Old Dreams

WHEN Patricia Porras places children’s books in the outstretched hands that encircle her at a Recycling Hopes meeting, it is unclear by whom “The Three Little Pigs” and “Picote, the Happy Bird” are meant to be enjoyed: the babies who crawl around the floor, or their young mothers.

Many of the mothers who attend the meetings are barely out of elementary school and hardly read above a second-grade level.

Improving literacy is one of many goals at Recycling Hopes, a support group for children and teenagers who are pregnant or have children. By handing out books, Porras says, the mothers are encouraged to learn to read, both for their benefit and the benefit of their children.

THE group meets every Monday afternoon for two hours in a park in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, a suburb in southeast San José. It is a chance for young mothers to share their stories and learn how to better care for themselves and their children.

Depending on the week, between 10 and 20 mothers attend the meetings, and many travel for several hours to arrive, Porras said. About a quarter are victims of rape and nearly all are raising their children without the help of the fathers.

“I call the fathers athletes, because as soon as they find out the girl is pregnant, they all run away fast,” said Porras, a 50- year-old poet and retired teacher. She is married and has four kids and two grandchildren.

At Recycling Hopes, in addition to learning about breastfeeding and hygiene, members of the group often are given donations of strollers, cribs, combs, clothes and food. But more than any of this, what these girls need is hope, Porras said.

“WE want people to respect them, and them to respect themselves,” Porras said.

“Sometimes they are so young, they don’t realize what they are facing.”

Nineteen-year-old María has barely spoken since she was raped more than a year ago, Porras said. But the support group has slowly gained her trust and at a recent meeting, she read aloud from a book she was given.

“We want to give them their life back,” Porras said.

Porras started the group 17 years ago when she overheard a girl crying at a public phone, telling her friend over she was pregnant. Porras offered to take the girl to the doctor.

Porras soon learned the 10-year-old girl’s sister also was pregnant – at 11 years old.

“Slowly we met other girls in the same situation, and there began the group,” she said.

FOURTEEN-year-old Pamela was informed about the group by her school. She said the group “makes her feel really good” about herself and her 3-month-old daughter.

Pamela has been offered words of encouragement from women dentists, writers and community leaders who visit the Recycling Hopes meetings.

Karen Mejía, who got pregnant when she was 17 and now has a 2-year-old son, also has found support within the group, however, she believes real strength must come from within.

“In the end, you have to look within yourself. You just have to continue forward,” she said.

How To Help

For more information on Recycling Hopes, or to help, call 283-2626 and leave a message for Reciclando Esperanzas at account number 134320 or call Patricia Porras directly at 259-0053.

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