I AM: Mexico
On the small island of Cozumel, “Island of the Swallows”, off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, lies the town of San Miguel. With a population of 77,000, the local citizens rely heavily on the tourist industry, utilizing the beauty of the natural environment to harbor income in a variety of ways.
Ciudad de Angeles is a Christian children’s home for orphaned, abandoned, and abused children living from Mexico. After realizing that there were more than 1.6 million orphaned and abandoned children in Mexico (Unicef 2005), missionaries Phil and Donna Waldron created an environment where children could be cared for throughout their youth, receive a formal education, and later be assisted in establishing independent lives of their own.
Just five years old, and still under construction, the completed campus will be home for up to 100 children who come to Ciudad from the state of Quintana Roo, and a large part of the Yucatan. San Miguel was chosen for its safe location on the island, removed from the drug violence and crime found in other areas of Mexico. Presently, 34 boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16 live in the home.
Upon arrival, an energetic group of about 15 children were busy preparing for the afternoon session of school. Boys were combing their hair and being dressed in white school shirts, while the girls’ chatter echoed from the bathrooms as they bathed. Organized and diligent, the children clearly seemed at home, safe, and among family. I was led on a thorough tour of the four main dormitories, where I was shown everything from where the carrots are kept, to the depths of the girls’ closets, to Coco, the tiny white dog. Never without a small hand to hold there was a general feeling of pride and happiness everywhere we went.
The children, curious as always about the camera and the ‘magical’ remote control, took turns creating their self-portrait photographs. Some more timid than others, but all eager to click a few poses alone or in groups. Striking in their photographs are the deep brown eyes that capture and engage your stare. These eyes, both dark pools of the past and warm, trustful offerings have a staying power that will live on in the pictures and in anyone who is lucky enough to meet these children face to face.
Special thanks to: Andrea Eller, Ellen & Magi Merritt, and Joanne Swift Merritt