January 2nd, 2013 (InsideCostaRica.com) Though some of the children cannot walk, speak or see, the simple sound of Sister Marlen’s voice makes many of the children smile.
She did not bring them into this world, they do not carry her last name and much less, her blood, but each child is, from her heart, as though they were her own.
This kind and generous woman takes care of children with severe disabilities and terminal illnesses at the “Manos Abiertas” (Open Hands) Foundation, located in Alajuela.
The children’s health is Sister Marlen’s main concern, as well as their image and security – she does not even allow any pictures to be taken at the Foundation. The three-story building is almost new, yet is already completely full.
Inside live 50 children with brain paralysis, paraplegia, mental retardation and/or degenerative syndromes. The one thing they all have in common is that their parents have completely abandoned them.
Not all of the children were born with their disability or disease, though in many cases the children were born with some sort of disability, and afterwards were mistreated or abused by their own parents, who eventually abandoned them.
“There is disability here for several reasons: because of an illness, abandonment, assault, or malnutrition,” said Sister Marlen.
“This is not some sort of temporary place. They stay here until they pass away, which is why we always create a bond,” she added.
Although the children do participate in adoption programs, the experience, according to Sister Marlen, has been quite negative.
“They return the child after a while. It’s a very limiting life, and it’s not easy. In 20 years I’ve only seen one child get adopted,” she said.
The Foundation takes care of providing physical therapy, medical care and special education. It also works with another program for adults with disabilities, who have also been abandoned. There are 100 people in total.
Maintaining the center is not easy, and they are never sure whether there will be enough money to cover the electricity bill or not, which is over $2,000.
Despite the fact that institutions such as PANI (National Infant Patronage) and the Social Protection Board (Junta de Proteccion Social or JPS) help, a large portion of the expenses are covered with donations.
It takes $1,500 per month to care for each child in the center. Not all of them receive state assistance.
Editor’s note: If you would like to donate or volunteer, please visit this link (in English).