Casa del Mar Girls’ House builds community, one girl at a time

Girls come to Casa del Mar de Mazatlán for a variety of reasons – from broken homes affected by drug addiction, violence or extreme poverty.

This 94-year-old girls’ home was functioning as an orphanage when it opened in 1927 after the Spanish flu swept through the city and left scores of children without families. But these days the social issues that bring girls here have changed, and three years ago so has Casa del Mar’s focus.

“As a system, we focused on human rights,” said Gabriela Ramírez Landeros, president of the institution’s board. “We don’t want pity – it’s our duty as a society to take care of these children. We want to give them the possibility of having an independent future, employability and [the ability] choose a career and train in that field.

The changes are evident in almost every aspect of the program and in girls’ lives: they are expected to contribute to their ‘community’ in either small or small way and to participate in making many decisions that affect their life. The new name, Casa del Mar, was voted on by the girls two years ago to avoid stigmatization of the word “orphanage”, although the association is still registered under the name of Orfanatorio de Mazatlán and donations are always tax deductible.

“It is very important for us that they can make their own decisions,” Ramírez explained. “Part of living in a community is that you have to contribute. It is about their life, not just our authority.

Out of necessity, many residents sleep in a large dormitory, but they are encouraged to individualize their sleeping areas.

Before, the staff bought birthday cakes for the girls; now the by cumpleañera (birthday girl’s) friends make one for her. In the past, a staff member would sort through donated clothes and decide which clothes fit which girls and which items should be purchased new.

“Now the girls have a say in what they wear; they have a voice, ”Ramírez said. “If they choose to wear their disguise on a Monday, that’s okay! “

Girls have regular chores and chores that change every month. They can earn money by taking on additional tasks, and girls learn to set goals and save for themselves.

The imposing Casa del Mar property covers almost an entire block with high walls surrounding several courtyards, a huge playground, and the main building, which surrounds a large central courtyard with bikes neatly lined up on one side.

A long dormitory-style bedroom houses the younger girls in neat rows, while the teens have their own bedroom. The spacious renovated bathroom includes modern individual shower stalls. Each girl has her own closet / locker for clothes and personal items, as well as a bedside table next to her bed.

Other spaces include a playroom with a large TV and plenty of toys, an office / sewing room, and a computer room where the girls can do their homework. Self-esteem posters dot the walls, as do paintings by the girls. A crisp stainless steel kitchen and dining area is decorated with more artwork from the girls on healthy eating and good nutrition.

Casa del Mar girls' house in Mazatlan
A small way for Casa del Mar to boost the self-esteem of its residents is to display their works of art on the walls.

Twenty girls, aged 5 to 19, currently live in Casa del Mar. Some have been referred by the DIF family service agency, but today they are more often brought to the program by family members. who are looking for help with their care.

For example, a girl may live with a grandparent who has to work and cannot take care of her during the week. Working within the settings of a special program, she can live at the Casa del Mar Monday through Friday and return home on weekends.

“Most of them, all of them, come from broken homes or from parents who have abandoned them,” said director Rafaela Cornejo Valdovinos, who has worked at Casa del Mar for almost 20 years.

“Parents need to understand that we are not the enemy,” Ramírez added. “We don’t judge, we help.

Can parents visit?

“We have to make sure the girls are safe,” Ramírez said. “Some parents are allowed to visit; some don’t want to. It’s really hard to explain to girls.

The dormitory for the youngest residents of Casa del Mar.

One would assume that there is funding from the city to help cover the costs, but Casa del Mar only receives 2,000 pesos per month from the municipal government of Mazatlán. Sponsors include big companies like Lala, which donates dairy products, as well as volunteers who take the girls on outings, teach them how to sew, or read to them for story time.

“We have a lot of volunteers in the health field: doctors, dentists, therapists and nutritionists,” Ramírez said. But, she added, “money is always the best gift.”

Casa del Mar carefully selects volunteers with in-person interviews that include questions about applicants’ families and backgrounds.

“It has to be something that benefits the girls,” Cornejo said. “We ask them to present their idea and their goals. There are rules and regulations they have to agree to, and we work together to oversee what they do and what the girls think about it.

The girls are offered therapy, suggested but not forced. Girls need to decide if they are capable and willing to move forward in order to deal with their past neglect and abuse.

“It is not mandatory,” said Ramírez. “But we encourage them because it’s the only way they can help themselves.”

Casa del Mar girls' house in Mazatlan
Each girl has rotating chore obligations, but can also earn money by offering to take on additional chores.

When the girls “get old” in Casa del Mar, they do not have to leave if they are ready to continue their education. It costs 3000 pesos for a month of school fees, paid by the sponsors.

Since the pandemic closed the school in person, Casa del Mar has hired two teachers to visit him three hours a day at a cost of 200,000 pesos for the year. (High school students have virtual classrooms.)

Since its inception, 2,500 girls have lived in the facility.

“I hope this will be the first generation of girls to go to college! Ramirez said.

• Interested in volunteering? Learn more about the Casa del Mar website or send an email with details of what you would like to do. Contact them by phone at (+52) 669-981-2214.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has been living in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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