Moscow, April 11, 2017
Forty-one teenage girls died in a fire at state-run Guatemalan orphanage early last month, which has cast doubts on the government’s ability to protect young people and has evoked calls for the president’s resignation, reports Al Jazeera.
Now the government has a separate but related legal battle on its hands, after notifying the staff and residents of another orphanage, the Hogar Rafael Ayau, just twelve days after the disaster at the Hogar Seguro orphanage, that they had thirty days to vacate the premises.
The orphanage has been run by the nuns of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Monastery, under the care of abbess Mother Ines for more than twenty years, after the government handed the orphanage, founded in 1857, over to them for renovation and reopening. With the help of generous Guatemalans, they rebuilt the facilities and received a child in need of a home almost daily for the first ten years. They successfully completed over 500 adoptions, after which adoption laws in the nation changed, and the number of children at the orphanage began to dwindle. The orphanage and monastery have also hosted Orthodox guests from around the world.
According to a timeline on the “Friends of the Hogar Rafael Ayau” site, immediately following the disastrous fire, on March 8 Mother Ines sent a message to President Morales saying that the Hogar Rafael was willing to take children displaced by the fire, and a petition was started to revert to the original civil law which allowed for adoptions, and to restore the care of abandoned children to the Judges of the Juvenile Court, in order to stop abuses.
Two weeks later, on March 20, the Attorney General sent a letter stating that the state was repossessing the property, although it had been given to the sisters for fifty years. The state claims that it needs the property to take care of children with more immediate needs, and that the legal agreement was never properly registered and so not binding. Supporters of the orphanage have staged peaceful protests, and Mother Ines has given interviews on the matter to several TV and radio programs, newspapers and periodicals.
On March 30, the orphanage’s lawyers filed a writ of amparo to protect the constitutional rights of all associated with the orphanage, as those being evicted have nowhere else to go. Over 400 children are cared for daily at the orphanage, more than 80 of them with special needs.
Currently making use of the Guatemala City facilities are:
1) 11 teenage boys and university males as well as their caretakers, who are under Abbess Ines’ supervision, who live there (The girls are at San Miguel del Lago in Amatitlan with the nuns).
2) The First Special Education Public School that serves 80 children
3) The Municipality Workshop School that serves 100 young people who find themselves outside the formal education system and teaches them carpentry, construction, electricity, gardening, blacksmithing, forging, etc.
4) The free of charge Rafael Ayau Online University
5) Colectivo Isla, which manages the Cultural Center for art exhibitions and scholarships for young artists
6) The Pre-Hospitality Association of Guatemala
7) The Center for Mayan Studies Yuri Knorosov.
8) The only Eastern Orthodox Christian Church in Guatemala City, which uses the simple but beautiful chapel where the nuns, the children, Real Break teams, OCMC teams, visitors and other volunteers have worshipped, and where the Guatemalan Eastern Orthodox faithful gather to worship every week.
A petition has been posted online for saving the orphanage, which is only for Guatemalans to sign, although a second petition, fighting for better care and protection for all Guatemalan orphans, is open for all to sign.
For more information, and to support the vital work of the monastery and orphanage please visit the Hogar Rafael Ayau Orphanage’s page, their Facebook page, the site of the Holy Trinity Monastery, and the “Friends of the Hogar Rafael Ayau” page.