Transforming from anger to love: One boy’s story

Limited family incomes handicap some children. But we can help. (Photo credit: Pixabay)

Helping meet the mental health needs of children and families has been an important initiative in recent years. The story of “Nelson” (not his real name) as told by our mental health specialist, Antonia Chayrez, illustrates the impact this can make in the life of a child and his family. Ultimately, this support ripples out to create a stronger Puerto Palomas.

“Nelson’s”* Story

So I began to see Nelson in counseling. When we first began to meet, he evaded me. He was telling lies. He couldn’t open up to express what was going on.

I clearly remember the turning point. I calmly and gently said to him: “I know that you are very sad, and I’d like you to tell me the reason.”

With that simple prompt, he began to talk. And cry. His mother had left him and the family, he told me. He missed her very much. He longed to see her again. Although he didn’t remember her very well, he told me some details about her and about his family situation.

When Nelson was just a few years old, he moved in with his father. His dad later remarried a different woman. Although they had a long-distance relationship, she would visit every weekend along with her daughter. Nelson is happy with dad’s wife and daughter, and I had the opportunity to meet her as well. 

I learned that Nelson had problems sleeping alone, preferring to sleep with his father. So, I gave him a teddy bear, and we made a deal that one night he would sleep with his dad and the next night with his teddy bear. Now, he happily reports that he no longer sleeps with his dad. Instead he sleeps every night with his teddy bear.

We’re hoping to find his mom, because Nelson still wants to see her. His dad and his wife also hope that Nelson’s mom will turn up, and he’ll be able to see her again. 

In our visits, Nelson is learning to manage his emotions in practical and simple ways. Nelson’s teacher reports that the aggressiveness, as well as the fights with classmates, have ceased.

I can assure you that there are many family situations like this. We have so many needs, not only from the school pupils but also from families. According to my statistics, only 25 to 30% of children have safe homes, where they feel loved and respected. Instead, 75 to 80%  of children live in situations that lack the assets they need to succeed.

Many of the families I serve are low-income and overburdened. These circumstances can often lead to situations of ignorance and neglect.

Antonia Chayrez, Promotora de Salud Mental / Mental Health Promoter

 by Antonia Chayrez

*Name is changed to protect confidentiality 

Antonia is a gift to Puerto Palomas and the families she works with. Seeing the positive impact she has on the community makes us count our blessings here at Border Partners. Life can be better for everyone when people care enough to share. With support, stressed and under-resourced families can succeed despite obstacles. 

Our future will be brighter as the healing continues.

How We’re Addressing Children’s Mental Health

When children don’t feel safe, it hurts them. We help them heal.

Drug cartels struggle for dominance throughout Mexico. Palomas is no exception. Over the 15 years that Border Partners has worked there, the amount of violence has varied but many people, of all ages, have been traumatized by kidnappings, abductions, and harassment. So far, in 2023, at least four young adults have “disappeared” from Palomas.

Children and young people are among those most affected by this horrendous situation and have been scarred by it. Palomas offers no opportunities for mental health services for the public. COVID school closures forced students to learn at home. That left leaving with no clear routes to instruction. They had no educational materials. And they enjoyed very little contact with others. So they didn’t have important opportunities to build social skills, values, and responsibility.

Although schools have now reopened, many difficulties remain. Many adults have no jobs. Salaries remain low for those lucky enough to have a job. And, now, increasing inflation makes families even more vulnerable.

All of this makes children feel unsafe.

Into this dire situation, Border Partners has stepped in to help provide much-needed mental health services.

Enter Antonia Chayrez

Last year, Border Partners was fortunate enough to hire Antonia Chayrez as a full-time family counselor. She’s worked diligently to help both students in school and community members.

Each month, she provides classes to over 550 students, aged 5 to 12 years old. Her varied workshops help children build important life skills. These include:

  • learning to recognize and manage their emotions,
  • building self-esteem,
  • understanding values
  • respecting self and others,
  • preventing bullying,
  • breaking bad habits, and
  • making healthy life-style choices.

She gives mental health screenings  to all the children. And, when people are in need, she can provide individual counseling to any student as well as their family.

Assessing children’s mental health improvement

According to teachers, the program is already having an impact. The social and mental health of students is improving. As students return to a predictable school environment, their situation normalizes. And healthy routine is positive. Added to that, they now have the opportunity to learn about the importance of all aspects of their being due to Antonia Cheyrez’s instruction and counseling.

It is our hope that by teaching young children to see the importance of mental health, accompanied by counseling services, students will develop healthy habits and feel empowered. They’ll learn to express their feelings and ask for help. When accessing mental health assistance is part of life in Palomas, it will eliminate any stigma related to accessing mental health services.

Finally, through these workshops, students will learn how to talk to one another, to listen, and to disagree respectfully. These steps forward will help the youngest generation see the importance of good mental and emotional health. It will improve their behavior at school. Their home lives will become productive as they pursue their goals.

In the end, we want the students in Palomas to develop resilience and live healthy and productive lives. We’re doing our best to make that happen.

Time to Talk Helps Children in Palomas

Students who were feeling sad received a hug from their classmates, a response to the invitation of Antonia Chayrez (who is inside the children’s circle).

Border Partners sponsors a new program in Palomas that’s available to children now thanks to the generosity of our supporters. This post will introduce you to this important health initiative.

Palomas can be a very difficult place to live. There may not always be enough to eat on the table or heat in the house.  Children may not understand why their parents are worried. And for almost two years, they were not able to attend school and see their friends.

Border Partners and these children are very fortunate to have Antonia Chayrez, a certified family counselor, on our staff. She can meet with children at the two primary schools in Palomas.  Currently, she meets regularly with fifth and sixth grade classes to talk with them about understanding their emotions and using appropriate ways to express them.

Mental Health

Antonia takes time to speak to the children individually. This helps her assess their situations.

Antonia believes that mental health is a state of mental well-being. Mental health allows human beings to face moments of stress in life. And it allows them to develop their abilities to the fullest as well as to learn properly. It’s both a fundamental human right and an essential element for personal development. It’s especially important for children to have the tools early to maintain their mental health, she asserts.

She introduces a topic like anger, sadness, loneliness or frustration to the children by displaying faces that show a corresponding emotional expression. Next, she invites children to choose one face and tell her when they have felt that emotion. Then she talks to children individually about why they think they felt that way in the situation. Through these conversations, she is getting a better sense of the children’s mental and emotional health.  

She hopes to continue these meetings with the children so that she can help them recognize that emotions are a normal part of life.  Learning ways to manage and express emotions appropriately is a key to having a happy, productive life.

Antonia Chayrez leads the classroom to promote mental health of the Palomas students.