“We live in a world that’s full of hate.”
So begins the poem of Katherine Marisol Murillo, a 15-year-old girl who recalls the circumstances that led her to Nuestra Pequeñas Rosas, a haven in the middle of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It’s a city known for its maquiladoras (apparel plants) and murder rate (No. 1 in the world), where abandoned children live in cardboard boxes on street corners and find their nourishment from the charity of others or the city dump.
“My mother is dead and I never knew my father. At the age of 6, I came here. I felt I was in paradise …”
Katherine, whose poem is titled I Was Six Years Old, is one of 30 students from the school at Nuestra Pequeñas Rosas — Our Little Roses in English — who are being taught how to express themselves, often scraping shattered souls, through poetry.
Their teachers: Spencer Reece, an award-winning poet turned Episcopal priest, and Richard Blanco, the Columbus High and Florida International University grad who delivered his poem, One Day, at President Obama’s inauguration in January. The two are collecting and editing the poems, written in English and Spanish, from the children. The plan is have them published in a book of poetry, illustrated with watercolors from the children, to be called, The Season of Singing Has Come (Song of Solomon, 2:12).
They’ve also teamed with a film crew producing a documentary on the project. James Franco, the Oscar-nominated actor from 127 Hours , is the executive producer and singer-songwriter Dar Williams is composing the soundtrack. They hope to premiere the film next year at the Sundance Film Festival.
Reece, Blanco and director Brad Coley will appear Friday at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Coral Gables to read the poems, preview the film and raise funds for the documentary.
Reece, a Brooks Brothers salesman in an earlier incarnation, is the visionary — albeit an accidental one.
He first went to Our Little Roses in the summer of 2010 to learn Spanish. Reece was in the process of becoming a priest and would be working under The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida and the former bishop of Honduras.
Frade’s wife Diana had founded Our Little Roses in 1988, after teaching in Honduras and witnessing scores of homeless girls scrounging the streets. She started with a rented three-bedroom, two-bath home and 26 girls.
Over 25 years, Our Little Roses has evolved into a walled sanctuary in San Pedro Sula, showering hundreds of girls with love, respect and perhaps most importantly, an educational ticket to transform their lives. (Full disclosure: I have gone to Our Little Roses a week every summer with St. Philip’s and my family for the past seven years.)
Shortly after starting the home, Diana opened a school, beginning with one classroom. (The city of San Pedro Sula donated a five-acre plot to build the complex in the early ’90s.) Today, Holy Family Bilingual School has more than 250 girls and boys, including children from the surrounding city. The two-story school spans preschool to high school, complete with kindergarten graduations, middle school algebra and, this June, its first high school graduating class.
Diana’s vision has been to change Honduran society one girl at a time. Twenty-five years later, she’s doing it. The first generation of girls have graduated from Honduran universities as teachers, engineers and business executives. One of the girls, Jensy, who arrived at Our Little Roses as a 9-year-old after her mother contracted AIDS, went to university in San Pedro Sula, graduated and enrolled in dental school at the university. Today, she is a dentist and operates Our Little Roses’ first dental clinic, serving the girls and the community.