Escape or Perish: A Boy’s Epic Journey

By Amber Fischer and Laura Enriquez

Devis Ponce left Honduras with sixteen dollars in his pocket and a dream. He was sixteen years old. He bought a bus ticket for Mexico and began his journey to the United States. He wanted to find someone there to help him grow into a man, find work, and support himself in the “land of opportunity.”

Growing up was not easy for Devis. Honduras is stricken with poverty and gang violence, but his loving parents did their best to shield Devis and his siblings from danger and hardships. Devis’ father was a security guard who patrolled a local gas station. His mother stayed at home to care for the children. His parents taught him how to be a positive person, and how to stand up to pressures from negative influences. They often went to church and spent time together as a family.

One night when Devis was seven years old, his father went to work and never returned home. Devis soon learned that he was murdered by two men attempting to rob the gas station. Just sixteen days later, his mother and youngest sister were travelling on a public bus when there was an accident. The bus rolled over and his mother and sister were ejected from the window and killed. They were the only two casualties in the accident.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 4.32.19 PMFrom that moment, Devis’ life was torn apart. His siblings spread out and went different directions, with an aunt here or uncle there, rarely hearing from eachother in the years that followed. He went to live with an aunt who had a tortilleria. He was under strict instruction to sell a certain amount of tortillas each day, so he often missed school or skipped classes to meet his sales quota. He knew he was being treated poorly but was powerless to stop it. Still reeling from the loss of his loving parents and siblings, it was a dark time in Devis’ life.

From the time he was thirteen to sixteen years old, Devis worked odd construction jobs whenever possible. The jobs were temporary, and often he would go without food waiting for the next job to begin.

For years, Devis thought about making the long and dangerous journey to the United States. He wanted to work and send money to support his brothers and sisters  scattered throughout the country. He had seen too much death and destruction in Honduras and didn’t see much hope for change. He had witnessed innocent people being killed. So many people turned up dead in his neighborhood, that the plot of land behid his home turned into a cemetery for those bodies found in the streets.

So one day, with nothing but the clothes on his back and sixteen dollars in his pocket – wages from his most recent construction job – he went to the bus station and bought a ticket to Mexico. He said goodbye to the family that was around, and then left.

When he arrived in Mexico, he didn’t have any more money to continue onward. He begged for money and food on street corners for nearly two months, sleeping under bridges or on sidewalks. Oftentimes, he’d go days without food or water. He befriended another homeless boy and together they begged for enough money to continue traveling together toward America.

The journey was long and dangerous. He rode atop the backs of Mexican freight trains, called “La Bestia” (The Beast), for days at a time. At times it rained on him. He fell off the train once, knocking his head and falling unconscious. His friend pushed him out of the way so the train did not run him over. From then on, he tied himself to the top of the train so that he would not fall off and die, as he saw happen to some others making the journey.

The journey was terrifying for Devis. He narrowly escaped kidnappers on several occasions. Criminals would pose as travelers and ask children where they were going, and if they had family in the United States. If the child admitted to having family in the U.S., they were kidnapped and held for ransom. Devis witnessed this happen to a little boy and a girl.

He attempted to cross the United States border at the Rio Grande. Mexican drug cartels controlled the crossing point and charged a $500 fee to anyone who wanted to cross. They told him he’d be killed if he tried to cross without paying. He fled and tried again a few days later. This time the cartels let him pass by.

Devis then came into the custody of Border Patrol, then the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and eventually came to BCFS Health and Human Services. BCFS placed Devis in a loving foster home with Ernest and Margaret Casillas. The Casillas family

had been foster parents for many years and provided a loving home for children like Devis who had survived harrowing ordeals.

Since being in the Casillas home, Devis has thrived. He earns A’s and B’s at his local high school, plays on the soccer team, is learning English, and was recently inducted into the National Honor Society. He recently obtained his United States residency, and even does volunteer work to raise money for people with disabilities.

When he reminisces about where he came from and daydreams about where he’s headed, he’s incredibly grateful. For the first time in his life, Devis no longer worries about how he’ll meet his most basic needs. He does not have to think about where his next meal is coming from, or whether or not he’ll be kidnapped by predators. He misses his siblings and grieves for his parents, but he holds on to the lessons they taught him.

Margaret Casillas, Devis’ foster mother, says he has a wonderful sense of humor, sees the best in every situation, and is a positive influence on the other kids in the house. How would she describe Devis in one word? “AMAZING.”

When Devis turns 18 years old his time in BCFS’ foster care program will end. He plans to move to the Houston-area to live with an aunt. After all his struggles, Devis says he feels good about his future. He dreams of becoming a United States Marine, and still

– just as he did back in Honduras – plans on supporting his brothers and sisters back home.

There are thousands of children across Central America that share Devis’ dream to come to America. Devis says if he had the chance to speak to those children he’d

tell them, the journey is difficult; traveling alone so young is hard; but they should stay positive and ignore the negative influences around them; keep a tight hold on your dream and have faith in it; and hope that your dream will succeed, or as it’s better stated in Spanish, “una esperanza.”

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