Seventeen Years Ago
The cold night air seemed to reach to the bone and the boy’s entire body shivers. He shifts the cardboard underneath him. It does little to keep the night chill from encompassing him in a city at 8,000 feet above sea level. He watches as his breath, a frozen white mist, dissipates before him, taking sleep with it. It would be another long, spine-chilling spell of darkness until morning.
This is how Boris spent his nights on the streets in Quito, Ecuador.
He was eleven and homeless in Quito. After his near capture by the Guerrillas in Colombia, he and his friend Kervin finally made it to Ecuador. They arrived with false hopes, nobody to turn to, and no place to stay.
Life on the Street
Boris looked through dumpsters during the day to find half-eaten burgers or other discarded leftovers. He ate them hurriedly without hesitation. That would be his only meal of the day. Each day is filled with wandering the streets looking for food and a place to rest. Every day ends in exhaustion.
Daylight hours are hot as the sun burns down on the city. But, the days are cut short by the high mountains surrounding Quito. As the sun sets she takes all warmth with her.
In the darkness he laid down, ready for another cold night simply awaiting the return of the sun the next morning.
After six months on the streets, Boris met a few other boys also struggling to survive. They soon became his family. A family formed out of necessity, a need for protection from others. They became his gang who would be there for him against all odds, or so he thought. When his greatest hour of need came, they all ran away leaving him abandoned once again.
Night after night sleep evaded him in the freezing temperatures. Boris was exhausted to the point of desperation till one of the boys introduced him to substances that would keep him warm at night. Finally, Boris slept without the torturous damp seeping into him every night freezing his soul.
These substances, however, were not free and it started a downward spiral. As if things could not get any worse.
During the day he sold candy to earn some money.
Selling candy was not enough. Next, Boris ventured into street performance.
He walked into the middle of an intersection in front of stopped traffic. There he blew out the diesel mixed with water that he had just poured into his mouth. Swinging a baton with burning fire on both ends he lighted the spray from his mouth to create a spectacular fireball.
This street entertainment provided a few more coins. Coins purchased the substance that kept him warm just one more night. Each day the search began anew for food from dumpsters and the constant work to entertain people on the streets.
I turn to look at Boris who is driving the van. Trin is in the seat behind us. Boris is smiling and pointing to a panaderia across the road.
“Hey”, he says, “that is where I found my first job. I cleaned the baking pans every day. Then I went back to sleep just outside the airport each night.”
That’s one of the things about Boris. His smile comes so quickly and stays there for an entire conversation. There is always joy in his eyes, and the smile on his face is of sheer happiness. Despite the hardships that he’s gone through, he has an infectious, positive attitude. He speaks of the past as a matter of fact. Never is it laced with an ounce of self-pity.
In the evening we ate dinner at a local Chinese restaurant (locals call them chifas) with Boris and his family. Fernanda, Boris’ wife, eats very little. Her stomach could only take so much. She is due at any time to give birth to their third child. His two daughters, cuter than buttons, sit across from us at the table and quietly eat their meal. The conversation is easy with Boris and his sweet family.
After a wonderful dinner, we drive back to their home up in the mountains. He starts the wood stove, a nightly routine. Boris finds enjoyment in little things, like the Safe-Lite bricks that he uses to start the fire.
Enveloped in the warmth emanating from the wood stove, we talk some more about Boris’ life on the street.
Near-Death on the Street
“I got into trouble one night. I stole a hat but someone hit me over the head before I could escape. My friends, who I thought would always be there for me, ran and left me lying in a pool of blood on the street. I was unconscious and my body was convulsing.”
Boris woke up in a bright room. He looked around for someone he recognized, but there was no one, only people in white scrubs telling him he had to leave. His head was killing him and it was difficult to focus. “Stitches” was one of the words he understood, and “time to go”.
Once again he was on the street but confused and nauseous. Somehow he found the public bus and he stumbled inside. Boris sat down fading in and out, not really sure whether he was headed to his street or not.
The bus stopped and Boris recognized his area. He clambered off the bus and went to his stretch of cardboard to lay down. As soon as he did, blood began to gush out of his head.
“Part of your skull is missing. You could lose movement in over half of your body, or you could go blind.”
One of his friends urged Boris to stand and walk with him to a nearby Christian Charity hospital. Boris looked bad and needed help. His friends were afraid that the Christian hospital would turn him away if they knew he was a thief. They told the hospital staff that Boris was hit by a car and had nowhere else to go.
Boris was treated for a severe concussion.
“Part of your skull is missing. You could lose movement in over half of your body or you could go blind. You need to stay here and rest,” the doctor said. “Try not to move around too much tonight. We will be waking you to monitor brain function, but try to be still.”
Boris found himself alone. Alone and scared.
A New Hope
Ron saw Boris in the hospital. They had briefly met before. Ron and his wife Sharon came to Ecuador from California to start a school and dedicate their lives to educating young kids.
Standing by his bedside, Ron said to Boris, “Would you like to come home with me once you are healed and be a part of our family?”
Boris envisioned a warm bed and good food for every day of the week. He also thought of what a great opportunity this would be. In the back of his mind (among all the blood clots and the hole that was starting to heal), Boris was thinking: Why not? Live with them for a while and then clean them out.
“The greatest dignity that we can give to them is the dignity to choose what they want to be,”-Ron Stiff
What possesses a man to invite a gangster to his home? Clearly, Ron saw something in Boris. Something that is evident to the rest of us only after many years have passed.
“The greatest dignity that we can give to them is the dignity to choose what they want to be,” Ron said during a family gathering that Trin and I had the privilege of being invited to.
Understandably, Sharon was not easily convinced to bring Boris into their home. Ron talked to her and urged her to sit with Boris for a while knowing that his personality would win her over.
With a part of his skull still missing, Boris walked out of that hospital with Ron and Sharon, and into their beautiful home. He did not know it then, but he was also walking into a new life.
A Difficult Journey
Boris never stole so much as a fork from his new family, but it wasn’t easy either. His addiction was difficult to break and he had been on the streets for almost four years. Acclimation to normal family life would not come quickly. Ron and Sharon had to kick him out a few times but in his late teens, Boris decided to change his life.
Ron and Sharon saved him from the streets, then Boris made a choice and received and live a very different life. He chose a life that would free his soul.
Boris is well-spoken with a winning personality. He is happily married to Fernanda, and they now have three children – their third child, a boy, was born just a month ago. Together, they are the visionaries behind the Dunamis Foundation. This foundation is focused on helping girls who would otherwise be on the street themselves.
Many of the girls helped by this foundation were sold by their families into sex slavery. These underage girls have been rescued by the police from brothels or other desperate situations and placed in a government program for three short months.
Three months is hardly enough time to even begin to get a handle on their situation or start recovery. The goal of the Dunamas Foundation, started by Boris, is to give these girls a long-term home. A home on a beautiful mountain overlooking Quito. The goal of this home is to provide safety while attending classes to teach them new life and career skills.
Once the girls are of age, they can stay at another home nearby that will be a stepping stone till they can support themselves. The goal is to give them love and independence. It is a sharing of freedom freely give so that they can live beautiful, strong lives despite the circumstances of their youth.
Boris is an example of a life transformed, he is selflessly passing this on.