When my daughter and I invited one of our new families to come outside and garden with us, ten-year-old Raúl came to the steps with no shoes. His mother suggested he go to find them. He went upstairs to his room and appeared again at the steps of Casa de Paz in men’s dress shoes, obviously too large and uncomfortable for his small feet. Without thinking, we asked if he had some sports shoes that would be more suited for gardening. Raul looked down. They were the only pair of shoes he had. He was eager to begin gardening.
We brought seeds, seed starter cups and labels. The starter cups could be planted in the raised beds in the front yard of Casa de Paz. We thought it would be fun for the children to watch a sunflower or bean seed grow and develop into a plant. We imagined the young plants becoming mature and ready to survive in a larger environment, much like how the women grow during their time at Casa de Paz.
Raúl’s feet flopped in and out of the shoes as he walked. He didn’t seem to mind, though, as he carefully made a hole in the dirt in which to place his seed. After covering it gingerly with soil, he made a label with a wooden popsicle stick, sprinkled a bit of water on top, and placed his pot proudly on the shelf outside.
That afternoon a board member brought several sports shoes in different sizes, to see which pair might fit Raul’s feet. He ended up with the size 3! His smile stretched from ear to ear as he realized he now could run and play ball in the courtyard without his feet flopping in and out of the men’s dress shoes.
When I think of Raul’s mother, I try to imagine the pain and terror she must have experienced. Quickly gathering a few personal items, she decided to save herself and her children by fleeing her violent circumstances. I worry about the violence Raul experienced at such a young age. I wonder about walking in Raul’s shoes.