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, in a city at 8,000 feet above sea level, from encompassing him. 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.
He was eleven and homeless in Quito. After his near capture by the Guerillas in Colombia, he and his friend Kervin finally made it to Ecuador, with false hopes, and nobody to turn to, and no place to stay.
Life on the Street
He said that he would look through the dumpsters and find a half-eaten burger. He would hurriedly eat it without hesitation. It would be his final meal of the day. The sun in Quito is hot during the day, but it takes all its warmth with it when it sets behind the high mountains surrounding the city.
Each day ends in exhaustion, wandering the streets looking for food, looking for a place to rest. He would lay down again, 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 in the same situation. They soon became his family. A family formed out of necessity, and a need for protection from others. They became his gang who would be there for him against all odds, although he found out later that most of them ran away in his biggest hour of need.
Night after night of freezing temperatures made sleep evade him. Boris was exhausted to the point of desperation. One of the boys introduced him to substances that would keep him warm at night. Finally, he could get sleep and not feel 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. He ventured into street performance.
He would walk into the middle of an intersection in front of stopped traffic, and blow out diesel mixed with water from his mouth into a lighted baton. It would create a spectacular fireball.
This street entertainment put a few more coins in his pocket that he would use to purchase more of the substance that kept him warm at the night. One night he would sleep. The following day he would look again in dumpsters for food and 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 everyday. Then I went back to the airport to sleep just outside it each night.”
That’s one of the things about Boris. His smile comes so quickly and stays when he is talking to others. 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 have I even heard an ounce of self-pity.
In the evening we eat dinner at a local Chinese restaurant (locals call them chifas). 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. Conversation is easy with Boris and his family is sweet.
After a wonderful dinner, we drive back to their home up in the mountains. He starts the wood stove, a nightly routine. He 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 laying 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 them to say, and “time to go”.
He found himself again on the street confused and nauseous. Somehow he found the public bus and he stumbled inside. He sat on a seat 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. Afraid that they would turn him away, they made up a story. They told the hospital staff that Boris was hit by a car and needed help, that he 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.”
Then 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 clot 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 some 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. Ron talked to his wife and let her sit with Boris for a while knowing that his personality would win her over.
With still a part of his skull missing, Boris walked out of that hospital with Ron and Sharon, into their beautiful home. He did not know it then, but he was also walking into a new life.
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 soon. Indeed, they 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 he made a choice and received God’s salvation.
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 is to give these girls a long-term home. A home on a beautiful mountain overlooking Quito. This home will be safe and provide classes to teach them life and career skills.
Once they are of age, they can stay at another home nearby to help them until they can support themselves. The goal is to give them love and independence so that they can live beautiful, strong lives despite the circumstances of their youth.
Boris is a prime example of a life transformed, he is selflessly passing this on.