November 28

Giving Tuesday – Support DRI Today

Dear Friend of DRI,

I hope this note finds you well. Your support of our work has never been more needed or more appreciated.

I’d like to share with you the story of the government run Hogar Seguro (Safe Home) orphanage in Guatemala and one of the most gut-wrenching and difficult investigations DRI has ever done.

We were literally in flight, on our way to visit the facility – which housed almost 800 children, many with disabilities – after our local contacts had informed us of the abuse and sex trafficking taking place there.

Family and friends carry the remains of Madelyn Patricia Hernandez, age 14, who died in the Hogar Seguro orphanage fire. AP Photo.

We arrived to the horrific news that dozens of girls had died in a fire at the orphanage that day. There had been a breakout after many of the residents protested the sexual abuse and rapes by staff – and being trafficked for sex into the local town. Many ran away but were later rounded up and returned by police. Boys were then beaten as punishment and girls were locked in a room where a suspicious fire began to burn.

No one unlocked the door. Children we interviewed heard the screams and smelled the fire. The final death toll was 41 girls, ages 14 to 17 years.

Sources on the ground told us they suspected the fire was set on purpose to stop the girls from bearing witness to their abuse.

In the aftermath of the fire, DRI’s investigation focused on protecting the 750 survivors of the fire and seeking justice for those who died.

Because of your generous aid and assistance, DRI has been able to:

• Publish an in-depth report, After the Fire, which generated worldwide media coverage (New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press) and highlighted the inherent dangers of orphanage placement and the risk of human trafficking;
• Keep up the pressure which led to the arrest of government officials and the orphanage director and all were charged with culpable homicide, negligence and child abuse;
• Take legal action against the government, via the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to provide immediate remedies to protect the survivors of Hogar Seguro;
• Successfully call on international donors and governments to redirect their funding to support Guatemalan families – as most had given up their children to the orphanage due to poverty;
• Make recommendations to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which directly led to them stating – for the first time – that every child has the right to grow up in a family, not an institution or group home.

At Madelyn’s funeral, her Grandmother wailed in pain as she screamed out, “Justice must be done because it is not fair that she left that place dead, and that now they bring her out in a box.”

We need to continue to fight for justice and the human rights of all institutionalized people around the world. And we continue to need your help. Thank you.