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“I Pretended To Be a Trafficker and I Bought That Child For $26”



Religión en Libertad - published on 06/28/15

Fr. Ignacio-Maria Doñoro helps children in the Peruvian Amazon with his Nazareth House

Fr. Ignacio-María Doñoro de los Ríos (born in Bilbao, Spain, in 1964), is a military chaplain on leave. 

He had always dreamed of achieving the rank of lieutenant coronel. However, along the way he found another dream, and he had to make a choice. The choice was between waiting seven days and reaching the rank he desired, or confirming the leave that he had requested and leaving for the Americas to dedicate his life to helping what he defines as "crucified children," especially those who have been victims of human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation after being abandoned by their parents.

In the Peruvian Amazon

Fr. Ignacio now lives in Puerto Maldonado, in the midst of the Peruvian Amazon, where he directs Nazareth House ( Through this apostolate, he works to restore the rights of many children who were abused, and tries to give them back their childhood.

He provides care for 450 children in two houses: one for boys and another for girls. There are 25 permanent residents.
Now, his dream is to build a city for children, which will be named after St. John Paul II. A house will be built to welcome children in special situations, as well as residences for volunteers, and dormitories to house students from other countries who want to experience working with Nazareth Houses. Agricultural and livestock production will be undertaken in order to provide resources to support these Houses. 

In order to carry out this whole project, they need economic support. The Peruvian people living in the area help out, although they don’t have many resources. Business people and private individuals from Spain are contributing as well, but Nazareth House needs more; there are many necessities, and many children who need to discover that love exists. 

Bosnia, Kosovo, Inchaurrondo…

The story of Fr. Ignacio starts with his priestly vocation. He served for seven years in parishes in Cuenca, and later in the Armed Forces as a military chaplain.

Since he comes from Biblao, a city in northern Spain which experienced terrorist violence resulting from the ETA separatist movement, he has always had a special sympathy for victims of terrorism. As a result, he asked to serve one of the groups most struck by the ETA terrorist organization: the Guardia Civil (Spanish national military police).

And so, after participating in missions in Bosnia and Kosovo in 1997 and 2000, respectively, in July of 2001 he was assigned to the Command Station of the Guardia Civil in the Inchaurrondo neighborhood of San Sebastián, on the northern coast of Spain. There, as often happens in these cases, children were the ones who suffered most as a consequence of terrorism. As a result, his work centered on them. He organized trips, workshops and group activities. Although he himself did not realize it, that assignment was the beginning of a great change in his life.

One day, Fr. Ignacio received a donation equivalent to more than $20,000 US dollars. In principle, it was to be used to buy toys for the children of the military police he was working with. Reflecting on what to do with that money, he concluded that what those children needed wasn’t toys.

He could use the money to help other children in greater need. He thought about countries like Africa or Asia, but settled on San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador), where he traveled in 2002 to help the Daughters of Charity, who take care of single mothers with children suffering from hunger. At that time, fifty children were dying each day from lack of nourishment. The money would be used to buy food for those little ones.

On this trip, his life was turned upside-down.

A vision of a child whom he later met

"In the midst of that horrible situation, one night I couldn’t sleep. I felt terrible, and was asking myself what I could do. I got up and began to write as a sort of catharsis to try to rationalize that situation.

"Suddenly, the image of a 14-year-old boy came into my head very powerfully. He was wearing a jersey of the Real Madrid soccer team and he had a strange posture; later, I learned that half of his body was paralyzed by a disease.

"The next day, I told one of the sisters what had happened, and when I described the child, she froze in shock. She sent me to Mother Rosa, a sister who had barely three months left to live due to cancer. I told her everything. I said that it was as if God were calling me.

"She began to cry and told me that the child belonged to a family suffering from hunger, and that they had decided to sell him because he was sick. I thought it was a lie, but the truth ended up forcing itself upon me: the truth of child trafficking. 
"I said to myself, ‘I have my money and God has placed me here to buy that boy.’ In the end, although the sister was very hesitant because she said it was very dangerous, I convinced her, saying. ‘Sister, you are going to die soon anyway, and I am crazy.’"

Buying a child for 26 dollars

"We went to find the child. He was naked. Together, we dressed him. I asked how much he cost. I understood at first that he cost $25,000, but actually they had sold him for $25. I payed $26. I took the child and pushed him roughly into the van, pretending to be a trafficker.

"Once inside the car, on the way to the hospital, the child wet himself out of fear and began to scream. I comforted him, saying, ‘Don’t worry, I am a priest. I am saving you. Don’t be afraid. What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Manuel.’ I answered, ‘Manuel means God is with us. If God is with us, nobody can be against us. Don’t worry. Nothing is going to happen to you. I will give my life for you if necessary.’

"When we arrived at the hospital, he wet himself again. When the doctor asked him to take off his clothes, he froze up, scared nearly to death. I hugged him again, and said, "Manuel, I will give my life for you. God is with us."He looked at me with so much love… I had never seen a look like that. Really, I saw God’s face and smile. I felt that God was there, asking for help. The truth is that although Manuel got better, the problem wasn’t just Manuel. The problem is that there are many ‘Manuels.’ At that moment, I realized that I was being very stingy with God."

Trying to help more children

When Fr. Ignacio got back to Spain, he began to work. He created various associations in order to obtain financial support to cover his projects in San Salvador, to begin with, and then others in Bogota (Colombia), Tangier (Morocco), and Beira (Mozambique)—in each case, at the service of children in especially delicate situations.

It was in this context that he decided to create his own apostolate in Puerto Maldonado. Donors for that project include the president of the Real Madrid soccer organization and other prominent personalities.

In Puerto Maldonado, he saves children from the clutches of death and of human trafficking, and fixes their legal situation, getting them registered in the government system with their birth certificate and identification card. Once the child "exists" in the system, they cannot be used in trafficking.

He also ensures that they receive medical attention and education, and as time goes by, the "wounds of the soul heal, until the children feel like members of a normal family." 

Their passage through this house is temporary. Although the Nazareth House is an authentic family, it is good that an aunt, a grandmother or an older sister take custody of the children and guarantee long-term care. 

Managing horrible experiences and memories

Another great challenge is managing the horrible experiences that these children have suffered. "We don’t try to make the children block those memories, as if those things had never happened. They did. Two maxims that guide Nazareth House are that ‘forgiveness reconciles us with ourselves and frees us,’ and that ‘we learn to love by loving.’"

At least, that is what Fr. Ignacio proposes, and he has obtained positive results: there is no resentment left, only love.
The children don’t blame God for what has happened in their lives, either; on the contrary, they feel closer to him. "How good God is to give me this opportunity," Fr. Ignacio adds. He believes that these children have a lot to teach our society—above all, resilience and forgiveness.

Sexual abuse of children

Among the stories that Fr. Ignacio tells about his experiences in Puerto Maldonado—many of which can be read on—there is an unpublished one which, like the story of Manuel, deals with a watershed moment in his life.

He had only been at Nazareth House in Peru for two months, but already he couldn’t stand the children’s suffering—so such an extent that he considered going back to Spain. "I couldn’t take it anymore," he confesses. He had practically decided to return to his homeland, when one night the police arrived at the house with a government lawyer and a psychologist.

They were bringing a child who, according to the psychologist, was "the most barbaric case" they had ever seen. The boy was about five years old. His name was Tareq, and they had used him for bloody sadomasochistic practices. The boy was in terrible condition and was going to be transferred to the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Lima, but that night he needed a place to sleep.

Fr. Ignacio accepted. "I don’t know if I’m prepared for something like this, but if it’s only for one night…" As soon as they left, Fr. Ignacio recounts, Tareq began to scream. "Half an hour passed, and I thought he would get tired by then. An hour passed, then two, three… It was two o’clock in the morning and I didn’t know what to do. So, I woke up a woman who sold ice cream bars and I bought him a chocolate one. I put it in his mouth and he fell silent. That was the perfect solution."

The days passed, then a week, and no one came to pick up Tareq. "I had to get by as best I could. There were nights when he screamed a lot. We got up, we drank water, and he hugged me very tightly.He had been in the area where people were doing illegal mining and his skin and hair were burned. His body was swollen because of parasites."

They still didn’t come for him, so Fr. Ignacio took care of the boy until he recovered his natural appearance. "He was able to go to kindergarten. I remember that one day I had the idea of taking him down the street to the school singing and dancing, and he liked it so much that from that day on we always did it that way. He became a very likable boy. He had a lot of charisma," Fr. Ignacio remembers.

But still they didn’t come for him, until one day representatives of the court came with the police officer who had carried Tareq in his arms that first night.  "They asked me for Tareq and I pointed him out. They asked again because they couldn’t believe it. Then, I looked up and saw how the police officer began to cry. They asked Tareq if he wanted to go with them to a nicer house, or to stay with me. He told them, ‘I’ll stay here. I have to help Father. These kids are very naughty.’

"They asked me what I had done. I explained that I had simply loved him very much, because God was in him." Tareq now lives with an aunt who has taken responsibility for him. Fr. Ignacio continues with "God’s project" thanks to that experience.

From time to time, Tareq goes to visit them at Nazareth House. According to Fr. Ignacio, "Tareq still loves chocolate ice cream."

Article originally published by Religión en Libertad. Translated by Matthew Green.

Human Trafficking
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