“Without Donna, I probably would be in jail now,” says Oscar Arnulfo Romero, “or, more likely, dead.”
The 20-something man from Granada, Nicaragua, is not exaggerating. In his teenage years, he had shared a gang lifestyle including alcohol and drugs with his three older brothers. One of those brothers is in jail now. The other two are dead.
After the drug-induced suicide of one of his brothers, Mr. Romero decided he wanted out. He went to Donna Tabor, and she gave him an opportunity. “I’m studying for a degree in psychology now,” he says.
In 1996, at an age when most people ponder retiring into a quieter life, Ms. Tabor quit her job as a producer for a Pittsburgh television station and joined the Peace Corps. “I hoped they’d send me to El Salvador, where I already had been volunteering for Building New Hope, a grass-roots organization from Pittsburgh,” she says. But instead she was sent to teach at a high school in Granada.
“I really don’t know why,” Tabor says, “but I’m one of those [people] who can’t walk past a person in need without doing something to help.” In Granada, this meant she couldn’t just ignore the many children living on the streets.
She began to give them food and helped them with medical emergencies.
“Street kids latch on to you very easily when you just show a little bit of interest in them,” Tabor says. In no time, the children were no longer nameless bodies sleeping in parks and doorways. Instead, they were Flique, Jose, Moises, Jesus, and Michel Angel. For these youths, Tabor was no longer just another gringa; she was Donna, and they could always knock on her door.
Nicaragua is, after Haiti, the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Revolution and civil war ruined the economy in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, 46 percent of Nicaraguans live below the poverty level, surviving on less than $2 a day.