María del Socorro Juana Ramirez Gonzalez

14 Coco Ramirez croppedMaría del Socorro Juana Ramirez Gonzalez, known as Mamá Coco, was born the eldest of 11 siblings in 1956 in Oaxaca, Mexico. When she was six, her father, a bus driver, began driving a long route to Mexico City. “My mother went with him to buy goods to sell in Oaxaca,” says Mamá Coco. “So when I was seven, I was already running my father’s small storefront at home while my parents kept traveling and having babies. It was my job to care for my siblings from the moment they left my mother’s womb.”

Only when Mamá Coco married 35 years ago and began to have children of her own did she leave her family home. However, as her parents aged, she once again became responsible for managing their affairs—this time in the form of an apartment building they had acquired. “This apartment building,” she says, “changed my life.”

One morning at the apartments, Mamá Coco found a single mother and her two children crying because the babysitter hadn’t arrived and the woman needed to go to work. Mamá Coco said, “Mujer, don’t worry. Stop crying, I’ll stay with your daughter until the babysitter gets here, and I’ll drop off your son at school when I go to the market.” The babysitter never showed up, and Mamá Coco agreed to become the little girl’s regular caretaker.

Soon after, Mamá Coco says, “Another woman who worked nights came and asked me if I could take care of her son, and I said no.” A few nights later, a neighbor knocked on Mamá Coco’s door saying that he couldn’t sleep because there was a child crying incessantly. They followed the cries and arrived at the door of the woman who had asked Mamá Coco to care for her son. “He had been left completely alone in the apartment,” recalls Mamá Coco. “While I had been sleeping, only the full moon cared for this little boy.” She took care of the boy every night thereafter.

 As word spread, more children began showing up nightly. “At first there were four children, then eight, then 11 and finally my own children were sleeping together in one room while 12 other children slept in the spare room,” she says. Mamá Coco took a brief hiatus in 2006 from childcare to attend to her dying parents, but after they had passed, she learned that two of the children she had been caring for had been sexually abused during the time she was away. “In the moment of learning this I was filled with rage, anger, and desperation,” Mamá Coco says, “and I decided never again.”

Mamá Coco and her family immediately founded Casa Hogar Hijos de la Luna (Home for Children of the Moon) to care for and protect children who either do not have parents or have single mothers who have, as Mamá Coco delicately puts it, “night jobs.” More than 100 children have stayed at Casa Hogar Hijos de la Luna, and Mamá Coco is currently doling out affection to 56 girls and boys between three months and 12 years of age. These children often have serious health and developmental problems, sometimes resulting from neglect or abuse in their homes. However, the well-being of these children usually improves under Mamá Coco’s care.

The mothers who leave their children with Mamá Coco are asked to give what they can, but she says that “this income is never much and never regular.” Recognizing the root of the problem, Mamá Coco is now also working on initiatives to help the mothers find different jobs.

Mamá Coco continues her work because, she says, “I have faith in God, not only in the God I learned in the Catholic Church, but in the living god who needs a diaper change, the one who has needs I try to meet, or the god who must go to school tomorrow because they need to become a good man or woman someday.”