May 5, 2020 / 2:31 PM / 3 months ago

Quarantine with 31 children? Costa Rican family's labor of love

SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Coronavirus lockdowns present a plethora of challenges for families suddenly forced to spend weeks on end under one roof. But try hunkering down at home with 31 kids.

Victor Guzman and Melba Jimenez, a couple with 37 adopted children, take time to read the Bible and pray as they undergo self-quarantine together in their home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Jose, Costa Rica May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Costa Rican couple Melba Jimenez and Victor Guzman, parents to 31 adopted children living in their home, have done just that for the past six weeks as the pandemic widened in Latin America.

“This is about life or death. We have to take care of ourselves,” said Jimenez, a retired fashion design worker. “We have to do it out of love and out of responsibility.”

Aged between 3 and 25, their charges are among over 150 children the couple have taken in over the past four decades, after doctors saved one of their six biological offspring from a brain tumor. Their own six are now grown up and have left home.

Their adopted children at least have some room to roam, thanks to the spacious home with a large yard in the capital San Jose that an anonymous donor gave the family.

Jimenez, 68, and Guzman, a 74-year-old former sales agent, live off their pensions, though neighbors who admire their dedication to raising children help with food and clothing.

Keeping the youngsters occupied can be challenging.

“It’s an experience that I think is beautiful. It’s nice and it’s difficult,” Jimenez said. “We can’t say that everything is easy. ... We have to look for interesting things for them, to change things up, so they don’t get stressed out.”

They are also living in one of the countries that appears to have dealt most successfully with the crisis. Costa Rica has reported six deaths from the virus and 742 cases, but for weeks the number of people recovering has outstripped new cases.

Daily tasks for the kids include housework like sweeping and cooking, and helping the younger ones with homework.

Older siblings are entrusted with chores beyond the front gate, like David Guillen, 21, who goes into town on his bicycle for groceries wearing gloves and a mask.

His younger sister Maritza Martinez said the quarantine presented the rare opportunity to enjoy time with her family.

“I know it’s boring to spend time at home,” she said. “But you have to find ways to stay entertained, to get off social media, to spend more time with people, something we hardly do anymore.”

Reporting by Hector Guzman,; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Dave Graham and Richard Chang

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