[If you are sending money every month to support a child somewhere, maybe in an orphanage in Timbuktu, and you feel really proud of the good you are doing stop reading now].
Most children in orphanages (except AIDS orphans in Africa) have parents somewhere. Most children in orphanages would be street children if not living in orphanages. Most street children have a family to go home to if they dared or were welcome or could still find their way home. The parents of most street children have a general idea where their children are, or at least know where to start looking if they care to find them.
What follows will not find agreement among all experts, for many agreeing would undermine the justification for their employment. What follows is merely the conviction of one person who has spent a good part of forty years working with street children on four continents; studying the causes of this recent phenomenon, experimenting with solutions.
Generous people in developed countries whose hearts go out to street children tend to take a paternalistic approach to helping them. An automatic assumption that they know best what the children need and that they are in the best position to provide it - and if this were not so then what are the children doing there in the first place without anyone else doing something about it. Not an unreasonable reaction for a kind hearted person. The result is to build another orphanage, shelter, hostel, or start another street children's charity to give them something to do, somewhere to go, to eat, get off the street, at least at night. Emotional, but not very well thought through.
Don't worry, I spent most of the past four decades doing the same. Even less excusable in my case because in the mid 1970s I stumbled onto a workable solution, but was not cleaver enough to realize it.
I am getting
ready to propose what I consider to be a workable solution for a good
many if not most of ordinary street children. First let us narrow down
the category of at-risk children for whom this solution is deemed appropriate,
not to confuse them with suffering children for whom a creative solution
must still be developed.
Part of our
mission statement reads (and has done for several years):
It is generally accepted that the best place for children is in their own homes with their natural families. But what everyone seems to have given up on is that failed families even single parent families can become functional again. WHAT A MISTAKE! This is the point at which we want to break eggs, step on toes and explode the myth that failed parents cannot be rehabilitated, and be so on a scale grand enough to be considered the solution of choice for solving the street children phenomenon.
We can prove that parents who have abandoned, neglected, abused or driven away their children can change. Can be inspired to re-embrace their children and begin again, or for the first time to discharge their parental responsibilities. Not just one or two special cases; dozens, soon hundreds. We hope for enough funding and trained staff to be able to make this thousands of cases. And, as I say, we can already demonstrate that this is a workable solution - at least in the Latin and indigenous societies where we have tested it so far..
Here follows a brief explanation of how our experiment has worked. Some points require a certain level of understanding on your part, such as the fact that we work almost exclusively with mothers. For the rest we will invite you to visit our website which represents this project (For now it is only in Spanish).
First of all let us do some more narrowing down. Some mothers who are unlikely to benefit from this programme, and therefore will be unable to save their street children. Substance addicted and mentally ill mothers are unlikely to be accepted into this programme. But this still leaves the vast majority of the mothers of ordinary street children as candidates for our successful programme.
A little background. If you are on this page you probably already know that for some years we have been finding children who are not in school and getting them educated. These are street kids - abandoned or semi abandoned. They are extremely poor. If they have a parent (mother) she is probably not a horrible mother, she is simply utterly impoverished, has nothing to give her children. They have already missed a year and sometimes several years of education: no school will have them if they try to get in - unable to pass the entrance exam. We work with these children to bring them up to the level of their peers, then register and sponsor them in state schools. Once enrolled we continue to sponsor them for the following two years. At the same time we work with their mothers encouraging them to take over the responsibility of buying uniforms, paying registration fees, class materials, transport and events fees for their children. But for the mothers who have nothing, this represents an unrealistic plan. [Leaving us to sponsor some children a lot longer than we had intended; though it also must be said we have had some success in getting certain school authorities to grant variance.]
We have experience in micro enterprise projects, having started our fist micro finance scheme in the early 70s. Over time we have improved on our original faulty design by adapting the masterful example set by Mohammed Yunus and his Grameen Bank. And while micro finance would seem one method of helping our mothers to get into a position to support their children; this would not necessarily assure that our mothers will thereby become good parents.
So we started
a pilot project in 2003, and have been experimenting with different
ways of harnessing the allure of financial independence with the joys
and responsibilities of successful parenting . And we can now announce
that we have cracked it; developed a method which achieves the goals
we set. The secret is instead of lending money to the mothers we invest
in them, become their partner. This both captures their enthusiastic
attention and also permits us to work closely with them for at least
fourteen months. The art is that in order to qualify to become our partner
mothers must seriously apply themselves to achieving a certain level
of discipline, hygiene, work ethic and most of all parental responsibility.
[We have Psychologists, Social workers and business consultants helping
Bingo. This approach is working. Already successful mothers go out and recruit more mothers, and experienced mothers sponsor and train recruited mothers. Already mothers with leadership skills have risen to community director. They have their own weekly meetings, compose and sing their own theme songs, share stories and testimonies of what they are experiencing, how they are succeeding.
And they are succeeding. Before, for every child we were able to recruit to our shanty schools there were several we knew about but we failed to recruit them. Either their parents hid them when we came around because they needed them to work or else the children were so conditioned to street life that the notion of education held no interest for them. Now mothers are finding their own children, sending them to our schools, bringing them in from the streets. Come see: www.arribaya.com
demands we recognise that there are many children for whom no family
solution is available and we salute the fine charities who are attending
to their needs. We also are not suggesting here that we will be closing
our schools for street children any time soon - certainly not before
Governments in the countries where we work duplicate our programme (or
implement one with similar effectiveness) as part of their national
approach to education. What we are attempting here is to point out what
we see as the error of NGOs and most well-intentioned outsiders to paternalistically
intervene directly with at-risk children rather than considering first
whether there might be an easier, faster and more permanent solution
by addressing these children's needs through the medium of their own