NUMBER OF STREET KIDS IS NOT GOING DOWN.
TIME TO TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH.
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].
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Not for slaves or addicts:
We do not suggest that this solution will be effective in
relieving the suffering of the hundreds of millions of children
abducted by criminals or sold by their parents into slavery
and a life of child labour, likewise we feel it is unlikely
to help street children whose lives are so overcome by substance
abuse, prostitution or a criminal lifestyle that they are
beyond the possibility of being influenced by newly reformed
of our mission statement reads (and has done for several years):
have the right to be fed and clothed and sheltered and educated
by their parents. When parents are unable or refuse to do
this then society must intervene. Bruce Organization exists
to feed, clothe and educate children who have been let down
by their parents."
Sounds great, and we still stand by it - as far as it goes.
What is assumed when 'society intervenes' is the old plethora
of paternalistic solutions: shelters, orphanages, refuges,
soup kitchens, street kids projects. Yes yes we too have done
all these. But we now wonder if they are the best first line
of action for helping children who have been let down by their
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.
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..
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).
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.
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.]
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.
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 them.]
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.
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:
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 parents..
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