| Peace Corps' rededication to youth: Addressing the needs of youth-at-risk |
Yasir at 13 is a veteran of the streets. When only 11, he rode atop the train from his village 800 miles south of the capital city, lured by rumors of work and a life of adventure, pushed by the poverty of his family of 12.
Like most street boys and girls, what he found was much different. Mornings were spent in the markets begging and stealing Because he was young and on new turf, he found support from other street boys. They watched out for each other like a family. But he quickly learned there were dangers and prices to pay for this safety.
Some of the older boys threatened to hurt him if he didn't steal for them. At night they forced him to have sex with them. To protect themselves from physical and sexual abuse, the younger boys slept in front of the police station each night. Although exposure on cold rainy nights frequently brought illness, local hospitals and clinics refused to serve the street children.
After two years, Yasir grew tired of the street life and returned home to see his family. But he found conditions worse than when he had left. The region had been hit by drought, driving thousands of people to his village in search of food and leaving even less for village families. Consequently, Yasir's youngest brother had died from malnutrition.
Rather than being welcomed by his family, Yasir found they could not provide for him. The slow pace of village life made him restless, haying grown accustomed to the freedom and independence of street life. Left with little choice, Yasir once again crept aboard the train headed slowly toward the capital, but with much less enthusiasm than two years before.
Perched on the top of the last rail car, Yasir gazed at the stars, his thoughts vacillating between childhood dreams of owning lorries that carried goods across the border, and the realities of facing adulthood on the streets at 13. As he fell asleep to the rocking motion of the train, the glimmer of hope still burning in his heart was greater, if only for the moment, than the hunger in his stomach.
There are thousands of children working and/or living on the streets of the capital cities and secondary towns of nearly every Third World country. These youth have little, if any, nutritious food; no access to bathing facilities; no voice, advocate, or access to vitally needed medical and social services; no outlet to organized recreational or athletic activities; and little positive peer or adult influence.
DISCUSSION OF THE PROBLEM
Many residents of cities dislike street children and feel they are a nuisance at best, and thieves and robbers at worst. They are refused assistance at public facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and social services. Many come from the shanty towns surrounding the city, where their families eke out a meager living. Others travel on top of a train, lorry or bus from distant villages to urban centers.
Police are mote often the enemy and not the protectorate of street children. The police sometimes raid the market place, round the children up and beat and/or jail them. In several cities, children have been murdered by death squads alleged to be connected with the police. In other places, police tacitly assist street children by allowing them to sleep outside the station where they are less subject to attack from older street children or men.
The governments, distracted by war, drought and disastrous economies, do not officially recognize children as a priority problem and typically have no money for programs that address their needs. Numerous international organizations focus on children's programs, but few have committed funds to street children programs. Several local NGOs are doing relief work with families in the shanty towns surrounding the capital but are not involved with street children.
PEACE CORPS INVOLVEMENT
Contacts For Possible Collaboration
The Ministry of Social Welfare is the government body responsible for coordinating social services, and therefore responsible for planning and coordinating local and international services to street children. Regional government offices located in the major cities and towns and local village committees usually receive approval for any new initiatives from the Minister's office. The government offices are not well equipped to organize or implement projects for street children.
UNICEF's office of Children In Especially Difficult Circumstances (CEDC), located in the capital, has offered some seed money, technical assistance, training and material resources to three international PVOs planning services for the street children.
Three international PVOs-Plan International, CARE and Save the Children-operate projects in three separate cities the capital and two provincial cities, where large numbers of street children reside. Each PVO has agreed to a preliminary collaborative plan to establish a day center for street children in each of the three cities. In the capital city, one local development organization is participating in the plan and will eventually operate the project independently of the international PVO.
Initial inquiries have been made with bilateral donors such as USAID and the Dutch government and with religious funding organizations in Germany, Switzerland, and Canada
Representatives of local business and service clubs and high government and university officials have expressed interest in helping address the problems of street children and several have offered either to contribute financially, serve on a board, or work as a volunteer.
Proposed Outreach Center Activities
Showers and laundry
Basic medical services,
Counseling-personal, drug abuse
Possible Future Activities
Street Education project
Small Business project
Possible Peace Corps Project
Possible Peace Corps Project Activities
Use current Volunteers who have available time to assist the three NGOs with logistics, surveys, research and proposal writing connected with initial planning and development of the three centers.
Assist in the design and implementation of educational materials and teach basic education.
Organize and implement a sports project end train its counterparts.
Assist with fundraising, program planning, management, operations, and logistical and organizational support.
Organize and teach an arts, crafts and/or drama program and train a counterpart.
Develop a street education program and assist in training local street educators.
Plan, organize and implement a vocational training program in conjunction with existing vocational training programs in the cities.
Tap the energy and resources of residents, service club members and private business and professional people, who express interest in helping street children, to volunteer in assisting in center activities such as fundraising, medical assistance, tutoring, recreational sports activities, arts, crafts, drama or music.
Design a community education/public relations program to improve the image of and interest in street children including TV, radio, street theater, news and feature articles.