|Outreach No. 96 - Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances - Part 1: Working and Street Children (New York University - TVE - UNEP - WWF, 68 p.)|
Reprinted from: Street Educator: the Street Child's Link to the World in I am the Future...I am a Child of the Streets CHILDHOPE Annual Report 1990-1991 published by CHILDHOPE. For further information contact CHILDHOPE USA, c/o U.S. Committee for UNICEF, 333 East 38th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10016, USA
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
radio broadcasters, journalists: As background notes for a programme or article on reaching out street children;
NGOs, community workers: As a guide to aid programme development and staff training.
HELP WANTED: Street educator: male or female; low salary; hours include evenings; dangerous working conditions; bad neighbourhood; work guaranteed to tear you up emotionally; tenuous job security; university degree preferred; apply within.
May we introduce the street educator: a member of a new but growing profession, due unfortunately to the growing numbers of children and youth on the streets of the world's cities.
He or she is tough, but likes kids (that's only a start, but a necessity). The street educator likes kids enough that he or she will continue to reach out to the child and peer through until the child can be seen through all the layers of grime, of disappointed hopes, of hardened distrust of adults.
The street educator is usually a member of staff of a particular agency which includes service to street children. The goal is to protect the children's rights, introduce them to services available (which may be few), and strive for reconciliation of the child to the family (if practical) and the community, and maximise the child's opportunity to survive, stay healthy, learn, and mature (in that order). Forms and approaches vary infinitely with the nature of the agency, the culture of the community, the ages and characteristics of the children, and their current survival patterns. But one thing is common to all street educators: they spend a lot of time on the streets, meeting and talking with children. We might say, befriending children, but it takes a while for a street child to trust an adult as a friend - and for good reason.
The street educator likes variety and surprises, and is not bothered by breeches or decorum, or even the gross and horrible, on occasion. Good listener is putting it mildly: - it is being empathetic, while sitting on a curbstone, with five other human beings, and being distracted by one child who is complaining about glue being poured on his hair by the police. Despite being a rebel at heart and an activist, the street educator must be able to understand, and deal constructively with, establishment representatives such as police, health agencies, eligibility workers of social institutions, business persons, and adult community leaders. And all on behalf of the children. Or better yet, street educators are behind-the-scenes coaches who help children approach the adult power-brokers that control their destiny.
Street kids fall through the cracks. Street education is a profession that is growing up through the cracks - grass roots style - to serve them. To qualify, you must have an unshakeable faith in humanity and a belief that the only way to help people (kids included) is to help them gain the confidence to help themselves and solve their own problems. The dirtiest word among street educators - and they have many (!) - is assistentialism or the welfare mentality. Street kids made it on the streets on their own - whether they ran away from abusive situations, or were pushed out of the family (or absence thereof) by lack of support. Now is no time for another person (or agency) to show up and offer dependency. It's too late for that. Now - although still children - they must quickly mature in their ability to support themselves and live as responsible adults. The philosophy of the street educator is: the community, having failed these children once, now owes them the opportunity to gain socially-acceptable skills for survival, to continue their education, to contribute creatively to others in their own community, and to become responsible citizens. Maybe to have a little good clean fun, too - after all, they are still children. At heart, aren't we all?
Raw material for street educators - besides the character qualities described or implied above - may come from a number of backgrounds. Obviously, native intelligence is key - (it takes a lot of smarts to deal wisely with very savvy kids) - and needless to say, some of the most outstanding in the field are what we might call experience trained - they, too, grew up on the streets. Naturally, if any readers aspire to become street educators, we cannot recommend childhood street life as your school of choice! So what remains?
While natural common sense is great, an advanced education is highly recommended, especially in the humanities, liberal arts and social studies, from which intellectual resources can be drawn to explain the root causes and dynamics of social change and social decay. If it were to be classified - which it still is not - street education would probably fall into a slot as its own specialised method of social work, combining certain strands of casework, group work and community organisation.
Illustration by Elaine Nipper from Who am the street children: an exploration of the lives of children from poor families in Brazil produced by the United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF 1993
Note: Of all professions, that of street educator is key to all that CHILDHOPE does or represents. It is the first, and sometimes the only, link of the street child to the rest of the community and the most effective work on the front line of battle - the street. CHILDHOPE has begun a partnership with UNICEF/Latin America to design a specialised curriculum to train street educators throughout the region.
What street children think about street educators...
At an Asian conference on street children in May 1989 children from the streets of Manila summarised what they liked best about the Street Educators they knew. Here's what they thought:
We like a Street Educator
- who is a friend who is sympathetic and shows affection
- who spends time with us playing, sleeping, working
We like an approach
- that is non-threatening, sincere
- that gives importance to what we do
From an article written by Heather Jarvis in Who are the street children? an exploration of the lives of children from poor families in Brazil produced by the United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF 1993
* Life on the street is a bitter struggle. It helps if children have someone to turn to when something goes wrong: a friendly policeman, a generous friend, trustworthy companions. Do you have somebody that you can turn to for help when you are afraid or in trouble? Describe this person. What makes you trust him/her?
* Who, among you and your friends, do you think would make a good street educator. Explain your reasons.
* If you were a street educator, how would you make initial contact with street children? Use drama to present your ideas. Invite some street educators to view the drama and discuss it with them afterwards.
* If I were a street educator, I would..... Complete this statement.
* Interview some street educators to find out what they like and do not like about their job.
* Put on an exhibition about street children and street educators in your neighbourhood, and invite local community leaders to see it.