AMERICA/ DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - “Yo también”, local Church programme to help street children in 7 years has reinserted more than 600 youngsters. “The world today needs concrete signs to build hope” Father Luis Rosario told Fides.

Tuesday, 27 April 2004

Santo Domingo (Fides Service) -“Yo también” is the name of a programme ans the name explains its objective: “take children off the streets and help them reintegrate into a nucleus of life with more stability starting in them a process of personal revaluation, so in the future they will decide to undertake the path of returning to their family, a host family or an institute of education”. Father Luis Rosario, national co-ordinator of Youth Pastoral for the Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic, said this in a report sent to Fides. The programme was started about 13 years ago thanks to young Youth Pastoral workers striving to build a civilisation of love especially in a social expression where human dignity is most damaged: street children, called “Palomos” or “Huele cementos”.
Palomos aged 7 to 17 for different reasons run away from home and make the street their home. On the streets they manage to survive but often at a high price by selling their body, or stealing or being drug carriers “mulas”. Perhaps a longing for freedom is what drives children to the streets because very often at home they are abused and maltreated physically and morally.
Nearly all the children who come to the Yo también Home are in very poor health. “The most frequent diseases include: parasites, hearing defects, conjunctivitis, bronchitis and asthma, TB gonorrhoea, syphilis and cancer, trauma due to violence or accidents, broken limbs, leukaemia, hernia, anaemia, AIDS, hepatitis b, etc. Many suffer from anxiety, emotional disturbance, neurosis, guilty complex, lack of concentration, trauma from sexual abuse and therefore sexual problems, brain damage, intolerance, aggressiveness, regression, many are prone to glue sniffing and alcohol abuse”.
Thanks to the work of various institutions in the Dominican Republic the problem of street children is not as dramatic as in other countries and in recent years it has diminished. Nevertheless in the late 1980s and early 1990, there was national concern because the palomos formed gangs and creating disorder with their violence, arrogance, stealing and glue sniffing. “Society - said Father Luis - intervened and in the past the police committed acts which violated human rights. But it must be said that in later years the police as an institution was one of the main collaborators with the Yo también Programme for saving street children ”.
Yo también Home provides a temporary family. To be more like a family the Home takes no more than 30 children at a time and its first goal is to return the children to their own families, or settle them with hosting families.
The programme has three stages. The first stage is on the street where the children are contacted. The second stage is at the Home where children live in a family atmosphere where they are served regular meals, have a place to sleep and are provide with services: support therapy, talks on various subjects, human, religious, civil and patriotic education, basic instruction, medical and legal assistance, moral education, schooling, contact with family, family and social reinsertion. The third stage is when the children are returned to their own family or settled with a hosting family or given a place at an institute of education. Some are inserted into the world of work, naturally in keeping with their age. Once reinserted the children are still followed byt the Programme.
Since 1996 Yo también programme has helped 724 boys and girls to leave the streets and it has returned more than 600 to their families. The Home is also a place where society and street children can meet and the problem can be widely discussed and addressed. It also promotes concrete initiatives to improve their situation with the help of volunteers. In addition it offers permanent guidance for children on the streets, young persons in prison, as well as providing moral and economic help to youngsters with family problems.
Father Luis Rosario, concludes his report sent to Fides affirming: “today’s unhappy world is in dire need of concrete signs to restore hope. Unfortunately the tendency to solve problems by eliminating the victims but not the ills is something which is totally inhuman and un-Christian. To use the death penalty or other drastic measures for those who through their own fault or that of someone else have taken dangerous paths in life, does not solve the problem in fact it only creates the false impression that only repression and violence can eliminate violence. Education to love and finding human solutions to human problems is not easy and yet it is the only way to valorise the human person and to help every one to see others as brothers and sisters for whom we are all responsible. Yo también programme is a small gesture of love which aims to reawaken reciprocal love for one another and especially for the poorest of the poor”. (R.Z.) (Agenzia Fides 27/4/2004; Righe 65; Parole 925).