Monday, April 26, 2010

A New Season (Part 1)

And so a new season begins: here in Brazil (it is Autumn now and the shorter, drier days are a welcome break from the subtropical Summer) and at the rescue house. We have been planning the last two weeks for the last four months and this is why the border "incident" a few weeks back was such a jaw-dropper.

The court was duly notified, we pulled in every possible volunteer we could muster and prepared a week of activities for street boys to enjoy here at the rescue house. We called it an acampemento (a camp) but had the intention to extend invitations to those that wanted to stay permanently at the end of the week.

On Tuesday we went into the centre to invite some kids back to the camp. When we arrived, most of the children were surrounding a pitiful looking young man in a wheel chair. He had a bad wound to his leg that was seeping messily through a tangle of dirty bandages. A twisted catheter hung from his side. I felt a mixture of pity and astonishment at how he could come to live on the street (let alone survive), until I realised the reason for his "popularity" with the children. Out of another bag he began to dispense - someone clinically - small bottles of wood glue. Then I felt angry.

Of the small group, three boys took up the offer and on the way home I was squeezed into the back of the pick-up, with L, B and J (shown below, left to right).

Two of them fell asleep on my shoulders almost straight away; one staying awake long enough for this short exchange:

J: Where are you from?
L: England
J: Does God exist there?

I mean, you couldn't make this stuff up.

On arrival, not even the prospect of pizza could keep J awake. Disorientated (somewhat understandably) and full of fear, he went straight to bed. When asked the following morning, he said it was the first time he had slept in a bed for two years. The back of his head is a physical testimony to that: bald and raw from the concrete street.

Random Observations #10

As a boy, I used to stare into the mirror and let my eyes blur until I could see my father's face staring back at me. As an adult, when I look into the faces of vagrant men on the street, I sometimes see how some of our boys (but for the grace of God) could have turned out. There is W, obese and rummaging through the trash. There is S, long-bearded and filthy, with his head in his hands (always a loner). There is B, half-naked and emaciated, passed out in the heat.

Visa Issues

So I return to São Paulo and arrive at passport control. The man scans my passport (I have dual nationality, so I have been spending six months on each passport), stares at the screen for what seems like an eternity and begins to make odd faces. "Um Problema?" I ask coyly. He prodded at a few more keys on the computer and then asked in a matter-of-fact way whether I would like to spend three days in Brazil or rather go straight back home to England.

The blood drained from my face.

It appears my bright idea to use two passports was not wholly endorsed by immigration control and am now in the interesting position of being an illegal. No idle immigrant me, though - I am scrambling to get my paperwork in order to stay (it should take about four weeks, I am told) and am positively embracing the Brazilian bureaucracy in the only way an "estrangeiro" can: with trepidation and gusto!

Thank you to all that have been praying for a quick resolution to the situation. I'll keep you updated!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Street children

" Street children are not a problem.
I repeat: street children are not a problem.

They are children and young people.

The psychological and physical abuse that forces a child to run away from home: that is a problem.

The sexual abuse of girls by teachers: that is a problem.

HIV and AIDS that kills one or both parents and then sees a little girl trying to raise her brothers and sisters on the street: that is a problem.

And once these children are on the street, what happens? The police abuse them and arbitrarily arrest them. Sexual predators, often from foreign countries, stalk them. Schools close their doors to them. Health services deny them care.

These are indeed a problem: not street children.

You have a unique opportunity to help these children to claim their rights. Sitting together is a key step. But talk and plans are not enough. The must be turned into action.

This is just the beginning. How far you go is entirely up to you. "

Alex Dressler, The Consortium for Street Children