It is hard to imagine, but true. Millions of children across the globe call the streets home. Their young lives are marred by neglect and abuse. Too often, drugs become a cheap and reliable escape from their lives of misery.
Although these children are shunned by society and turned down by traditional orphanages, they now have somewhere to turn – a place to call home. ProNiño is giving them a Better Today and a Brighter Tomorrow.
How does a Child end up on the Streets?
The reasons are many and complex – poverty, disintegration of the family, abuse and neglect are chief culprits. Many families are simply too poor to care for their children and abandon them to the streets. Some children are sent to the streets to earn money for the family. Other children turn to the streets hoping to escape physical and sexual abuse. Many children run to the streets looking to escape the terrible reality of their impoverished homes. They are easily lured by the excitement of street life and the hope of escape. Sadly they find even worse misery awaiting them in the streets.
These young children live lives we can't even imagine. Lost to the streets they take comfort where they can – usually in drugs. Huffing shoe glue is a common practice as it reduces hunger pangs. Simply staying alive is the constant struggle street children face. A little more than half of these children have a place under roof with family or friends where they can sleep for the night while spending all light hours on the streets. The other half spend both day and night on the streets. Flattened cardboard boxes often serve as a street child's "mattress".
How does a child enter the ProNiño Program?
There are generally two paths that bring a boy into the care of ProNiño.
Street outreach and the judicial system.
Street culture is a living and ever changing entity. Street children move from place to place. Group dynamics shift. Therefore the approach to reaching them must also be flexible and adaptable.
Street outreach takes several forms. One involves a ProNiño staff member - a street educator - going to the streets to meet the children and begin a relationship with the boys. When Proniño becomes aware of a new hang out for street kids the street educator will usually go chat with the boys, maybe buy them a hot meal and begin planting that seed of hope in their minds. It can take several visits to befriend a street child, but often the younger ones are quite eager to visit the center. The "Patio" is fixed location where the street children can come to enjoy a few hours of safety for the day. Drugs and weapons were set aside while the children enjoyed a meal, cleaned up a bit, play games and get to know the ProNiño staff. Proniño has also utilized a mobile soup kitchen which travels about and serves meals and gives the children an opportunity to learn about ProNiño. As trust builds, the child is invited to join the ProNiño program. Neglect and abuse is the story of a street child's life. Street outreach provides consistent and tangible care through meals, games and just “hanging out” with the children. This allows trust to grow. And this trust serves as the basis for the child’s eventual rehabilitation.
The other main road to ProNiño is via the courts. The local judicial system in Honduras now recognizes that a boy committing petty crimes is in all likelihood a drug addicted street kid. Often a boy with no previous criminal history will be given the option of going to Proniño for rehabilitation rather than going to the notorious Juvenile Detention Center. ProNiño provides a real option for these boys and the Juvenile Court has recognized the outstanding work of ProNiño.
ProNiño obtains custody of each child throughout the Honduran Courts. Most of the street children do not even know their birthday. At the time custody is awarded to ProNiño, the child is able to select his birthday for his official records.