Getting kids off the street; Street Kids International’s executive director speaks to Rotary Club of Welland

Getting kids off the street; Street Kids International’s executive director speaks to Rotary Club of Welland

MAGGIE RIOPELLE
Local News – Wednesday, August 15, 2007 @ 09:00


David Pell, executive director of Street Kids International spoke to the Rotary Club of Welland yesterday about the organization and its goal to give youth in developing countries the tools to get off the streets and make healthier choices.

Photo: MAGGIE RIOPELLE / STAFF

The goal is to get kids off the streets by giving them tools and an opportunity to make a better life for themselves.

Rotary Club of Welland hosted guest speaker David Pell, executive director of Toronto-based Street Kids International, at a luncheon yesterday.

Street Kids International is a Canadian organization started nearly 20 years ago.

According to the United Nations there are 100 million young people who spend their days on the streets. Some live in poverty, others are not enrolled in school, and number of these young people are homeless.

"We see these young people as an opportunity as opposed to a problem," said Pell. "They want a life that is rewarding, as we all do … they can be many things."

Pell said there are a number of reasons why young people are on the streets whether it is related to global poverty, AIDS and HIV, drug and alcohol abuse, or war and conflict.

"We read and hear about these problems all the time … they are real," he said.

Street Kids, said Pell, was founded by a man working for the United Nations who saw a young person break into his vehicle and attempt to start it.

"For whatever reason, instead of turning him into the authorities, he sat down and talked with him," said Pell.

"He realized that these young people, although living in unfavourable circumstances, can turn their lives around. Rather than punish them … let’s work with them."

Street Kids International aims to engage and empower street kids by working in partnership with organizations in developing countries with front-line workers who come into contact with street kids. The organization, he said, "trains the trainers" so more youth can be reached.

There are three core programs: street health, street work and street rights.

Street health programs focus on working with organizations and youth workers to engage street kids about making informed choices about sexual health and drug use.

"We use animations as an icebreaker," he said. "It gets the kids talking about who they are and who they want to be."

Making healthy choices, said Pell, helps kids to then move on to other opportunities through the street work programs which empowers streets kids to develop safe and more productive ways to earn a living.

One example is Sara, 17, a Zambian who with the help of the Street Kids programs learned that her sewing skills could help her to provide an income for herself. She now has a sewing business, said Pell.

There is also Tobias, who lost his parents at the age of 10 and lived on the streets. Now in his early 20s, Tobias will soon be a student at the University of Zambia, thanks to the tools he learned through Street Health and now shares his story with other kids.

The third focus area of Street Kids International is on the street rights program, aimed at advocating and educating on the rights of street kids.

From 2000 to 2006, the organization worker with the former Soviet Union and the project involved 80 communities, trained 15,000 youth workers and assisted about 500,000 youth.

"We are doing something right," said Pell. "In order to have a significant impact, we need to grow." For more information on Street Kids International visit www.streetkids.org.

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