Help without intermediaries

Help without intermediaries 

Maxi at the home of his tutor, Mario Julio Sotelo.  Paolo Moiola

Paolo Moiola.  Jan 31, 2008

Martial arts teacher devotes his life to spending time with street children.

Commonly seen in the subway, a train station or sheltered in a doorway, there are many children who have become masters at survival in the streets, living amidst drugs, police and threatening circumstances.

Fortunately, these children don’t always have to face this precarious life alone.

Martial arts teacher Mario Julio Sotelo, 47, dedicates much of his time and energy to helping street children directly, without intermediaries.

Sotelo has spent time in Costa Rica and the United States, but now works as a courier and volunteers teaching martial arts to kids in the Miguel Magone Center. “In my own small way, I also try to help street kids,” he says.

Open House
“This is my humble home, only a step above the ranchada in the street,” warns Sotelo, as if to excuse it. The term ranchada refers to an improvised shelter made by street children: the place where they meet, sleep and establish their daily schedule.

In the ranchadas, the children “decide their activities,” Sotelo explains, “activities that often include robbery; there are few groups who live on recyclying,” he said, referring to those who collect recyclable items from the trash to exchange for money. “They also use drugs in the ranchadas.”

Sotelo says he works with street children because he feels the “need to do it,” as he too was once on the street. “Since I was an orphan, I grew up in an institute and didn’t know my parents. I learned to survive in an institute that, all things considered, was a respectable place.”

Sotelo’s house is open to everyone. “I repeat,” he insisted, “this is a little ranchada, it’s not a real house where there are beds and everyday comforts. I have what’s essential. I live with my son.

I have three forks: one for me, the other for him and one for the visitor, who today is Maxi.” Maximiliano, 16, sits and listens. “I have known Maxi for years,” Sotelo continues, “but only recently has he started living with me. He helps me in my courier job.”

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