Local doctor helps ‘street children’ find new home

<a title="Photo by Courtesy
Dr. Chi Huang hugs one of the children who now lives in a home built by his Bolivian Street Children Project.” href=”http://www.wickedlocal.com/lincoln/archive/x833719877/g258258dcbbb0f1b7c2128af60c267985a86eee073f005f.jpg”&gt;Huang4

By Courtesy
Dr. Chi Huang hugs one of the children who now lives in a home built by his Bolivian Street Children Project.

Local doctor helps ‘street children’ find new home

By Mira Vale/Correspondent

Thu Jun 26, 2008, 08:36 AM EDT

Eleven years ago, Dr. Chi Huang could have gone anywhere. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Huang had completed residencies in both pediatrics and internal medicine at some of Boston’s top teaching hospitals. But instead of continuing on to a traditional, and lucrative, medical career as many of his colleagues did, Huang took the path less traveled, opting to work with a humanitarian aid organization.

After writing to hundreds of such organizations, Huang, a Lincoln resident, chose to take part in a program that sent him to South America to La Paz, Bolivia, where he would work with the city’s many homeless and abandoned children.

“Part of it was my own personal rediscovery of why I went into medicine,” Huang said. “The main reason I went to Bolivia was actually for myself, to get off the ‘train track’ and away from fame or wealth. I wanted to make a difference.”

Huang spent four months in a domestic program to prepare himself for the journey and then flew down to Bolivia for the remainder of the year. Huang described his first month in La Paz as “incredibly frustrating,” because although he was working in a local orphanage, he was not afforded the opportunity to work with the children he most desired to help — the children living on the street.

Huang finally got his wish when he met a boy who had once lived on the streets of La Paz. The boy took him around the city at night so he could meet the children.

“[Meeting and helping the street children] was challenging and disturbing.” Huang said. “On the street, there were kids sleeping in their own fecal matter, in their own urine, in sewers, getting beaten by police and other kids.”

Sadly, poor living conditions are only a fraction of the hardships these Bolivian street children face, Huang said. 

He was able to meet the children only in the middle of the night because most of them must stay awake until sunrise, sniffing paint thinner to keep warm.

In his nights on the streets of La Paz, Huang began to form relationships with the children he met. As he treated their various illnesses and injuries, he also tried to help the children cope emotionally and spiritually. Some nights, Huang and the children would simply play soccer together.

“I tried to bring a little bit of childhood back into their lives,” he said.

At the end of Huang’s time in Bolivia, he asked one of the children what she wanted of him.

“She asked me three things,” Huang recalled. “First, that I remain present in their lives; second, that the street children be given a home; and third, that I share the story of these children.”

These humble requests became the basis of Huang’s continued mission in Bolivia as he founded the Bolivian Street Children Project, a nonprofit organization committed to saving and improving the lives of the children on the streets of La Paz. Now director of Boston Medical Center’s Pediatric Global Health Initiative, Huang spends part of each year in Bolivia in a continued effort to rehabilitate the children he meets. 

The organization has funded the construction and maintenance of three homes to transfer the children off the streets. Huang described the philosophy of the homes as a “holistic approach to the health and welfare of these kids.”

“We try to allow the kids to reach their full potential,” he said.

Each home has a psychologist and a youth pastor, who help the children cope with their histories of abuse and neglect. In addition, the homes host workshops and mentorship programs to help the children gain the skills they will need to continue their education or to find a job. Recently, the organization received a donation that allowed them to purchase computers for the homes.

“We hope this will help the kids become tech-savvy and increase their future job opportunities,” Huang said.

Despite the success of the Bolivian Street Children Project, Huang stressed that the process of rehabilitation is difficult for each and every child.

“The kids usually run away two or three times before they become a more permanent fixture in the homes,” Huang said. “It takes them anywhere from six to twelve months to get totally integrated.”

In the future, Huang said he hopes to add another three homes in order to better serve the children. Huang said he is also working to raise awareness of these children and their plight, most notably through the publication of his 2006 book, “When Invisible Children Sing,” which is available in bookstores and at the Lexington and Concord public libraries.

In the epilogue to his book, Huang wrote, “Our lives are short and fleeting. What is the legacy we leave behind? Maybe my legacy is a few square blocks of La Paz, Bolivia, where all the children have homes.”

Visit www.BolivianStreetChildren.org for further information on the project’s history and goals, as well as opportunities for donations and volunteer work.


Lauren Child: drawing on real life

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Lauren Child: drawing on real life

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 21/06/2008

Christopher Middleton meets Lauren Child, best-selling author of Charlie and Lola, and hears how she is working with Unesco to help street children around the world

At first sight, there don’t seem many similarities between Lauren Child and Pesky Rat, her fictional creation. She’s a smartly turned-out, internationally successful children’s author and illustrator, with a house in London’s Belsize Park; he’s the scrawny, faintly pongy hero of her newly republished story That Pesky Rat, address Dustbin Number 3, Grubby Alley.

  Lauren Child
‘For some reason I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a child’

There was a time, however, when the now best-seller author felt just as much of an outcast as her rodent friend.

"I was in my late 20s, getting nowhere in my career, and all of a sudden I had to move out of the room I was renting, because the woman who owned the house had to sell up," Child recalls. "From that point on, I was in a constant state of either house-sitting for friends or else sleeping on their floor. After a few months of that, my morale plummeted. You’re sitting there in your friends’ home, you hear their key in the door and you immediately leap up and start to make yourself busy tidying things away, or else try to make yourself as small as possible, so that they don’t feel you’re in the way. Which, of course, you are.

"Eventually, they start feeling guilty about wishing you weren’t there and you start to feel guilty about making them feel guilty. I know it’s not as dramatic as having to sleep out on the streets, but it is a sort of homelessness in its own way and it was a horrible time in my life. After all, I’d come out of art school fondly imagining I would be discovered and have my own studio in next to no time, yet here I was, years later, still no further on. And the worst thing is, when you’re in that kind of situation, always moving between friends’ houses, you’re unable even to think about the future – you’re just existing in the present."

It was this unhappy period in Child’s life that first inspired her to write That Pesky Rat, about an unloved and disregarded creature whose dream is to find a home and someone to look after him. And it was Pesky Rat, in turn, who led Child to the ramshackle back streets of Mexico City, and the extraordinary Renacimiento Children’s Shelter.


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Here, some 70 young orphans and runaways are introduced not just to reading, writing and breadmaking, but to love, care and a life away from the drug-ridden world outside.

"All the time we were there, we were told we shouldn’t walk out into the street on our own, not for one second," says Child, who recently went to the shelter to lead illustration classes with the children. "In the surrounding streets, there are all these tennis shoes hanging from wires, which is apparently the way drug-dealers leave signs for each other. The children who live at the shelter have all spent months, maybe years out on the street, where they get drawn into crime, drugs, prostitution – you name it. Most end up sniffing a revoltingly powerful solvent that kills them if they don’t stop.

"However, when they come into Renacimiento [Rebirth], they have to agree not to take or sell drugs, but to go to school each day and to take part in all the classes and activities at the shelter." One of those activities was a session with Child, in which she and the children spent several happy hours drawing characters from her TV cartoon, Charlie and Lola.

Though as English as you can get, this brother-and-sister double act is just as popular with impoverished street children in Mexico City as it is with well-to-do young boys and girls in Knightsbridge. The secret of its success is that the characters talk and sound like real children. Somehow their creator tunes in not only to the illogically logical thought patterns of a four-year-old girl (Lola loves swimming with whales in the bath), but also to their speech patterns ("I will not ever never eat a tomato").

"I don’t have children of my own," says Child, who is single, "but for some reason I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a child. I only have to get told off in a shop and I’m a seven-year-old girl again, powerless and mortified, absolutely not in control." Of course, it’s not everyday that the young Renacimiento residents get to work with famous foreign writers. Mostly, their instructors are tutors from the immediate neighbourhood, with a brief not so much to instil academic excellence as to pass on practical skills such as welding and baking, carpentry and computing.

  Lauren in Mexico
Lauren with children in Mexico

It was the non-traditional nature of the education at Renacimiento that caught the attention of Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Org
anisation), under whose banner Child visited the shelter. "Your conventional Victorian model of learning, with neat rows of desks, just doesn’t work with kids like the ones at Renacimiento, who have fled from violent, unhappy homes and had to fend for themselves out on the streets," says Unesco’s Ben Faccini, who accompanied Child to Mexico.

"You have to approach education from a completely different angle, teaching skills that are relevant to these children’s lives but at the same time just happen to involve an element of reading, writing or arithmetic." And does this sideways-on approach work? Most definitely, says 19-year-old Carlos Ramirez Gomez, who came into the shelter when he was 13. "I left home at the age of 10 and lived for two years at the bus station," he says. "I took drugs, but not so many as to destroy myself. At the shelter, they give us the tools to build a worthwhile future. Now I am in my second semester doing computer studies. I hope one day to open my own cyber café and have a big family."

Again, not the same sort of story as Child’s. Far from being damaged by a traumatic home life, she and her two sisters had a happy upbringing in Wiltshire (her father was a much-respected art teacher at Marlborough College). "Nothing really bad happened to me, but at the same time, I got to the age of 29 and felt that I’d failed at absolutely everything I’d set out to do," says Child, 41. "A friend once said you can’t tell people how to change their lives – first they have to go to hell in their own way. And I rather think I did.

"Eventually, after about 10 months of feeling very wobbly, I finally came to the decision that instead of holding out for the perfect job or the perfect place to live, I was just going to take what was offered and see what happened. So when friends asked if I’d like to rent their tiny box room, I didn’t turn my nose up, I said yes. And when another friend told me about a job that was going as an assistant in an art studio, I didn’t say: ‘Oh no, it’ll stop me doing my own work’, I just applied for it and got it.’" (The artist involved turned out to be Damien Hirst.)

"So when someone else suggested I write a children’s book, because childhood seemed to be a recurring theme in my illustrations and my thinking, I thought: ‘Yes, I’ll try that; I might get an agent out of it.’" She then wrote and illustrated Clarice Bean, That’s Me, which not only got her an agent but launched an award-winning literary career, in which so far she has sold three million books in 19 countries.

"I’d always had confidence in my ability, thanks mainly to my father, who was very good at getting people to achieve more than they think possible," says Child. "But at art school I’d gone into a downward spiral, which continued for some years until suddenly, with my book, people started to value something about me again." It’s this experience of her own renacimiento that has prompted Child to throw herself into her Unesco work, which officially starts on Wednesday with the launch of My Life is a Story, a website and campaign fronted by Child (see end of article for details).

Not only are she and her publishers, Hachette, donating profits on the re-released That Pesky Rat to Unesco’s Programme for the Education of Children in Need, but Child is now visiting other projects that the programme funds.

She recently went to Mongolia to see a scheme aimed at rehousing the street children who are rounded up by the overwhelmed police. And she has just come back from Vietnam, where she visited an orphanage that has been amalgamated with an old people’s home. "The children get comfort and love, and the old people get a new focus for their lives."

There’s more. Over the past decade, Unesco’s Education of Children In Need programme has helped fund 336 projects in 92 countries, working not just with street children but also with former child soldiers in Mozambique, with Aids orphans in China and with young rubbish-scavengers in Cairo, who have been trained in recycling and now run waste-saving workshops for the staff of smart Red Sea hotels.

Again, rather than overtly inculcating the three Rs, the project leaders get the children to develop those skills almost subliminally, through the disciplines inherent in the non-textbook subjects they do teach, such as ballet (in Brazil), basketball (Benin) and circus skills (Mexico).

"We only support projects that are already up and running and can supply us with properly audited financial accounts," says the Unesco programme’s director, Françoise Pinzon-Gil. "And although we pay the teachers for the teaching, we never pay the salaries of the administrative staff, because we want them to put in place a structure that will enable them to continue when our funding stops [three years is the maximum period].

"Of course, we are working all the time to commend these projects to the governments of the countries in which they are based. In Mongolia, for example, the state has taken up our distance learning scheme for children in the Gobi Desert and expanded it across the whole country.

"In Laos, we created a portable bamboo school, which has 10 teachers and can be set up in remote areas, then dismantled after a few months and taken elsewhere. The government was so impresed it has now set up its own Department of Informal Education." Although it might seem a long way from the mountains of Laos and the back streets of Mexico City to the grassy lawns of Great Britain, Lauren Child believes that the distance is not as great as we might like to think. "What my experience in my 20s taught me is that so much of life is down to luck," she says.

"Through a not particularly dramatic or unlikely chain of events, I discovered the absence of the safety net that had always been there when I was a child.

"Luckily, I had friends who helped me, and who let me sleep on their floors. But I could all too easily see how, say, someone would go to London hoping to make it as a singer, say, and end up, just by lack of good luck, homeless and out on the streets.

‘In the past, I could never understand why people like that didn’t just do the logical thing and go back home to their parents. Then I found myself in that position. Yes, the logical move was for me to go back home to my parents in Wiltshire, yet I couldn’t even contemplate it: I was too old, too proud, it was a backward step, it was an admission of defeat – all that sort of thing.

"So I had a glimpse of what homelessness could be like, and I realised that, if it could happen to me, it could happen to any of us and any of our children, too." For a first-hand account of what life really does look like from the dustbin, who better to turn to than Pesky Rat himself?

"Sometimes," he says, "when I am tucked into my crisp packet, I look up at all the cosy windows and wonder what it would be like to live with creature comforts. To belong to somebody. To be an actual pet."

  • All profits of the special edition of That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child (Orchard Books, £5.99) will go to Unesco’s Programme for the Education of Children in Need and its My Life is a Story campaign. A special website, www.mylifeisastory.org, will be launched by Child on Wednesday, giving children from all over the world a chance to tell the stories of their past and sketch out their dreams for the future.
  • From today until September 21
    , Manchester Art Gallery is staging a free exhibition of Lauren Child’s work, entitled Green Drops and Moonsquirters, in which children can explore Charlie and Lola’s home and visit Pesky Rat’s dustbin in Grubby Alley. The exhibition is open Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm at the gallery in Mosley Street, Manchester. For further information, call 0161 235 8888 or see www.manchestergalleries.org.
  • Peru: Red Alert scheme helps vulnerable street children

    Peru: Red Alert scheme helps vulnerable street children

    A new ‘early intervention’ project in the Peruvian capital Lima is aiming to help vulnerable street children before they encounter those who seek to exploit them.

    UK based charity Toybox and its partner Viva Latin America have set up Red Alert to identify and get help to newly homeless children within hours or days of finding themselves alone on the streets. ‘Lookouts’ who are trained to spot these children, are recruited as volunteers from local churches, people already working on the streets with the children in existing projects, and those working in the market places.

    San Juan de Lurigancho and Cercado de Lima have the largest concentration of street children in the city. In 2006, San Juan de Lurigancho had the highest number of reports of family and sexual violence in Lima, and was rated 4th in all the country. The number of working children in San Juan de Lurigancho and Cercado de Lima is close to 5,000.

    Carlos, 10, who arrived from the Peruvian mountains to work on the streets of San Juan of Lurigancho during his school holidays is just one of the children who had been helped by the Red Alert team.

    At first he cleaned cars. Later he sold sweets and sang songs on the buses to earn a little money. When his holiday ended and it was time to go home, he did not have enough money for his return fare. With no money for rent, he had to look for a park bench to sleep on. He was in great danger of becoming a street child permanently.

    Two days passed, until he was found by one of the Red Alert team who look out for new arrivals on the street. Carlos is now part of a residential home programme and is being helped to find his family and return home.

    True cost of Scotland’s cocaine: Inspired to help street kids

    True cost of Scotland’s cocaine: Inspired to help street kids

    PETER Walters was a student when he first encountered the street children.

    But his experiences in 1982 changed his life. He recalled: "My money was running out and I could only eat once every two days.

    "I met a group of kids from Medellin who were living and working on the street.

    "When they asked me for money and realised I was as hungry as they were, they were very amused because they had never met a poor foreigner before. They decided to look after me and shared their food with me.

    "It was their initial kindness to me that moved me so much."

    When he returned home, he started raising money for the kids, and he continued to visit Colombia after he was ordained as an Anglican priest.

    It was while he was based at the Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk that he founded Let The Children Live!

    He moved to Colombia permanently in January 1994 and was ordained a Catholic priest the following year.

    True cost of Scotland’s cocaine: Street children are the victims

    True cost of Scotland’s cocaine: Street children are the victims

    COLOMBIA’S street children are exposed to a distressing daily diet of drugs, prostitution and violence.

    Kids as young as six sleep on the streets of Medellin and huddle together in a desperate bid to stay warm.

    Largely ignored by locals and known as "disposables", their harrowing stories will chill the blood of every parent.

    They are victims – of the killings, poverty and corruption that surrounds the cocaine business.

    With so many orphaned by violence, they end up sleeping rough and, with a sad inevitability, soon end up taking drugs and falling into prostitution.

    One girl who has been robbed off her childhood is 11-year-old Juanita.

    She was playing with her little brother Enrique, at Casa Walsingham, the HQ of charity Let The Children Live! when Father Peter Walters introduced her.

    Juanita was too embarrassed to talk until Enrique, eight, was put out of the room.

    Nervously, she said: "I used to sniff alot of glue. I was introduced to it by a friend when I was 10.

    "I then became involved in prostitution. About three months ago, I was very concerned that I was pregnant but it turned out I was not."

    Last month, Juanita was stabbed in the arm by another girl on the streets.

    She also deliberately cut her own wrist in a bid to kill herself.

    Juanita’s harrowing story began when she moved from the countryside to Medellin after her father was murdered.

    He was a victim of the drug-fuelled violence which plagues Colombia and, like many thousands of others, his family fled to the city to safety. But their hope turned to despair.

    Martin Gonzalez, the charity’s chief street educator, said: "When I met Enrique, he was seven and going to different day centres.

    "But they got fed-up with him because he was a tremendous handful and he kept getting expelled for fighting and bad language.

    "He started sniffing glue when he was seven and he always had a bottle with him."

    Project workers managed to tame the tearaway and even arranged hospital treatment for him recently after he suffered an ear infection.

    Both children are now back living with their mother.

    Jose is one of the best examples of the difference the charity can make.

    A shooting in the street had left him with a large scar and one leg 7cm shorter than the other.

    He said: "I was selling sweets in the street. I don’t know if it was a stray bullet or aimed at me. I lost feeling in my leg and fell to the ground."

    Today, Jose, 14, is one of eight children who live at Casa Bannatyne.

    He has a plate in his leg and, with the support of the charity, has since had surgery to correct the difference between his legs.

    The residential home was bought by Fr Walters after Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne donated £60,000 to the charity in 2004.

    Half the charity’s £400,000 income comes from kind-hearted Scots.

    Fr Walters and his 50-strong team are helping around 800 people, many of whom they have found during weekly dawn patrols, where they hand out rolls and hot chocolate.

    Gabi, 17, was taken under the wing of the team last year when she was seven months pregnant. She now has aseven-month-old baby.

    She first tried marijuana at the age of seven and was using it seriously by 11. Then it was glue and cocaine.

    She said: "I became involved in prostitution when I was 12. I was hooked on drugs and I had to pay for my habit."

    This went on for four years and, on agood day, she would earn £11.

    The Gomez family, who were displaced from the countryside as a result of the violence, were also helped by the charity. They had spent eight years living under a bridge in Medellin with their four kids.

    After being found by the charity last year, they were given a flat – the first time their eight-year-old son had lived in a house with a window.

    Fr Walters said: "The youngest children we have found living alone on the streets are six-year-olds.

    "We consider ourselves the organisation of last resort.Our idea is that we never give up with a child."

    But his job is getting harder and a lack of funds has meant building work on an extension to Casa Walsingham has been stalled.

    But his first and last concern is the children – and right now he is worried that the speed with which they are going on to hard drugs is quickening.

    Fr Walters said: "Children who go on to the street generally go through a process.

    "They start sniffing glue and that is almost compulsory because if they don’t sniff glue, the other children will reject them.

    "They will go from glue to marijuana and then bazuco, which is the by-product from cocaine and heroin.

    "It used to be a gradual process and once a child gets to the bazuco stage, it is very, very hard to help him or her.

    "But a process that used to take months or years is, in some cases, only taking weeks because there are many more places they can find it."

    Fr Walters has an affinity with Scotland. His mother, who died last May at the age of 92 while visiting him, was from Corstorphine, Edinburgh.

    But he wants more users to realise the heartache their habit is causing.

    Fr Walters said: "We feel very strongly that the people who buy drugs in countries like Scotland are fuelling the violence and corruption that causes so much misery here.

    "They are the ones who I hold accountable for the suffering and death of so many children over here.

    "Colombia gets a very bad press but most Colombians in no way benefit from drugs.

    "They just suffer from all the violence and the poverty and the corruption that it causes."

    Arley Hernandez was the first street kid Fr Walters met when he started working in Medellin.

    Arley, who the priest called his "eldest son", spent seven years with the charity and managed to break away from drugs and street life.

    But, while working in the town of Arauca, on the Venezualan frontier, he was shot 23 times.

    No one was ever charged over his killing. Fr Walters carried out his own inquiries and, the next day, someone he had spoken to was killed.

    Arley’s ashes were interred in the chapel at Casa Walsingham.

    A plaque to commemorate his life features a quote from a Colombian song.

    It reads: "If you want me to improve my failures and my errors, give me time and see if I can fly."

    Take the street kids bowling

    Take the street kids bowling


    Take the street kids bowling

    Denver Dry Bones nonprofit makes homeless outreach personal

    It’s a Thursday evening and 50 to 60 "street kids" are piling onto a bus. Mostly teenagers and into their 20s, their living situations range from "couch surfing," that is, crashing with friends, to abject homelessness, sleeping under bridges.

    Today, they’re going bowling.

    The scene repeats every Thursday, and volunteers like Laura, who asked that we not use her last name, help make it happen. Laura is a volunteer with Dry Bones, a Denver-based, Christian nonprofit that reaches out to the street kids of Denver. For her, that means chartering a bus to carry them from downtown Denver to Bowlero Lanes in Lakewood where, every week, they rent out ten lanes. When it’s time to come back, she and other Dry Bones volunteers provide a free meal.

    It’s an unusual sounding approach, but Laura says turnout has grown, forcing them to book more and more lanes. "The word just spreads that Dry Bones is going to take you bowling," she says.

    It is, of course, but one part of Dry Bones’ overall work. But to get to know the street kids – whom Dry Bones members don’t hesitate to call their friends – she says, it’s important. Their work isn’t measured by the hour, but by months and years.

    Dry Bones staff member Matt Wallace can explain why. "Most of our friends have suffered some form of abuse," he says. "A somewhat typical story is to get passed from mom (who is addicted to cocaine) to grandpa (who sexually molests) to a foster parent (who is just looking for a paycheck) to a group home (where another young person acts out the abuse that has been done to them). More often than not, they get to a place where they say, ‘I can do a better job raising myself than anyone else has ever done.’"

    This decision, he says, leads kids to the streets, and often to drug addiction.

    The road to recovery is a long one, but it’s not as simple as throwing money or services at the problem. "They don’t trust you," Laura says. "They don’t trust you for months on end. They don’t think you really care about them."

    To Dry Bones staff, that relationship is the first step, and if it takes months for street kids, who’ve been wronged by life at every turn, to open up to a grown adult like Laura, they’re prepared.

    "We hope that there is not one young person living on the streets that can legitimately say or believe, ‘There’s no one in this world that loves me,’" said Wallace.

    It’s only after that long struggle that most street kids will have enough trust to ask for the help they need. "Someone’s going to get help if they want help," she says. "If you try to force it, it’s not going to work."

    In the meantime Dry Bones staff and volunteers do what they can to keep their friends safe and healthy.

    That can include visits in jail or the hospital, 12-step meetings, public feedings and family-style meals at the table and even help acquiring documents like birth certificates and social security cards. For kids who have, as far as the public is concerned, fallen off of the face of the earth, it’s an important step to getting back on their feet.

    But there’s also the unconventional, odd acts of outreach here and there – things that fall well outside most peoples’ ideas of the role of charity. Laura mentions, in particular, a photography class and exhibit of their photos.

    "I was like, ‘photography?’" she recalls. "’They need a house! They don’t need to take pictures!’ … That exhibit, what it did for the people who had photos, it was huge. I ate my words so much after that."

    In Laura’s line of work, those victories are rare and hard-won.

    "In my orientation," she says, "they had a guy who was interning for a year. He said ‘the best way I can describe it is watching paint dry. If you’re coming in expecting to volunteer, walk away feeling like ‘I’ve changed somebody’s life,’ it’s not going to happen.’ It’s such a slow process. You should not be in it for yourself."

    To date, the Dry Bones program has drawn so much attention that volunteers have been turned away. Church youth groups must even compete in a lottery system for weeklong visits in the summer. For more information, or to donate to Dry Bones, go to http://drybonesdenver.org.

    Vine Trust: Building a future for the forgotten

    RESCUED: Willie McPherson, the executive director of Scottish charity the Vine Trust, is surrounded by children at the clinic in Puerto Belen. Picture: EMMA COWING
    RESCUED: Willie McPherson, the executive director of Scottish charity the Vine Trust, is surrounded by children at the clinic in Puerto Belen. Picture: EMMA COWING

    AFTER all he’s been through, the young Peruvian boy being helped by a tiny Lothian charity might have been expected to shed a tear.

    Abandoned by his family and left to live with sheep, he was penned up alongside the livestock until he escaped to run wild in the city. Now when Fernando does cry – which isn’t very often – he makes the sound of a lamb bleating.

    It’s heartbreaking for those who witness it, but at least those pitiful cries are increasingly giving way to a sound that is even less familiar to the tragic youngster – he is slowly learning to laugh.

    On Friday, Fernando will move into his new home. Nestling in the spectacular foothills of the Andes on the outskirts of Cusco, the ancient capital of the sun-worshiping Inca empire, sits the low rise, terracotta-roofed centre that will give him shelter and food, where he will be clothed, educated and, most importantly, loved.

    It’s a long way – around 6000 miles – from the small office in Port Seton which is the hub of the Vine Trust, the charity behind Fernando’s new custom-built home and a string of similar centres dotted around Peru’s harshest cities.

    Yet it’s in the picturesque harbour village of Port Seton that a trio of charity workers gather daily to help transform the lives of Fernando and countless other Peruvian street children.

    Only they – and a small handful of privileged others – know the true identity of the mystery benefactor whose generous donation funded the construction of the Trust’s latest centre in Cusco.

    And they are sworn to secrecy, laughs expedition leader and education officer Calum Munro. "All I can say is an individual has paid for that centre, and it’s an anonymous donation," he insists. "The donor doesn’t want to be identified and we must respect that."

    However it can’t stop the speculation. Maybe a lottery winner, maybe a millionaire business executive? Or could it possibly be Edinburgh-based Harry Potter author JK Rowling – she has previously donated first edition novels to help Ghanaian street children and is co-founder of a charity which works to help vulnerable children across Europe?

    Whoever has felt inspired enough to dig deep has Fernando’s gratitude. For the new centre in Peru’s breathtaking Sacred Valley means a second chance at life for the youngster.

    "We have fallen in love with this boy," says Paul Clark, of Union Biblica Del Peru, Vine Trust’s partner organisation in South America. "His background is different from any other we have ever encountered.

    "Fernando was brought up with animals – mainly sheep, rather than with other humans. He was put out to live in the pens and sheep folds, which are common on Peru’s Andean slopes.

    "Some abandoned boys never cry, which is very sad," he adds. "Others, like Fernando, can. Except that he does not cry like a little boy. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he bleats, just like a lamb."

    He had become so used to living with only basics that when the charity’s workers offered him a pair of shoes, he insisted he preferred a pair of shepherd’s shoes, ojotas, made from old car tyres.

    "We were told by the police in Cusco that every time he was captured and taken to some institution, he would smash windows and escape," adds Paul.

    His behaviour has improved dramatically under the organisation’s care. And on Friday he will become one of the first occupants of the new home in Urubamba, close to the world famous ruins of Machu Picchu – the Lost City of the Incas.

    In a few weeks, on June 30, a work party organised by the Port Seton team and made up of volunteers will arrive at the Cusco centre for the first time to see the benefits of the new centre.

    Before that, STV viewers will be able to witness the next instalment of the trust’s work, when the second series of Amazon Heartbeat – a documentary-style programme charting the charity’s efforts in Peru – hits the small screen.

    Unlike the first series, which focused on the charity’s efforts to bring medical aid to locals living on the banks of the Amazon through its two specially-equipped boats, Hope 1 and Hope 2, the programmes explore the charity’s work in the wake of last August’s devastating earthquake – it hurriedly set up seven feeding centres while the cameras rolled – and also its involvement running its eight centres for street boys.

    It’s all vital work, says Calum, which is helping to change lives. Without the centres, hundreds of abandoned boys would be left to run wild on tough streets, scrabbling for food in rubbish dumps and stealing to survive.

    "For simply cultural reasons, it tends to be boys who become street children," he says. "For them, survival is the key and one of the ways they survive is by selling themselves sexually in exchange for something as basic as soup.

    "The conditions on the streets are very grim. There is a lot of brutality, neglect and poverty."

    Fernando’s story – desperate as it sounds – isn’t the worst. The charity has records of children being beaten to death after being caught stealing, shot at and then turned away by hospitals reluctant to use expensive drugs on their treatment, and of becoming so withdrawn they lose the will to speak.

    Some are desperately young and vulnerable, adds Calum, such as four-year-old Fernando.

    "Each child has their own different, but equally difficult, story, but usually we find poverty is at the heart of it," he says. "Once they come to us they can stay until they are around 18 – they are never put back to a life on the streets.

    "To be on the streets at only four or five is terrible. Children that young are lucky to survive it."

    Each of the charity’s eight centres – some of them still under construction – provides accommodation for up to 40 boys with house parents who look after them.

    The charity, launched in 1985 in Bo’ness by local churches concerned by the Ethiopian famine, eventually hopes to open a further seven homes for boys in Peru over the next five years.

    In addition to their Amazon Hope medical ships and street boys centres, the charity also runs a clinic in Puerto Belen shanty town, which treats up to 100,000 people every year.

    Being part of the organisation and helping change so many lives is, says Calum, 25, a humbling experience for all
    involved – especially the 300 ordinary people, mostly Scots, who give up their time to volunteer.

    "It is fantastic to see at first hand the work that has been done on constructing the centres," says Calum, who first became involved in the charity on a working holiday to one of its sites.

    "You can read about it but it doesn’t compare with experiencing it," he adds.

    "There is such a sense of hope which these children would never have had before."

    The next series of Amazon Heartbeat starts on STV on May 6 at 11pm. The first series is currently being repeated on STV on Sunday mornings.

    The Vine Trust has its roots at the height of the Ethiopian famine of the Eighties, when churches in Bo’ness initially joined forces to raise funds for aid through a second hand goods shop, Branches.

    It evolved into a Peruvian aid organisation after preacher Willie McPherson visited the country and was touched by the plight of its people. He raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to provide help for street children and medical facilities.

    Later the former assistant minister at Barclay Church of Scotland in Tollcross and one time minister at Bo’ness Old Parish Church, embarked on an ambitious plan to buy and refurbish an old Royal Navy boat and sail it to Peru.

    The initial hope was to use it to generate income for locals through a ferry service. However a donation of vital medical equipment led to it being used as a floating doctors’ surgery. In 2006 it was joined by a second vessel, Hope 2.


    Father Emmett “Pops” Johns – The founder of Le Bon Dieu dans la rue turns 80 today!

    Father Emmett "Pops" Johns – The founder of Le Bon Dieu dans la rue turns 80 today!

        MONTREAL, April 3 /CNW Telbec/ – Father Emmett "Pops" Johns, president
    and founder of Le Bon Dieu dans la rue, is celebrating his 80th birthday
    today. To mark this milestone, the organization unveiled a zinc plaque bearing
    his handprints on the façade of the Chez Pops Day Centre, located at 1662
    Ontario Street East.
        With this gesture, the organization is paying tribute to the person who
    made Dans la rue a reality, by venturing into the streets one night in
    December 1988 with a second-hand van, which he bought with a personal loan for
    $10,000, to offer "help without judgement" to Montreal’s street kids.
        "We are the organization that we are because Father went into the night
    and gave us our raison d’etre," said Aki Tchitacov, executive director of Dans
    la rue.

        An impact on tens of thousands of lives

        "When I think back to the first nights I spent on the Van, never could I
    have imagined that Le Bon Dieu dans la rue would be what it is today. Thanks
    to the support of thousands of volunteers and donors, we have had an impact on
    tens of thousands of young lives – and we continue to reach out to more and
    more every day," said Father Johns.
        In addition to the "Winnebago"-style Van, which offers up hot dogs and
    caring support to over 50,000 young visitors every year, Le Bon Dieu dans la
    rue, or "Dans la rue" for short, has broadened its services over the past
    two decades to include the Bunker emergency shelter, which opened in 1993 with
    20 beds for youths aged 12 to 19, and the Chez Pops Day Centre, which was
    launched in November 1997.
        The Day Centre provides a wide range of activities to street kids,
    including an alternative high school, a cafeteria, employment and
    socioeconomic integration programs, on-site psychologist and nurse
    appointments, services for young parents, tutoring, a front-line outreach team
    and music, art and computer rooms.

        His true calling

        Born in Plateau Mont-Royal in 1928, Emmett Johns was ordained as a
    Catholic priest in 1952, after earning his bachelor’s degree in theology from
    the Université de Montréal. Before founding Le Bon Dieu dans la rue in 1988,
    he was a parish assistant with various communities in Montreal and the pastor
    of Saint Johns Fisher in Pointe-Claire (1974-1986) and Resurrection of Our
    Lord in Lachine (1986-1988). He was also a chaplain for various organizations
    dedicated to helping young girls in crisis as well as the Douglas Hospital.
        Over the years, Father Johns’ achievements have been recognized by a
    number of prestigious institutions. He is a Member of the Order of Canada
    (1999), an inductee into the Académie des Grands Montréalais (2002), a
    recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002) and a Grand
    Officier of the Ordre National du Québec (2003). He has received honorary
    doctorates from Concordia University, McGill University, Saint Paul University
    and the Université du Québec à Montréal. And a 2004 Léger Marketing poll
    ranked Father Johns fifth on the list of the most admired Quebecers of all

        Growing obligations

        It costs more than $3 million a year to keep all of Dans la rue’s
    services – including the Van, the Bunker and the Chez Pops Day Centre – up and
    running. In order to meet these obligations, the organization launched a
    $2.5-million giving campaign in December 2007. To contribute, please call
    (514-526-5222), write (Dans la rue, 895 De La Gauchetière Street West, N-90,
    Suite 220, Montreal, Quebec H3B 5K3) or visit us online (www.danslarue.org).

        About Dans la rue

        Founded in December 1988, Dans la rue is a community-based charitable
    organization that works with street kids and youths at risk in the Montreal
    area. Based on the "help without judgement" philosophy of founder Father
    Emmett "Pops" Johns, the organization offers food, shelter and friendship to
    homeless youths, as well as the resources and services required to help them
    get off the street. Dans la rue also runs a number of prevention programs
    designed to educate young people about the risks and consequences associated
    with living in the streets. Dans la rue has a team of more than 65 full-time
    employees and 135 dedicated volunteers who work with street kids to give them
    what they need to take charge of their lives.

    Vancouver street kids turn to meth

    Vancouver street kids turn to meth
    About 75 per cent of local street youth use crystal methamphetamine, a ‘highly alarming’ study finds
    Darah Hansen, Vancouver Sun
    Published: Tuesday, April 01, 2008

    VANCOUVER – Injection drug use is on the rise among street youth in Vancouver, fuelled by alarming rates of crystal methamphetamine use, a new study has found.

    The federally funded study, authored by medical researchers with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, found that crystal meth users surveyed were four times more likely to inject drugs, compared to drug users who didn’t use crystal meth.

    It’s the first time a large-scale survey of crystal meth use among street youth has been undertaken in Canada. And researchers were shocked by some of its findings, particularly around the sheer prevalence of the drug.

    About 75 per cent of participating street youth reported crystal meth use – a number one of the study authors described as "highly alarming."

    "I don’t think anybody knew it was that pervasive in that population," said Dr. Evan Wood.

    "We’re dealing with a crystal methamphetamine epidemic here."

    By comparison, only about 15 per cent of addicts on Vancouver’s drug-hardened Downtown Eastside reported crystal meth use.

    According to Wood, the study raises serious concerns that this highly addictive and dangerous street drug is creating a whole new generation of injection drug users. With it comes widespread health care implications linked to increased drug overdoses and HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C infection rates.

    Already both HIV and hep C have been detected among local street youth, said Wood.

    The study findings also raise questions around crystal meth injection rates among  youth outside the street culture, given the widespread prevalence of the drug in small towns and suburban neighbourhoods across the country.

    Nearly 500 Vancouver street youth between the ages of 14 and 26 years took part in the study, which spanned September 2005 to October 2006. Most of the participants said they were either living on the streets or spent a significant portion of their day out on the streets.

    "They are people living on the margins of society," said Wood.

    The findings will be published this May in the Australia-based journal, The Drug and Alcohol Review.

    Among other critical findings, the study found that 95 per cent of the youth who reported crystal meth use said it was "very easy" to obtain the drug, while the remaining five per cent said it was "easy" to get.

    "It’s out there," said Wood.

    Eighty per cent of first-time crystal meth users said they were given the drug as a "gift" at a party with friends, and most were sober when they used it.

    The study also found that 25 per cent of first-time crystal meth users injected the drug, while the majority either smoked, snorted or swallowed it.

    However, said Wood, the rate of injection goes up steadily among those who continue to use the drug.

    "Even when we adjusted for all kinds of variables, there seems to be this link between crystal methamphetamine and injection drug use," Wood said.

    Wood said the study did not address why users choose to inject crystal meth. That question will be among the many yet to be answered as researchers continue to probe the issue over the next five years.

    "What leads people to pick up a needle and begin injecting is really a mystery," he said. Researchers are hoping the current study results will catch the interest of federal drug policy makers in Canada, whose current focus is on supply reduction.

    "I do think we need to really start to consider where we are putting our efforts and our resources," Wood said. "Given what we are facing with drugs in society, we really need to start looking at the scientific evidence and modifying what we are doing to address these issues."

    Dodgeball tournament raises funds for Fullerton shelter

    Dodgeball tournament raises funds for Fullerton shelter

    By: Sarah Cruz
    Issue date: 3/26/08 Section: News
    The Staples Center hosted a charity dodgeball tournament to raise funds for a proposed youth shelter in Fullerton.

    Stand Up For Kids, a charity organization focused on helping young homeless and disadvantaged youth, organized the event in coordination with California State Fullerton Public Relations students and the Oxford Academy.

    The Saturday event featured over 46 local and national teams. The players competed for the championship trophy and the L.A. Dodgeball Society earned the first place award.

    It is a misfit group led by captain Handsome Costanza. The Society was not formed specifically for this event; they are a recreational league of dodgeball enthusiasts who pride themselves on spandex and mustaches.

    Other teams banded together just to participate in the tournament.

    "It’s just for fun," Priscilla Chang, a member of JackPotLuck, said. Her team was led by Steven Hwang who is a volunteer at Stand Up For Kids.

    Two years ago, Hwang created the dodgeball tournament. This year, the tournament moved to the Staples Center.

    Stand Up For Kids is the recipient of the proceeds from the event. The center wants to build a shelter in Fullerton for homeless and street kids to have a safehaven away from the street.

    "We rescue homeless and street kids," Dijon Turner, executive director for Stand Up Kids said. "We help them do the things they want to do. We spend time with them. If they want to get a GED, get back in to school [or] get an ID, we go together to the DMV."

    The costumed and mustached players with their retro athletic wear helped bring to light kids who have been forgotten, Turner said.

    "These are a group of people that are swept under the carpet," he said.

    Stand Up For Kids provides food, hygiene items and counsel to kids. Turner said the charity exists for two main purposes.

    "Our two main goals are to relieve suffering of street kids and homeless kids and to relieve the feeling of abandonment."

    Turner hoped the event would bring awareness and increased visibility.

    Five CSUF public relations students worked on the event as part of a requirement for their degree. Anna Ahle, one of the group members, encouraged students to participate in events such as the tournament.

    "Some people think it’s too hard to get involved in volunteering," Ahle said. "They think it takes a lot of time and energy." The dodgeball tournament was a great way for people to volunteer and have fun without spending a large amount of time, she said

    Fullerton may seem to be an odd choice for a youth shelter but despite its affluence, it is a gathering place for homeless and street kids, Turner said.

    "Fullerton is a hub. You have the train station and traveling kids stopping in," he said.

    Turner encourages students to not only become involved in Stand Up For Kids but to show respect and care for homeless and street kids they may meet around town.

    "Be kind and respectful if you see street kids. Go and talk to them. They know people will give them money but they would rather have people talk to them."