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.”


The street children of Buenos Aires

The street children of Buenos Aires

IN NEED: Michelle Joana More, 12, visits CAINA, a center for assistance that provides showers, food, play and some education to street children.
IN NEED: Michelle Joana More, 12, visits CAINA, a center for assistance that provides showers, food, play and some education to street children.

• More than 3,000 children — twice as many as in 2001 — wander the streets begging, scrounging through trash or opening cab doors for some change. Most have somewhere to go at day’s end, but 700 sleep on the streets every night.

• 75 percent are boys, 25 percent are girls.

• 30 percent of their fathers and 70 percent of their mothers are out of work.

• About 30 percent to 40 percent say they left home to escape poverty or domestic abuse and violence.

Source: CAINA and Buenos Aires city government


The Centro de Asistencia Integral a la Niñez y la Infancia, or CAINA, assists street children in Buenos Aires. It is partly funded by the city government.

Donations can be sent by checks made out to Asociación Civil Los Chicos de la Calle, Av. Paseo Colón 1366, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It’s advisable to send checks to Argentina by courier or, if using regular post, with signature confirmation and proof of delivery or return receipt.

CAINA’s e-mail address is

Buenos Aires opens internet cafes for street kids

Buenos Aires opens internet cafes for street kids » VivirLatino

(blog entry) 


I am not sure whether to applaud this or ask the question: "why internet cafes and not places for them to live?":

"The government of the Argentine capital inaugurated the first "cybercafe" for children and adolescents who live on the street, the first of five of these facilities expected to open in the city.

"More than a simple cafe with internet access or just a place where one can play games online, the new facility is a "learning and recreation" space to help better the living conditions of "these children that have lost almost everything," said Jorge Telerman, Mayor of Buenos Aires, during the opening of the cafe.

According to Spain’s 20 Minutos, these cafes will offer, on top of internet access, recreational and educational activities, and light meals.

The idea for this project was supposedly born from data that showed that homeless children in Argentina spent 60% of the money they receive panhandling on cybercafes.

While on the surface it seems like a great idea — providing internet access, and therefore access to information, education, and the world in general to these children — my mind can’t help but wonder why more basic needs aren’t covered first, like a home, foster parents, meals and education.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or does it overlook these children’s well-being?

Adding leaven to young lives…

Tools and Blankets
Adding leaven to young lives…

Learning a trade at La Casita
Photo: Hogar La Casita, for CWS

At "La Casita," abandoned or marginalized young people in Buenos Aires, Argentina, are gaining not only self-acceptance, but are also learning breadmaking, meal preparation, and catering — skills that offer future employment possibilities.

Tools and Blankets provided industrial-grade stoves and kitchen equipment so the training can be done under real work conditions.

"La Casita" is a home for street children and adolescents between the ages of 8 and 21. At any one time there are around 35 young people housed within the "La Casita" network of four homes.

Children and adolescents in the alternative homes receive public school instruction, both formal education and skills training. Sometimes, the young people are apprenticed to a particular trade — and they receive pay for their education/training.

At home, they divide their time among study, work, meal preparation, recreation, and rest. And many of the young people grow in their understanding of themselves as worthy human beings — children of God.

Church World Service’s partner there, the Association for Assistance and Promotion of Street Children, works with "La Casita" to reunite the young people with their biological families whenever possible. One year, ten children returned to their families. Most of the adolescents, though, graduate as self-supporting individuals.

"La Casita" is one of many CWS-supported programs across Latin America and the Caribbean, helping the tragically-high and growing number of street children live life more abundantly.

Tools and Blankets: Share in a hope-filled tomorrow!


  • Argentina is about the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River
  • 12 million people live in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, the capital
  • Latin America has only 10 percent of the world’s children, but more than 50 percent of the world’s street children. (There are between 40 and 50 million street children in Latin America and the Caribbean.)

Games help street teens learn

By Roberto Belo
BBC in Buenos Aires

Street children in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires are learning new skills, thanks to their passion for video games, say researchers.

Julio, a 15 year old street child from Buenos Aires, explains a game to a friend. Picture: Centre for Media Studies

Julio (right) is one of the street children who regularly plays games

After a two-year study, the research institute, the Centre for Media Studies concluded that gaming helps the children improve their reading on screen and their ability to resolve conflicts.

It seems to be key in developing strategies to overcome obstacles and reach goals, and even in allowing them back into mainstream society.

According to this study, eight out of 10 of the up to 5,000 children living or working in the streets of Buenos Aires are regular game players, mostly in cyber cafés and arcades.

"We found that kids from the streets learn playing with video games," said sociologist Tatiana Merlo Flores told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"We also witnessed a very strong social inclusion and empowerment process. They learn from each other."

Cyber friends

This trend is also being seen in other countries around the world.

The next step, researchers say, is to make use of this potential as a true alternative learning tool, and for that they want to appeal to the games software industry.

Street child in Buenos Aires. Picture: Centre for Media Studies
80% are regular game players
95% of boys go to cyber cafés and arcades almost daily
Girls prefer home console games
66% prefer non violent games
Source: Centre for Media Studies, Buenos Aires

The Centre for Media Studies in Buenos Aires also identified the development of a one-to-one relationship between the teens and other regulars at the arcades or cyber cafés.

This can be seen in downtown Buenos Aires at lunchtime, where it is not unusual to see a office worker playing alongside a street child.

"In that moment, they are all friends, and they play in the same level. The kids broke the digital divide, although they don’t know it", said Dr Merlo Flores, who teaches at the University of Buenos Aires and at the Catholic University of Argentina.

Julio, a 15-year-old teenager who works on the streets and dreams of managing a cyber café, has first-hand experience of such an episode.

"I have a businessman friend who works with computers. I’ve spent a year playing alongside him," said Julio.

"We would always meet at the store he had in downtown Buenos Aires. We have become very close friends."

Some children even have an e-mail, and they share it with their peers, in order to communicate with friends both from Argentina and the rest of the world.

Learning tool

Tatiana Merlo Flores stresses that games provide street children with the challenge and the encouragement that they not always get from school.

Children playing video games

Most of the boys go to arcades or cyber cafés every day

"You can see them, leaving their packages and containers with paper and cartons, and get into these arcades to play," she said.

"They might spend up to half of their wages in that. They pay for this informal way of learning, because this is actually learning."

The next step forward, according to her, is to knock on the door of the big games software companies in order to be able to make full use of the potential of games.

"If we work with them, this could be a wonderful way to promote learning, in a way that children already want," said Dr Merlo Flores.

Fear for Safety/ Death threats: Marcelino ALTAMIRANO

Argentina: Fear for Safety/ Death threats: Marcelino ALTAMIRANO – Amnesty International:

PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 13/015/2003

UA 263/03 Fear for Safety/ Death threats 09 September 2003

ARGENTINA Marcelino ALTAMIRANO (m), human rights defender

Amnesty International is seriously concerned for the safety of Marcelino Altamirano, coordinator of the street children’s home La Casita del Puente Afectivo (The Little House of the Bridge of Affection) in the city of Mendoza. He has been harassed on several occasions and has received threatening telephone calls.

Most recently on 29 August, his car was set fire to, possibly using a Molotov cocktail, whilst parked a few metres from a room containing five sleeping children. A few minutes later an unidentified caller left a message saying ‘te hicimos la maldad’, ‘we did it’. A complaint about the incident has been filed with the local police station, Comisar�a 25.

La Casita del Puente Afectivo was created in 2001 to work with street children at high risk, in order to help with their social reintegration. The day before the attack, Marcelo Altamirano had publicly complained on a local radio program about the ill-treatment of children by members of the police and about the corruption of public officials.

Human rights defenders working in Mendoza are often target of harassment and threats. Amnesty International has expressed its concern about their safety and consistently asked for thorough and independent investigations into the judicial and public complaints submitted in this regard. It has also submitted its concerns regarding the ill-treatment reportedly suffered by street children to the Mendoza Provincial authorities. On 29 January 2003, the organization addressed the provincial and national authorities regarding the arbitrary detention of children begging in Mendoza city (See AMR 13/03/2002, 29 January 2003).

AI Index: AMR 13/015/2003 9 September 2003"

Order to Arrest Street Children Postponed Following Church’s Protests

LWF – News – Argentina: Order to Arrest Street Children Postponed Following Church’s Protests:

Complaints of Abuse in Police Custody

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina/GENEVA, 25 October 2001 (LWI) – An order on police to routinely round up street children and beggars in Buenos Aires Province has been suspended following protests by the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (UELC) and other sections of civil society in Argentina.

Provincial Security Minister, Ram�n Ver�n, has put on hold the directive issued by the provincial police chief for coordination and operations last August. The police force had been instructed to carry out special operations and “bring before the juvenile courts any children and young people found unprotected and/or begging on the public highways.” Spokespersons for non-governmental organizations point out that the order has been “suspended” not revoked.

In a September letter to Ver�n and Buenos Aires Provincial Governor, Carlos Ruckauf, the UELC said it considered the order in question as “a mistaken interpretation” of the Supreme Court decision whereby the Protection of Minors Act was declared unconstitutional.

The church said it was shocked to see the provincial police take repressive action in a social situation already fraught with anguish. This year the Buenos Aires Supreme Court had recorded 800 complaints from minors citing ill-treatment when in police custody. Complaints also are received through human rights’ organizations.

The UELC letter said the police “as an institution had broken down” particularly in dealing with issues concerning minors. The overcrowded conditions in which detainees are held in police stations meant that “minors are in contact with hardened criminals whose records and mental problems show them to be dangerous.”

The letter signed by UELC President Rev. Angel Furl�n warned that the action on street children and beggars is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Argentina ratified in 1994. The church called for the police order to be lifted.

The letter further stated that the measure effectively implies that it is a crime to be poor, and complicates the already bleak picture of poverty in the country especially in Buenos Aires Province where there are an estimated 400,000 families living in poverty.

The UELC requested the Buenos Aires provincial administration to commit itself to working with civil society on the implementation of appropriate measures to deal with such families and their children. "