‘Responsibility, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbour.’
(The Devil’s Dictionary, 1881– 1911)
Ask him where he lives and he will say near the King’s Palace, but his address is better described as on the other side of the railway tracks. Lek is 10, and was born in Northern Thailand. When he was only 3 months old, his parents died in a road accident. An aunt cared for him for a time, but with too many family problems of her own passed him on to his grandmother in Bangkok. Every day, he leaves the shantytown dwelling they occupy at 5.45 a.m., and finishes his school shift at 3 p.m. In the evening, the ‘professional’ part of the day begins. He buys jasmine garlands in the market for 2½ baht each and sells them to motorists stopping at intersections for 5 baht, making 20 to 40 baht per night (one or two dollars). His earnings eke out what his grandmother makes selling rice porridge from a stall and from occasional odd jobs such as washing dishes.
The police allow Lek to start working only at 8 p.m. when the traffic lightens; he goes on until 11 p.m. or 1-2 a.m. at weekends. Sometimes there is housework to do after that. He has tried collecting waste paper, pushing a cart, or selling ice-cream, but these jobs do not pay so well. Once he took the risk of selling lottery information sheets, but was arrested and held for 45 days. He could not pay the fine which would have bought his freedom. The Police told him they would then leave him alone if he kept his eyes open and acted as an informer.
Other garland sellers he knows do not go to school and sleep near a bridge over the river. Some have been injured in accidents and bullied by gangs of older youths who sniff lacquer and gamble. Lek does not mind his work, but would like to have a store of his own, where people can come to him, rather than have to approach his customers.
Recently, the police have received new orders from the government. Selling flower garlands at intersections has now been declared illegal, and motorists who buy have been warned through notices and leaflets that they face a fine of 500 baht. The authorities describe their policy by saying that ‘if there are no buyers, there will be no sellers’.
(From a Field Report, Thailand)
The perplexity of the official who would like to integrate street children into the community inspires sympathy. Their needs, unlike those of the sick and the starving, go far beyond the provision of food and medicine, or rehydration salts and growth charts. One cannot vaccinate or immunize against the street. The issue goes far deeper, and defies the medical model which colours the typical approach. The phenomenon suggests concentrating on prevention rather than cure.
Acting on this principle, however, does not always translate readily into policy. It is one thing to prevent the occurrence of individual events, like accidents or lawbreaking, but another to prevent the emergence of a general condition. To prevent the marginalization of children, the marginalization of women and communites must also be prevented. Before the stresses of survival in slum conditions cause the breakdown of the family, problems must be tackled at their source. As we have seen, street children are the end-product of a long chain of innumerable causes and effects, and can themselves be seen as a cause of further effects, such as delinquency and violence. The further one goes back from the child himself, the more tenuous the causal link. Families can be counselled or rehoused, but where cure itself would concern hundreds of thousands, or indeed millions, prevention, as the mass formula, recedes to the realms of fantasy.
In view of the rapid and seemingly inevitable growth of cities and consequently of the global numbers of street children, it would be more realistic to envisage a policy of ‘containment’, which keeps a clearer focus, recognizes limitations, and conveys the idea of gradually zeroing in from different angles. The first pre-condition for such a policy of rolling back the problem is for governments to face the facts, to recognize their existence and true extent. Some may find this uncomfortable, especially in industrial countries. In answer to a United Nations questionnaire, the British Government, for example, stated recently: ‘We believe the statutory provisions are operated effectively by local authorities and that as a result we do not have a significant problem with respect to abandoned youth or children living in the streets of urban areas’ (answer to UN Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, Vienna, 1984). Prince Charles, however, ‘saw young dossers near Waterloo Bridge sleeping in cardboard boxes, covered with newspapers and rags’ (Press report, 23 September 1985).
A containment policy will operate against a backcloth of community development. Urban programmes ultimately affecting the lives of women and children follow no set pattern. Budget allocations can take various forms, such as national health and education plans; slum and squatter clearance or improvement schemes; regional development projects, with investment in productive activities intended to hold the population in rural areas and small towns; post-disaster programmes for those affected by drought, flood and armed conflicts; and major public works, such as housing schemes or the provision of water and sanitation. Resources never seem to be adequate. Despite a positive evolution in certain countries, there often seem to be more funds to improve facilities for the better–off, leaving the poorest underserved or not served at all.
But let us not be pessimistic. Interestingly, the Chinese expression for ‘crisis’ consists of two characters, signifying ‘problem’ and ‘opportunity. There is scope for creativity, therefore, even in the most unpromising circumstances. Advocates for the cause must be more than mere merchants of gloom and doom. Man-made disasters can find man-made solutions. The multiplier effects which lead to marginalization of the young can apply equally to positive developments in the other direction. The outlines of a strategy on different levels – involving improvements in social services, the humanizing of institutions, economic and legal measures, and a more efficient use of community resources – begin to take shape. The child, his family, and his community: each requires particular forms of intervention, in the work-place and at home, short-term and long-term.
The traditional approach to the problem of street children would be to look firstly to adoption and fostering as curative measures. Adoption into a new family – the social redistribution of children – is an age-old solution. Under an extended family regime, where childrearing is a collective task, the process takes place informally. In industrial countries, by contrast, legal constraints imposed in the interests of the child are traditionally severe. Street children are not promising candidates for adoption by conventional criteria. Most families who would like to adopt would prefer healthy, single infants as similar as possible to the baby they might have had themselves, and would not look twice at the hardbitten, street-wise 10-year-old trading in ‘grass’.
Two conditions would seem to be required for success. Firstly, legal and adminstrative procedures should be greatly simplified. In Costa Rica, the strong demand for easy adoption among the poor was revealed in 1979 when the government declared that the process would be entirely free of charge. Many families came forward to officialize informal de facto adoptions of several years’ standing. However, in some developing countries the legal obstacles remain considerable. Secondly, the ‘ideal family’ must be replaced by the new, much more flexible concept of special parents for special children. This greatly widens the scope of potential adoptive families by recognizing that there is a better change of emotional bonding between children who had had an unfortunate start in life and parents who have experienced adversity themselves. Adoption agencies must no longer look only for the stereotype: parents in their mid-thirties, not divorced, and with an appropriate income and religious background, but rather for those with general life experience, whose particular gifts can be matched against the children’s particular needs. Single people, older couples, those with medical problems should no longer be ruled out. Men and women who have faced difficulties in their own lives and emerged the stronger for it are well suited to adopting street children. This trend can be seen as restoring to the nuclear family the scope for adoption existing in traditional societies.
Fostering has even greater possibilities. Not being permanent, it represents a lesser commitment than adoption for host families, who are usually easier to find. It is often more appropriate for older children who are able to express opinions about the course of their lives and who do not want too close a link when their independence is in sight. In principle, it can also be used when the crisis is likely to be of a temporary nature, although the evolution of difficult family problems is never easy to predict, and there may be a risk of dis agreement between foster and natural parents.
The indirect sponsoring of street children, national or international, in a project or in their families – a process involving fostering through regular donations towards welfare and education – must also be encouraged. The formula can be applied equally to other categories of children, like those of poor rural families, or preventively to single mothers in danger of seeing their families break up. The enormous disparities between industrial and developing countries allow a small gift to go a long way, and with increasing awareness the formula has considerable scope. Commercial firms, for example, may be willing to make a relatively painless but worthwhile contribution to demonstrate social responsibility and improve their public image.
Retracing the causal steps which dump the child where he is, one looks also to ways of strengthening his family, ‘preventively’. Hitherto, social services have often been widely available, in practice, to support the parents of infants up to 5 years, less between the ages of 6 and 12, and not at all thereafter. The family, as the basic component of society, has therefore hardly even been given adequate recognition by governments, let alone pride of place in social policies. Paradoxically, it is only recently, when the family is most threatened, that its natural virtues are being rediscovered. Although many governments have developed policies aimed at uplifting particularly disadvantaged sections of the population, such as the elderly, the unemployed, or single working women, few have focussed specifically on strengthening the cohesion of the family as a whole, based on an analysis of its role in the development process.
Policies centered more directly on the family can nonetheless counteract the unanticipated side-effects of development, often caused by uncoordinated government policies, which street children, like litmus paper, serve to reveal. As a recent United Nations study on youth maladjustment from a criminological standpoint put it: ‘If one conclusion has to be drawn from our data it would be this: juvenile delinquency is not the inevitable result of poverty and rapid urbanization. The key intervening variable is the strength of adult-child relationships, most notably family relationships’ (Doc. 22, UNSDRI, Rome, 1985). A policy to uphold the family would reinforce its functioning as the basic unit for the human development of all its members, and encourage it to cope more constructively with changes in society, such as urbanization.
Although analysis of the family situation does not always translate readily into recipes for national policy, better access to services, such as day-care or pre-school education, seems to be the most likely avenue for reaching the family as a whole. Other measures possible in industrial society, such as extended maternity or paternity leave, part time work, shorter and more flexible working hours, and children’s allowances, can rarely apply to Third World families.
Governments and departments of social welfare in developing countries wishing to come to terms with the problem are well aware of inadequacies in their coverage of the urban poor, not to mention the rural population. No conventional service providing organization can be expected to keep up when the rate of internal immigration into shantytowns may reach several hundred per day. A system of social security, as it is understood in the industrial world, is practically non existent.
Whatever the structure of services adopted, its effectiveness will also depend on those who implement it. In addition to sheer numbers, officials may face indifference or hostility from the population they are trying to assist if credibility has been previously eroded. Different social contexts preclude identifying any single formula as the best. Evidence suggests, however, that for delivering services to the family and keeping it together, a strong central policy implemented by a decentralized executive organization is preferable. Statutory services will make the most impact where they are best appreciated by the community. Research has highlighted the fact that street children, accustomed to being consistently excluded, would best benefit from services offered if the full range is available at the same place and if they are mutually complementary and reinforcing.
Attention should focus, therefore, on ways of getting support in the first place to those families in difficulty and predisposed to break up, for example single-parent households, those facing chronic illness, unemployment, or extreme poverty. Their identification alone will not be easy, in that by definition ‘prevention’ must cover far more cases than actually occur, and that diagnosis, while distinct from service delivery, may itself affect the family situation. Case workers in the frontline visit ing families will, in any case, not be looking only for potential street children, but for the most urgent family needs and suffering of whatever kind, which their intervention could alleviate. Their priority will not be to get street children into projects, but to work out a sufficiently supportive, viable solution on the spot, using minimum resources. Others well placed to identify cases of families in crisis and intervene appropriately, include doctors, nurses and other health workers, providers of nutrition education, and teachers in preschool and primary classes.
In this context, day-care centres clearly have a central part to play, in that many children are left in the street by parents away from home during the day, working or looking for work. Others may run away from home after being locked up at such times. In the developing world, centres have only rarely been run on a large scale, at least by the State, and not on a priority basis in communities prone to producing street children. While affecting mostly infants, day-care centres can have an impact on the emergence of street children where the older offspring are seriously neglected at the expense of the younger. They are not necessarily community-involving: instead of seeing them as an opportunity for participation and social contacts, some parents may use them rather to leave their children for as long as they can, grateful to have them off their hands, and imagine that the meal provided at mid-day dispenses them from giving anything else. While performing a useful function for parents, such centres are generally considered a poor substitute for family care, meeting the physical but rarely the emotional needs of the child.
Home-maker services, a mirror-image of day-care centres, represent another approach, so far applied mostly in developed countries. Women trained in household work and childcare can be made avail able to parents in the event of sickness or other emergency, until the crisis is past.
Supporting Private Initiatives and NGOs
It is self–evident that to maximize outreach into the population at risk, governments must actively strive for a more constructive relation ship with private initiatives, in forms not restricted to the sharing of service delivery. Recognizing that the problem is beyond the capacity of the state alone to solve, governments should actively support NGOs and create a legal framework within which they can operate.
Non-governmental agencies have taken the lead in highlighting the issue of street children. The Geneva-based Inter-NGO Programme on Street Children and Street Youth, founded in 1982 under the auspices of the International Catholic Child Bureau (ICCB), was among the pioneers in this regard. Drawing on the extensive body of experience developed by private initiatives, it took the first steps towards creating a world–wide network of information and support among field workers and agencies. Much more must be done, however to expand this network, formulate guidelines and co-ordinate programmes.
Inexpensive measures can facilitate the catalytic process. Existing projects, for example, can often be provided with technical advice and support. An atmosphere of goodwill can itself encourage the foundation of new ones. Their initial expenses can be sometimes reduced by a grant of land, or by guaranteeing bank loans for building or expansion. Project holders can be allowed to deduct building costs from taxable income. Their running costs can be kept to a minimum by subsidizing or providing them with food; by paying for the medical and dental care they provide; by waiving or reducing purchase tax on supplies of teaching equipment and other furnishings they require; or by cutting local taxes on their property. Governmental recognition can be extended more easily than at present to informal education, such as evening classes offered by street children projects. African countries, in particular, appear reluctant to recognize NGO alternatives, which may have to make strenuous efforts to prove they are in the public interest.
Some governments may also tacitly embrace a more pragmatic reason for closer cooperation with non-governmental humanitarian organizations. The presence in a city of large numbers of disgruntled young people with nothing to lose may be politically threatening. They are prime targets for those using violence or terrorism as a political tool. Those off the streets – tough, ruthless, unattached, half educated, intellectually vulnerable, and familiar with secrecy and deception – can be perfect recruits. Street youths of today can become the guerillas of tomorrow, rural or urban. Alienated youngsters who resist efforts by the State to reintegrate them may react more postively to NGOs. Authorities may therefore choose to consider support of NGOs an insurance against what they may consider the wrong kind of ideology.
Alongside improvements in external social services, there is an urgent need in many countries to bring residential childcare institutions in from the cold. The first premise of a new policy will be that quality of care is a function of quantity. Homes, open or closed, must be restricted only to those for whom every possible alternative has been explored and found wanting. If they must exist, they should be more alive to community-based solutions, such as placement in a substitute family grouping, and as far as possible should avoid transmitting the insecurity that comes from knowing that one is only in a half-way house. Without excessive investment, many institutions could be run along more humane and imaginative lines. Very often, the inmates do little more than receive, submit passively, and develop a dole-out mentality. Greater participation in the decision-making process of their everyday lives and a stronger emphasis on character–building elements in the educational programme would cost nothing.
One can also envisage a ‘preventive’ role for many better-equipped facilities. Instead of being places where children are placed by court order when their families are no longer able to care for them adequately, they could become resource centres where families near breaking point could find timely help: not the last resort when all else fails but a lifeline able to give both children and their parents the much needed respite to tide them over the crisis.
Releasing New Energies
Vital as such varied provisions are, no linear expansion of state-funded services, ‘urban basic’ or ‘integrated‘, is going to resolve the problem of street children entirely. Although they are greatly deprived, it is not giving them things that will strike at the heart of the issue. Nor is it feasible when the scale of the problem is so great. ‘For every one we touch, a thousand stay on the wayside’ (UNICEF Fieldworker in Brazil). New attitudes must complement material improvements. Faced with a problem which yields only partially to expert advice and costly programmes, one looks to new forms of imaginative endeavour, to ways of mobilizing new resources and energies equal to the task. New sources of inspiration, new forms of outreach and care are required.
Care is indeed the heart of the problem, and the genuine integration of street children into the core culture can only take place in a society which gives greater recognition and a more central place to the caring ethic. Compassionate action and service must be rediscovered, and recognized not as exceptional choices reserved for those prepared to accept lower salaries than their counterparts in business, but as a natural dimension of every professional career, comparable in compensation and job satisfaction to other careers. The humanitarian ethic of solidarity must be decompartmentalized. This will not come about by sermons or wishful thinking: it must be actively nurtured.
It is true that sceptics who choke on the idea of solidarity have never lacked for ammunition. Compare two anecdotes. In 1983, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to William Golding, who made his reputation with his first novel, The Lord of the Flies, presently used as a school text book in forty countries. It tells of a group of English schoolboys whose airliner crashes on an unknown tropical island. The crew are killed, but the children survive. Very quickly, the split into hostile groups, each at the other’s throats, and fighting to kill. Like many pupils, teachers and the reading public have accepted Golding’s thesis, that without the presence of adults to keep law and order, youngsters return to the savage state.
But truth can confound fiction. In 1977, six boys in Tonga, all friends, went fishing. Their boat was caught in a storm and after several terrifying days was wrecked on a reef. The crew had just enough strength left to scramble ashore, onto an unknown tropical island. They realized that it was totally uninhabited. Confronted with their predicament, they promised each other that as long as they were there they would never quarrel, because that would spell the end of them; that they would always go about in pairs, in case one had an accident or got lost; and that two of them would keep guard, day and night. They kept their promises, and 15 months later were found and rescued. They owed their survival to a shared faith; to the fact that none had any reason to exploit the other; and, especially perhaps, to a culture which gave more weight to cooperation than to competition. Modern education has gone to such lengths to subvert this principle that, faced with a similar situation, the urban youngsters of today would be unlikely to react with the same unselfishness and self reliance.
Another example comes from Japan. A famous photograph taken shortly after the explosion of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki shows a boy of about ten carrying a younger child on his back, his face horribly burnt by the radiation. In a moment of supreme crisis, the older boy, instinctively driven to protect the younger, sets off to find help. In 1983, nearly forty years later, a tidal wave triggered by an earthquake carried off 100 people in Akita City. Asked how they themselves would have reacted in the same circumstances, a group of students in Tokyo all replied: ‘I’d have run away.’ Their institute had a fiercely competitive examination policy.
The urge in the young to help a companion in need is natural and universal. Where it seems to have been crushed, it can be provoked and encouraged by creating an appropriate atmosphere. ‘Altruism’ may be a flattering attribute for the brutal cohesion of a gang, but street children do organize themselves spontaneously on cooperative lines which recognizably draw on the same deep-felt needs and aspirations. In Manila, seven or eight will form a team to sell cigarettes at a particular crossroads. The 14-year-old leader collects subscriptions which are paid into a kitty by the 8-year-olds; in return, he helps them out when the need arises, as when the police confiscate their goods. In Chile, a group of totally abandoned children in the same age bracket who lived under a bridge survived entirely by stealing from the market. Shopping lists were drawn up every day and tasks distributed: We need bread, potatoes, fruit…While the older ones went out to ‘work’, others cared for those too young to do so. Their self-help clashed with the norms dictated by the ‘other’ world. What officialdom condemns as delinquency or ‘irregular behaviour‘ is, by a different yardstick, only a natural and positive adjustment to the shock of being alone in a hostile environment .
The marginalization of street children can, paradoxically, create or preserve values which conventional society unwittingly tends to eradicate. These represent a human capital which, with some skill, can be tapped, made to multiply and be reinvested both in its owners and in others. Not only the adult population of downtrodden communities but their children themselves can become the protagonists of their own advancement. Instead of a problem, they become a resource, helpers rather than helped.
One can see the principle at work in the ‘Child-to-Child ‘ programme for primary health care, for example, presently operating in 70 countries. It is based on a social and psychological reality rarely found in the industrial world, namely the custom by which not only mothers but also their older siblings look after younger children. While the mother works, elder brothers and sisters are in charge of feeding, protection and general care. The Programme formalizes this natural, instinctual arrangement and uses it to increase the spread of conventional health delivery systems. Older youngsters are taught to teach smaller ones the rudiments of hygiene, nutrition and first aid. Both derive benefit: for the child, practical knowledge; for the youth, a deeper sense of being useful and of participating in a collective effort. The difference in their ages introduces a powerful, positive dynamic into the relationship.
Matching Energies to Needs
In urban as well as rural areas, the social implications of this technique are far-reaching. The challenge is to draw out the qualities which the youngsters themselves bring: resourcefulness, independence, group loyalty and an enviable spontaneity and feeling for camaraderie; and to draw in, as allies, components of society made aware of their moral responsibility. To bring the two together, to match deprivation and human needs on one side against abundance and human resources on the other, is to give a deeper meaning to the concept of community participation.
This is in no way utopian. Being in the city, street youngsters, children and youths, have the specific asset of already being close to professional expertise and political power. Unlike some other deprived populations, they are visible for all to see, and theoretically in a position to benefit from the urban bias in development policies. Resources – intellectual, human, technical, and financial – are there just down the street, already overtaxed, no doubt, but waiting for ingenuity and decisiveness to bend them to the task.
Community service, for instance, a freely-given involvement with the human needs of others, opens a door which may be partially inviting when expensive vocational training programmes offer no guarantee of a job. Though rarely taken into account in governmental planning, a wealth of experience, in both industrial and developing countries, attests to its potential. Traditionally, volunteers have raised funds for charitable causes and visited the sick in hospital. The scope of voluntary action, however, goes far beyond the occasional helping hand, and cuts across barriers of class and age. Mobilized and concentrated on a particular problem, it provides a different, ‘demonetarized’ frame of reference.
Two pioneering American programmes, one small and urban, the other larger and rural, show how, given strong leadership, the young deprived can be helped to break out of their predicament and contribute themselves, on a voluntary basis, to the well-being of those around them.
In New York, groups of youths, mostly, but not only, of Hispanic origin, have been organized into patrols to protect passengers in the subway. They wear a red beret and a white tee-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Guardian Angels’. Working in unarmed teams of five or more, they rely on numbers and the appearance of discipline to dissuade muggers, and to protect people when public safety is threatened. The railway police hate them because they are perceived to expose their incompetence, but they have won the sympathy of the subway staff, ambulance teams, and the public at large.
Although everyone needs a salary, many youths at the street level yearn for something less tangible: under the skin, they burn for recognition, responsibility, a chance to count for something in the scheme of things, and perhaps a dash of adventure and risk. The California Conservation Corps offers all these elements. Youths of both sexes and all ages (including 5% physically handicapped) perform tasks which they and the public consider important – reforestation, clearing up river banks, improving the environment, and helping the community during emergencies, such as fire, flood, or plagues of insects which threaten crops. Their own sense of purpose and initiative redoubles the benefit to the public, and increases cost-effectiveness.
Perhaps the most significant feature of community service along these lines is that the process works in both directions, both through outreach from society towards the deprived and from the deprived themselves back to other target groups. Boys in closed-door institutions as young as fifteen, for example, not to mention older youths, have been given the opportunity to become volunteers themselves, and so answer the human needs of their fellow men: not those of others of their own age, but of the elderly or of young children, in a process of cross-fertilization. In John Steinbeck’s words: ‘A boy becomes a man when a man is needed.’
A youngster becoming aware, perhaps for the first time, that he is not the only one to face hard times, and is actually needed, reverses the terms of his relationship with the world. Critically, it liberates him from the tyranny of the peer group. From being always on the receiving end, he finds himself in control and actually able to cope with a situation. The road to regaining self-esteem and confidence in human nature, the core of the whole social and psychological issue, lies open. Some claim that provoking such a revelation, by immersion in helping others, is not one way of ‘rehabilitating’ the young in trouble, but the only way.
Resources lying fallow can also be identified in many institutions of learning, such as universities and technical colleges, which represent a concentration of capital often insufficiently involved with the social problems of their own communities. Whether in industrial or developing countries, these institutions tend to see themselves as the trustees of intellectual, not humanitarian, values and to shrink from getting their hands dirty with the human needs on their doorsteps, in the street and elsewhere.
One promising approach for their expressing a more caring ethic lies through ‘study service’, also known as ‘service learning’, or ‘the humane application of knowledge’. This is the practice of making involvement in practical service to the neighbourhood an integral part of education and training. Education for the one and help for the other interlock. Students of technical drawing , home economics, and woodwork, for example, have invented and built aids for the disabled, after a face-to-face appreciation of their daily existence. Its possibilities of reaching into the deprived population, in different settings and combinations, are only now beginning to be appreciated perhaps owing to resistance from those who fear a drop in academic standards. Yet humanitarian concern and intellectual challenge are not necessarily in mutual conflict: the urge to help others can stimulate study and bring understanding born of personal experience.
Undergraduates in certain American cities have been ‘paired’ with street youths, teaching and supervising them on a part-time basis for pocket money, at a fraction of the cost of institutional care. Medical students in Turkey have been assigned for a year to slum families in crisis, to lend support and demonstrate the importance of preventive health techniques. Similarly, Governments have released civil service trainees for six-month assignments to hostels for the homeless, in order to learn to deal with people rather than paper. Such activity is particularly valuable when the volunteer aims at the role of catalyst or ‘animateur‘, spreading the ethos of service to those who are helped. Schools have an almost unlimited capacity for releasing human potential and for acting as agents of social cohesion and change. Cross age tutoring, by which the older help the younger on a one-to-one basis, can multiply the educational benefit, encourage self-reliance, and support the weakest; it is no more than what happens naturally in many Third World villages. Similarly, in the evenings, at weekends and in the holidays, academic, workshop, and recreational facilities can easily be used by ‘marginal’ groups.
One can envisage other professions infused with the caring ethic lending their skills to the task, if not directly, then as part of the wider vision. Many believe, indeed, that not only educators, but all professions have a moral responsibility to act on behalf of those with little control over their own circumstances, who are seldom heard, and have no choice as to where or how they live. Colombian universities produce 300 architects a year, to whose flair superb villas bear witness, but how many have concentrated on low-cost housing for the inhabitants of shantytowns? In contrast, students of industrial design in Venezuela have modified forty-foot containers so as to make them easily convertible into durable dwellings for the homeless.
We have mentioned psychology. Experimentally, street children have been taught sophrology, a universal technique of mental relaxation developed in Bogota for treating psychoromatic diseases. First results claim to reduce anti-social tendencies. More realistically, the nascent profession of personal counselling, presently a luxury for the lucky few, could help those who by definition have no sympathetic and responsible adult to whom to relate. It is the opposite of teaching in that it accepts the subject just as he or she is, instead of imposing its own values. Perhaps its strongest card in the present case lies in its being happy just to listen, a role filled adequately by no other profession.
In the world of work, trade unions would seem to be potential allies of street youngsters in helping to extend the benefits of labour legislation to the unprotected. They have traditionally seen those in the informal sector as possible rivals, but unions in several developing countries already provide courses in family life education.
One cannot rule out the armed services. In many countries, armies with an eye on recruitment are anxious to develop their public image not only in terms of their traditional role but also of their everyday usefulness to the population. In many developing countries, they absorb a high share of national wealth, and represent an underused reservoir of skilled manpower. While strongly identified with the Establishment, defence forces normally kept out of sight may be more acceptable to the ‘marginal population’ than the Police. As well as running sporting, recreational, and – in at least one Brazilian case musical activities for deprived children, they could consider making better use of their ability to impart technical skills to young teenagers in double-quick time, breaking down stereotypes in the process.
One thinks, too, of the great human potential represented by the elderly. In growing numbers, they have time available, welcome new reasons for living, and are often well-suited to relate to youngsters who have difficulty with their parents’ generation.
As these examples show, the search for solutions does not imply merely extending, improving, or duplicating what exists already nor just promoting a saintly self-sacrifice; rather it demands willingness to question traditional patterns of response. The lesson of community service is that to absorb street children and youngsters into mainstream culture today, fieldwork must also take into account the great truth that ‘the human heart is touched not by being given something, but by having something asked of it’. It is a philosophy complementary to, but often unappreciated by, traditional systems of providing more services. To help prevent the emergence of more street children tomorrow, one must hope that spread of concern will become as important as depth of concern, and that education will become not only an ‘on going’ but an ‘on-giving’ process, based on fitness for survival, rather than on the survival of the fittest.
The next chapter looks at how advocacy can advance the cause of street children in the national and international setting and what can concretely be done to help them.