The most difficult part of my journey was visiting Casa de las Flores in San Cristobal. It’s a daytime safe house for the “children of the streets” – not necessarily orphans or homeless children but young ones who spend their day selling trinkets, polishing shoes, begging, singing, etc. They do not have much of a childhood – no school but also no food, no play, no kindness or affection. Their ages range widely – basically as soon as they can walk around town they are being put to work. The little ones still have a smile and a wave of their hand but if fades fast. They learn that not selling anything results in beatings and starvation. The older ones will be abused sexually, physically; mentally – human trafficking is doing quite well in this area.
Claudia is the woman who started the shelter. Of course, for safety reasons neither full names nor addresses will appear on this page. She has dedicated many years to creating a place where any child can come and rest, eat, have some peace from the constant incredible stress he or she is facing. Later she added games – something totally unknown by most – and a shower so that once a week street dirt, lice and fleas can be at least threatened if not eliminated. In the last years, 2 more people have decided to help as educators, trying to teach reading and some basic arithmetic but mostly struggling with health education, human rights, and protection from abuse and so on.
The worst part is the helplessness – children come a few times and then disappear forever. Or they call from a cell phone telling Claudia they have been kidnapped but have no clue where they are. Or they are beaten by their parent and forbidden to return to Casa de las Flores and Claudia must watch them selling braided bracelets to tourists, fully knowing they have not had anything to eat in days.
Both AFCB and Abrazos have in the past supported the food costs and some other minor projects. It is but a small drop in the ocean and we do not know what else can be done to help, since many children are unable to come regularly for breakfast or lunch.
One day, walking through the city, I offered buns to each encountered child. Not a single one refused me. I felt more useless than ever and this part of my journey continues to bring up a lot of deep sadness and anger.