Honduran street child is face of hurricane's cataclysm FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 16 Nov 1998 15:51:51 -0400


=46WD
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Streetkid-L: Promoting awareness of the plight of street children
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This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Friday,
November 13th, 1998. You can see it at:
<http://www.sptimes.com/Worldandnation/111398/Numb_and_lost_orpha
n.html>

NUMB AND LOST. ORPHAN IS FACE OF CATACLYSM
A generation of Honduran children has lost homes and families; a
charity seeks =ECan airlift of teddy bears=EE.

By DAVID ADAMS Times Latin America Correspondent, St.
Petersburg Times, published November 13, 1998.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Nine-year-old Cristian Alvarado is a
living example of the trauma left in the wake of Hurricane Mitch.

When his home by the Choluteca River outside Tegucigalpa was
washed away in the storm, he was the only survivor in a family of
16. His parents, one grandmother and a dozen brothers and sisters
all died.

Crying, he ran naked from his home and somehow he escaped the
floodwaters. For almost two weeks he lived off the mercy of people
in the capital who gave him food and clothing. At night he curled up
in a fruit vendor's wooden cart.

On Thursday a woman took pity on him and delivered him into the
arms of Casa Alianza, a local charity affiliated with Covenant
House, the New York-based organization working with homeless
children in Mexico and Central America.

"We just found Cristian in front of our Crisis Center," said Bruce
Harris, the regional director of Casa Alianza. "A woman came over
and said, "This child has nobody."

Too small to fully appreciate his circumstances, Cristian blurted
out what happened to his family.

"The house fell and I ran out. I was naked and I ran, I ran," he said,
fingering the wheels of a miniature toy truck -- a gift from Casa
Alianza. "I didn't want to die."

His face and clothes grubby from days spent on the streets, he
haltingly listed the names of his brothers and sisters: "Roberto,
=46rancisco, Rolen, Carlos, Donis ... I can't think of all their names,
they're all gone," he said.

With no sign of emotion, he bluntly described how his father died,
garroted by a wire around his neck. His mother lost a leg and was
practically disemboweled by the rocks that crashed through their
home. "They put her in a bag and buried her," he said.

On Thursday employees from Casa Alianza gave Cristian his first
proper meal since the storm. He gulped it down, turning between
mouthfuls to his new family to utter his thanks. Later he was given
a medical examination and put in the hands of the center's child
psychologist.

"What stuns me, is that he explains it so matter of factly =F1 no
emotion," said Harris. "That's shock. The shock doesn't allow him
to express his feelings. They are trapped inside."

Cristian's state provides a tragic glimpse of the trauma that is being
witnessed all over Honduras, after an estimated 7,000 lives were
lost and thousands more were left homeless by Mitch.

"The emotion is in there, but it's behind this facade of survival," said
Harris. "At some point in time it has to come out, and that's part of
our work here with the kids. We try to help them get over these
situations."

Casa Alianza has an impressive record in the region working with
homeless street children, often cast off by poor families. Many turn
to petty crime and become addicted to glue-sniffing or hard drugs.
=46requently the children are victims of brutality by police who regard
them as hardened criminals.

In poverty-stricken Central America, where there are so many other
social problems to attend to, the plight of the region's children is
one of its most neglected issues. In Tegucigalpa, a city of 1-
million, Casa Alianza social workers attend to an average of 1,500
homeless children a year. They estimate there are 5,000 to 7,000
street children in Tegucigalpa alone, and maybe as many as
20,000 across the country.

After Mitch, Casa Alianza fears those numbers could rise
dramatically.

"This is the new generation of street children. Cristian is the first,"
said Harris. "These are children who are new orphans who have
nobody, and if they spend too much time on the street they are
going to fall into the vices of the street. They are going to be
sniffing glue. They are going to be petty thieves. It's a real problem
and it's going to grow."

Cristian's case is a classic example. He lived with his parents in
the shantytown of San Francisco, on the outskirts of the capital.
They were poor, but seemingly a close-knit family. Left on the
streets without the proper care, Cristian's emotional trauma would
likely lead him down the same path to self-destruction.

"Unless they (his feelings) are worked upon and he comes to the
realization of what happened to his family, then he's going to be
affected emotionally for a long time," said Harris.

Casa Alianza's solution is teddy bears.

"We need an airlift of teddy bears," said Harris. "What we need
are100,000 teddy bears for children who are on their own, so they
have someone to go to bed with at night to provide them with
security. Someone who they can tell their innermost fears and
concerns, and won't tell them to shut up. They need someone to
hug and hold onto,  who won't reject them."

The value of teddy bears -- toys too -- was immediately apparent in
Cristian's case.

As he answered journalists' questions while playing with his toy
truck, he began to open up. Asked how he would cope without his
family he said simply, "I'll have to look after myself alone."

The other night as he slept in his cart, he dreamed of his mother. "I
felt a cold chill go through me," he said.

Harris tried to comfort him. "Don't worry. We are going to look after
you," he said. Cristian's eyes turned to a squeaky toy -- a green
and black spider -- Harris was holding.

"Can I have it?" asked Cristian eagerly. "It's yours," replied Harris,
handing it over.

The little boy's face was transformed. He stood up -- all of 3 feet --
and put his arms around Harris, burying his face in his chest. They
held onto each other, as Cristianbegan to show the first signs of
emotional release.

"Muchas gracias," he said politely, as he let go and began
squeezing the spider instead. -- Casa Alianza's work in Honduras
can be viewed on the Web at:  www.casa- alianza.org. Bruce
Harris can be contacted by e-mail at:  info@casa-alianza.org.

-----------
=46or European friends, The Sunday Times in London will run an
article on the work of Casa Alianza in Honduras on November 15th,
1998.
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