The Unheard Stories of Street Children
Who among us can blame another person? The sad fact is that it happens every single day. We all fall into the temptation without even realizing it. We walk down the street and judge others based on their looks, perceived poverty, smell, clothes, or assumed mental states. But why must these judgments exist in everyday society? We are called to be Christians and spreading the pure “Love” of God, but we get held back by our own prejudices in sharing The Word with the people God places in our paths. Always make sure your heart is open-wide and welcomes every person that you meet! Was Jesus afraid of the homeless, the prisoners, the elite scholars, or the sick and elderly? Christ is shining through us every day, so we need to be bright for others to see.
I am now a few months in to my Global Mission Intern service with Caminante Proyecto Educativo in the Dominican Republic. The goal of the organization is to assist the street children working as street vendors or children trafficked into sex work. I assist Caminante’s staff in guiding them to return to school, providing counseling, and assisting with basic necessities like daily food. Through these experiences, I have been able to hear the stories of some of the children Caminante serves. I am going to share a couple testimonies of these children of God, despite them having some rough edges, but who am I to judge! These stories are from adolescents who have attended Caminante’s lunch program, where we share a free meal for the children we work with. These children are often homeless working in the streets so we provide a good meal for the day to keep them healthy.
The first story is the life of Alex. He has become a regular in Caminante where I see him every single day of the week. He feels safe and welcomed in this place and I have even started teaching him how to read basic Spanish. Alex is from Haiti, where they speak Creole and French, but are not taught Spanish regularly. He has been in the Boca Chica area for two years and can speak only what he has learned from his interactions on the streets. Haiti shares the island with the Dominican Republic but the countries are not always friendly with each other.
Alex has two sisters around the same age, and a couple of younger siblings. Alex’s story was impacted by the devastation of hurricanes that destroyed most of the infrastructure of daily life in Haiti. The Dominican Republic was not as badly damaged, so it became a refuge for Haitians despite the tensions between the countries. A devastating hurricane tore through Alex’s town and completed destroyed his family’s house and everything that they owned in Haiti. His family was starving and his parents had to make the heart-wrenching decision to have their oldest children venture to a foreign country and try to survive, instead of staying at home and starve. This decision is traumatizing for parents, to have enough faith in safety for their children in hopes one of them will be able to make some money. The parents finally decided and sent their oldest three children to the Dominican Republic with very little money and food to survive. The children left with the faith from their parents and a drive for a more meaningful life outside of their poverty stricken town.
The painful reality for Alex’s family is the slim likelihood that they will ever be able to find a job, a home, or any stability. Searching for any shelter, food, and selling basic things on the streets like candy, coconuts, and washing car windows has become their form of daily survival. My heart always wonders if it is better living on the streets then starving in your home. The three siblings are now living in the Boca Chica area, the sisters staying in a nearby town also trying to make money any way possible. I have never met the sisters but heard a couple updates from Alex. I have talked with Alex quite a few times in Caminante where he has explained the struggles of living in the streets here, and what life was like in Haiti. He has admitted to resorting to stealing, selling random things he finds on the street to tourists, and fighting to protect what little he has. He would not go into too much more details on how he survives in the street, because the reality is getting too challenging for him.
Another young person asked, “Who am I and where do I belong?” These are strong words coming from the mouth of a teenager. Jacob’s story starts in the same place as Alex’s, and wraps around to being in the same place even though their stories are different and unique. Jacob also comes from Haiti venturing to the Dominican Republic for safety and opportunity. His story is not impacted by the hurricane, but instead by the government and police. With, and even before the hurricane, there was violence in some parts of Haiti, which became even worse after the storm. Jacob has three other siblings and was raised in Haiti. During one of the more violent episodes, Jacob’s parents were standing for their rights and freedom. During an altercation with police, both of Jacob’s parents were shot dead, leaving four children at home to fend for themselves.
The children were without other relatives or people in the community to assist them because the town lacked resources and people were struggling. With the violence still raging and these siblings having no other family or means to gain money due to the violence in their city, they made the decision to escape from their town to hopefully find some peace and a better life. They left on faith, and came to the Dominican Republic for safety. Even though this is an improvement from the violence they witnessed and the lack of food, they have become homeless trying to survive in this new world, doing whatever they can to make money for food. Where is the hope for these children and what life can they expect on these streets struggling for basic food and safety?
The lives of these children always seem a mystery without a conclusion. Sadly, it has been a month since I have seen Alex anywhere, it’s like he has disappeared without a trace and all we can do is pray and hope for him. We have walked through his known sleeping area in an alley and walked the beaches where he usually works, but have not had any signs of him. Heart-wrenching as it is, this behavior is common with these children when they do not have a home or any reason to remain in any certain area, always holding the hope of a better life somewhere else. They will spend most of their childhood just trying to survive on the streets and bouncing between towns trying to find any form of a stable life. These children sometimes will disappear from Caminante for months, years, or even a life time, leaving us to wonder what ever happened. Was there more we could have done to help them? Have their lives improved by leaving this area? So many questions will always be a mystery with children similar to Alex.
We continue to pray for these children, asking God to watch over them living on the streets. The most important unanswered question is, “Is he alive or did something go wrong?” Devastatingly, we may never really know what happened to Alex unless he visits the safety of Caminante again.
Joshua J. Busick serves as a Global Mission Intern with Proyecto Caminante in the Dominican Republic. His appointment is due to gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.