Serpaj, alternatives for street children
In 1986, people concerned by the growing number of youth in the streets of Santiago, Chile, founded Serpaj. In the beginning, they had no formal program and worked voluntarily, but with time, they receieved money from international foundations and the government, and began to grow.
Serpaj serves children who work and beg in the streets, plazas, and shopping centers of La Florida, a socially mixed neigborhood. Their goal is to educate and train families so that their children need not work in the street, but the first step always comes by approaching the child.
Generally, the children are in the street in order to earn money for their families. They sell to or beg from middle and upper class shoppers, and then return home with the profits; some even work with their mothers. Some children have formed gangs, generally organized around neighborhoods or soccer fan-clubs, but this is not a major issue in the lives of most kids.
Street educators work three times a week, and create connections with the kids through games, coffee, and caring. Next, with the permission and help of the kids themselves, educators visit the families to train them to better parent their children. In this work with families, listening is the essential part, as well as regular visits and respect. Work with schools, allowing students to return after dropping out, is also important to Serpaj. Social workers educate teachers about the special needs of working kids, and teach kids the skills they need to stay in school (schedule, homework, obeying their teachers, etc). Conflict resolution, or peace eduaction is also very important in this process.
Serpaj also uses a drop in center, where kids can come for therapy, workshops, or just to talk with adults. There are workshops in music, art, conflict resolution, and sexuality (where condoms are distributed, a brave act in conservative Chile).
Almost all of Serpajs budget comes from the government, with whom they have a good relation and a lot of trust. Even so, they understand that the Youth and Families Department (Sename) has a symbolic and emblematic discourse that defines the child as an object of charity.
Having noticed that relations among the children reflect the relations in the professional team, Serpaj works intently with staff to insure pacific conflict resolution. Staff must also be models in all way, including health; they may not smoke in front of the kids.
Interestingly, Serpajs offices were built on land where the dictatorship tortured subversives in the 1970s and 80s. From time to time, a ghost seems to appear, but since they are left wing ghosts, they are kind, and dont bother us.
After several bad experiences with volunteers, Serpaj only uses professional staff.
9053 Avenida Perú
La Florida, Santiago, Chile
tel/fax: 281 9963
Directora, María Inés Salgado