A Derry charity which works with some of the poorest street children in some of the most violent areas of South America has appealed for help from the local community.
Lasco (Latin American Street Children Organisation), which was set up in Derry in 1996 has boosted the lives of many thousands of impoverished and forgotten kids - in countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Peru and Guatemala - through a series of projects. But the charity needs the continued support of people in the North West and throughout Ireland to continue the good work of getting children off the streets and helping them build a positive future.
On a visit to Derry this week, Tipperary native Sr Eleanor Hayes - a 77 year-old member of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary - revealed the extent of the suffering of the children and families she has worked with in Brazil.
“The street children are treated as a surplus population in Sao Paulo.
“Before coming to Brazil I worked in Nigeria but in Brazil it is a different type of poverty. There is tremendous wealth in Brazil but there is also huge poverty and rampant violence directed against the impoverished, by the authorities as well as drugs gangs. “Children are forced to live in the streets in squalor and hunger - young children can be seen hanging around bakeries and other food stores offering their bodies for pennies so they can buy food,” she said.
Hunger is the constant companion of children on the streets, many of whom, Sr Eleanor revealed, are forced to live in sewers to seek safety from the violence of the authorities and gangland thugs.
Sr Eleanor added: “It leads them early in life into petty crime and makes them easy prey to drug gangs.
“The district, with a population of around 300,000, has among the highest rates of homicide in Sao Paulo city and also for young offenders committed to the ill-famed FEBEM (federal reform centres).”
Sr Eleanor said the problems associated with drugs and drug gangs in the eastern part of the city where she worked had recently increased as a result of a crackdown by police and the city council in other areas of Sao Paolo.
The result was further suffering for children drawn into drug dealing, addiction and petty crime.
Since 2008 LASCO has been supporting the new Children Off the Streets project working with young people, many of whom were street children, who have been locked up in notoriously violent youth detention facilities.
The LASCO ‘Children Off The Streets’ project welcomes all children who are forced to spend their days on the streets. A day care centre was set up by LASCO to provide a safe haven where children between the ages of 4 and 12 years are given meals, help with education and the support of the five-strong LASCO volunteers.
Sr Eleanor explained: “More than ever the LASCO workers are convinced of the value of their presence and their influence as leadership in the local community there.
Their work of prevention and recuperation among young offenders (“adolescents in conflict with the law”) shows a slow growing resistance by the community to the invasion by the drug barons and the exploitation of their young people”.
However, the continued support of the people of Derry, the North West and Ireland is needed to help improve the lives of the many impoverished and abused children that LASCO has not yet reached.
LASCO chairperson Des Boyle told the ‘Journal’: “In 1996 LASCO began fundraising to support projects in Latin America that
improve the quality of the lives of 40 million street children who are living in extreme poverty.
Brazil is the sixth wealthiest country in the world according to GDP but according to the UN Index of Human Development (a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, standards of living, quality of life and especially child welfare) Brazil is rated as the 140th best off country. Brazil has 10 million street children and 500,000 child prostitutes under the age of 12, according to UNICEF. LASCO is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation and doing what we can to help improve the lives of the impoverished children.”
All donations to the charity are welcome. LASCO can accept donations at any branch of the Bank of Ireland. In the North the account number is 64494521, Sort Code 90-49-74 (Strand Road branch, Derry). In the Republic the account number is 35917353, Sort Code 90-49-10 (Moville branch, Co Donegal).
For full interview with Sr Eleanor Hayes see this week’s ‘Sunday Journal’