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The Sunflower Centre

Scripture Union Peru has recently built The Sunflower Centre – a drop-in centre for street children

1996 Available in French, English, Portuguese and Spanish

Footsteps magazine issues on a wooden desk.

From: Street children – Footsteps 28

Learning from different groups about how best to support vulnerable children

Scripture Union, Lima.

Scripture Union, Peru have recently put up a new office building sited right in the heart of Lima’s commercial district, an area ‘worked’ by street kids. At the back of these offices they have built the Sunflower Centre – a drop-in centre for street children.

Entrance is by a narrow flight of stairs – completely separate from the main office entrance. There is a large tarmac area, marked out as a football pitch with benches around the sides. There is room for up to 60 children in basic accommodation with good washing facilities. There are also three large workrooms for use as a bakery, electrical workshop and craft room. The centre is named after Jesus – the light of the world. Just as sunflowers turn to the light during the day, the hope is that the street kids will become as sunflowers – looking to the light of Jesus.

Day and night

There are two main areas of work:

  • The street children who stay in the centre at nights. They generally have no family links.
  • Children who come to the centre during the day but who do not stay overnight.

The project began in August 1993 with the Director, Pablo Lavado, and two other fulltime workers and a number of volunteers – mostly young folk from Pablo’s church. The work is very demanding – the boys are very difficult to cope with. More volunteers are needed and Pablo hopes to visit other churches and share the vision of the work with them.

There are few rules – they must have a shower each day and are free to come and go in the afternoons but if they want to stay the night they must be back by 9.30 pm with no drugs or money. The punishment for breaking these rules is exclusion from the centre for 1–2 weeks.

Four stages in the work…

Pablo sees the first stage as providing children with exposure to the work of the centre. They can come and go for meals, to play football etc. After several months they will be asked to choose if they want to stay in the centre and agree to the simple rules – only boys are able to stay. They will be asked if they want to stay on and begin attending school with plenty of extra support from the centre. During these second and third stages, boys will be given practical skills training in the afternoons. Income will be raised from the work done in all three areas; electrical repair work, craft and basket work and, in particular, from the bakery. This will be fully equipped as a commercial bakery and a baker will be employed full time – using the boys as labour and providing training at the same time.

Involving local churches

Pablo’s prayer is that a house will be made available to provide a family atmosphere for the boys after they have spent a year at school. Foster homes would be ideal, but they will be very hard to find initially. A change of heart in the churches of Lima will come slowly. Already he is seeing that through the volunteers, boys are being invited out to lunch or for tours of the city with different families.

Pablo Lavado can be contacted at: Unión Biblica del Peru, Apdo 3159, Lima 1, Peru.

Cesar’s story

When Cesar (not his real name) was two and half years old, his mother decided to kill him and commit suicide. They lived in a small straw mat hut. She put kerosene all around, held her little boy and set it all on fire. But people nearby saw the fire and rushed in and were able to rescue Cesar. He was taken to the police who tracked down his father who was living with another woman. They put him in a government institution where he stayed until the age of eight. They put him out onto the street because of his bad conduct. He went to the infamous Plaza San Martin and slept with other street boys. He learned how to get drugged to avoid cold and hunger. He became part of a group known as pirañas (man-eating fish). They are boys who attack people in groups of six or eight, robbing them of everything they have. Sometimes they even leave them without their clothes in the street.

Then he came to the Sunflower Centre. He is an aggressive boy with violent reactions and cannot bear to lose. Previously he had been interned in a government reformatory from which he escaped. With us he is not a prisoner. He can come and go at will. He comes more and more, goes out less and less. It is the first time in his life that someone has really loved him. He does not know what love is. He is just beginning to learn. Sexually his life has been just terrible – 90% of Lima street children are ‘used’ by men, for a plate of food.

Cesar is now 14. The other day we convinced him of the need to look for his father and talk to him. Finally he agreed and Pablo took him. Cesar faced his father and his father’s woman and was obviously very nervous. The first thing he said, which really surprised Pablo was, ‘Before we talk, could we not pray to God?’

For several months he has not stolen in the streets and has stopped taking drugs. We hope for great things for this boy…

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