The girls and boys came in with no expectations or goals for their lives. With us, they came to believe they could be nurses, doctors, veterinarians, and more. I remember hearing teachers from their schools saying, “Why should we give them more content if they’re just going to become drug dealers,” or “Nothing good comes out of that neighborhood.”
PEÑAFLOR, Chile ꟷ I remember the first case that broke my heart. Working at a children’s club in the neighborhood, a group of three siblings arrived. At six years old, the youngest exhibited symptoms of withdrawal, inherited from his mother. We learned she often prostituted herself in front of the children for drugs.
Their alcoholic father exhibited moments of lucidity and, when we met him, he had entered rehabilitation. He remained sober for two years but relapsed and disappeared from the kids’ lives. With a life of constant instability, they fell under the care of their aunt, who also tended to their mother. I felt so sad watching what they went through.
At the club, the siblings competed, went to camps, and shared experiences with other children. They became very good at everything they did. Often, our entire team told them, “Look at what you are achieving! You can do it.” A beautiful, family-like dynamic grew between everyone. If something happened to one person, everyone rallied around to support them. It felt significant to watch these siblings get to be children.
An idea began to take shape for me in 2017, which resulted in the formation of the NGO Superación Infanto Juvenil (Youth Overcoming). It all began at the club. The boys and girls met every Saturday and came from different places all over Peñaflor. They gathered for activities, but our primary objective remained to bring them out of the context in which they lived. Above all, we offered tools to prevent drug use – a major issue in their neighborhoods.
We began to give out to personal care items and help them grow their self-esteem. The girls and boys came in with no expectations or goals for their lives. With us, they came to believe they could be nurses, doctors, veterinarians, and more. I remember hearing teachers from their schools saying, “Why should we give them more content if they’re just going to become drug dealers,” or “Nothing good comes out of that neighborhood.”
When I heard those words, I felt this sense of contradiction rise inside of me. On one hand, I always liked the topic of education. Yet, seeing this, I began to believe these kids held no blame for being born into their environments. Why limit them in terms of their dreams? Rather, I began to believe we needed to support them even more, so they could grow into better people and create better living conditions.
At one point, I witnessed the children at the club go through discrimination and the thought of creating an NGO began to take shape in my mind. This particular club where I worked depended on a church to function, and the church rejected some of the children. These kids did not want to join another club and began to feel very conflicted. We also did not want them to leave, but eventually, they were forced to go.
The new club offered a very different reality with many children from higher socioeconomic statuses who did not have to work as hard for things. I fought until the very end, elevating the issue to the international level, but the response repeatedly came back negative. The children could not return to their original clubs and activities. Motivated by these experiences, I launched the NGO and attempted to bring them in, but the original organization said that taking the kids in violated internal rules. The children ultimately lost their space and I never heard from them again.
Nevertheless, I feel indebted to those children. They went through so many difficulties and I saw the beautiful support network that emerged around them. Through Superación Infanto-Juvenil, we continue that work. NGO’s often have a very narrow cause, but we remain ambitious, addressing many different issues in our NGO.
We educate, offer activities in vulnerable sectors, and vary those activities from artistic to recreational. We have even offered gender-based violence prevention workshops to a scout group. In the end, the children saw they were not alone and learned the importance of speaking rather than keeping quiet about what they go through. Today, generations are changing, and people are becoming more aware. Seeing young girls who have experienced violence become empowered and tell their story gives me immense hope.
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