Providing Cameroon's Street Children With Hope

Spanish Priest Heads Up Outreach Center

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By Nieves San Martin

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon, MARCH 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The best place for a child to live is in his home with his family, but that’s not always possible, according to the founder of a project for street children in Yaoundé.

Father Alfonso Ruiz Marrodán is the coordinator of the Home of Hope, a project supported by the Archdiocese of Cameroon that seeks to reintegrate homeless and imprisoned children back into their families and society.

Father Ruiz, whom the children affectionately call “Padre” in Spanish, has lived in Cameroon for 11 years. Previously, he lived in Chad for 20 years.

The Spanish priest said the Home of Hope project works with street children in several ways. The first way, he said, is to “take them in. We take total charge of them.”

The young children will live in what is called Yves’ House, referring to Father Yves Lescanne, a French religious of Father Charles de Foucauld, who founded the project and was killed in 2002 by a former member of the home.

“They live there, eat and go to school,” explained Father Ruiz. “We provide a series of basic activities that all have to do with housework, the maintenance of two hectares of palms from whose fruit we make oil to consume in the house. Sometimes there are apprentices in carpentry, or in mechanics in our workshops.

“Little by little we make contact with their families to see how we can reinsert them.”

No place like home

The priest acknowledged that “the best place for a child is his family. However, with the problems that exist at present in families, there are boys who have been here for four years, and when we have to tell them that they can no longer stay here, they stay on the street again because the family either doesn’t exist or is so broken that it can’t receive them.”

The priest noted as well that a group of teachers work in the streets, and rent a small home where street children “can wash, sleep for a while, wash their clothes, and speak with the teachers who are there. They also have activities of all sorts, manual, painting, etc. However, in the afternoon they go away and return to their work, on the street.”

At the house there are teachers present who “attempt to make the children spend the time they are there in a positive way,” he added.

Father Ruiz says the project also works with young people in prison, “we must find all the material necessary to be able to give the classes and to be in agreement with all the prison’s authorities. It is tough work.”

“Of course,” he explained, “the results are not very positive because with any luck we present 10 for the graduation certificate and only two pass, but they occupy their time in a positive way and learn, even if the level is not that of a regular school. Then we have workshops for crafts, sports leadership and a series of activities.”

“Another important aspect is communication with the families. Many of these children are former street children; their families don’t know they are in jail, and we seek contact to prepare for their release.”

The Jesuit noted one main problem with the youth is that the prison system is flooded and many youth “spend more time in jail than they should.”

He explained: “There are boys who, when the times comes for the judgment, are sentenced for six months after having already spent a year and a half in jail. The courts have no means and they attend to the most urgent cases.

“And a boy who is there for having stolen a mobile phone is not important; could spend more time than he should.”

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ZENIT Staff

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