Street Kids Present Challenges
BY BRANDON QUESTER AND BASTIEN INZAURRALDE
Cronkite Borderlands Initiative
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Little Pedro “Fifito” Manuel Galbán walks barefoot into oncoming traffic at the intersection of San Vincente de Paul St. and Mella highways in the Dominican capital.
A passenger bus stops, and the 6-year-old quickly climbs the grill guard, clutching a squeegee and water-soaked sponge in one hand. As he starts swabbing, the bus driver swats at the window with a folded newspaper and yells at Fifito to stop.
A dozen or so street children watch the scene and laugh. Although Fifito’s head barely reaches a car door handle, he often earns more pesos than any other member of the group.
Fifito is one of nearly two-dozen street kids who survive by washing the windows of vehicles that clog the busy streets of the city’s Megacentro Zone.
They take their orders from Fifito’s mother, 27-year-old Maribel Galbán, who manages the children during the day and walks the sidewalks as a prostitute at night. They all live together in a home Fifito’s mother rents.
The street kids are known as palomos, or rascals in Dominican slang.
To help these children, the staff of Niños Del Camino, one of a handful of shelters in the city, takes their services to the streets.
Social workers and volunteers introduce themselves to the children and invite those without homes to visit the shelter, which is open during the day-time, offering food, counseling and training in life skills, said Natividad “Ana” Sosa, who works at the shelter.
“From there, you build empathy … little by little,” she said. “We adapt our street work to their rules. We are in their space. We are in the street, as they say.”
The work can be dangerous.
Abel Ortega, a teacher from Spain who took a year off to work with street children at Niños Del Camino, recently was assaulted and had his camera stolen while working on the streets.
“Challenges? There are a lot of them,” Ortega said, with a rueful laugh. “Really, every one of those children can be a challenge at any given time.”
But while the children – some as young as 6 – are hardened by their street existence, Ortega said a little affection can go a long way.
Sometimes, he said, all they need is someone to listen.