Adventists Act to Help Street Children in Peru

Lima, Peru
Jonathan Gallagher / ANN


"When you see these children living on the streets, you just have to do something," says Maria-Elena Villasante

“When you see these children living on the streets, you just have to do something,” says Maria-Elena Villasante, project coordinator for a program to help the street children of Lima.

Concerned over the tragic conditions experienced by these children, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, through its aid agency, established “Nuevo Rumbo” (New Way) in 1998 to provide a way out from lives of poverty, sickness and death.

“We provide a basic education for these children right there on the streets,” says Villasante, a psychologist. “We play with them and teach them reading and writing and help with their problems. One way has been to have them exchange letters with children in Adventist schools, so they can be helped to become true children once more.”

The project, operated under the auspices of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Peru, works with 50 volunteers aged 15 to 80—mainly from 16 Adventist churches in Lima. The volunteers have found that their involvement with the street children has changed their lives too, says Villasante.

“When we first went to the streets, the children ran away because they were afraid, or they were violent,” Villasante explains. “Our first step was to build their trust. Now when they see us coming wearing ADRA T-shirts, they come running to meet us.”

The street children are at high social risk, with 99 percent involved with substance abuse, particularly glue-sniffing. One-third of the children are girls, and about ten percent are prostitutes. In one recent case, a fifteen﷓year﷓old girl who was eight months pregnant was still working the streets—now she is being helped along with her baby in the Nuevo Rumbo program.

“One couple came to us with a very sick baby named Brian,” Villasante continues. “The mother was just 15. All three needed help. So with funding from ADRA Norway we established the Brian project, which seeks to return such children to their families, if that is possible, or if not, to new volunteer families. We find that to put street children together in an institution is not the best answer—they need the support of a family, somewhere they can really belong. The good news is that baby Brian is now a healthy and strong toddler, and he is part of a family that has been re-united.”

What do these children need the most? “They need love,” replies Villasante. “People give them clothes and medicines and books and money, but what they need is love. You need to give them time and understanding.”

With over one thousand street children in Lima alone, the program needs to be expanded, but funding has only allowed 50 to be helped under the Brian project. The rest of the ongoing program needs public donations to be able to continue.

“I love my work with these children and spend all my time on this project with other coordinators,” says Villasante. “Even at 3 a.m. we respond when they call. We are like family to them, and as an Adventist I can’t think of anything I would rather do.”

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