Latin America and the Caribbean

El Universal, El gran Diario de México
March 1997

Street Kids Find Hope at the End of the Line
by Kristen Smith

The Observatorio Metro station is the end of the line in more ways than one. Most people know it as the last stop of Line One, the pink line, that extends to Pantitlan in the east. But more and more street kids know it as the only place to find work.

Street venders surround the station in all directions to capture business from the torrent of passersby who enter and exit the Metro every day. The street youths, called callejeros, hover around the venders, hoping to be given odd jobs washing dishes or running errands.

That is why Club de la Calle is nearby. The day-center for street kids opened two years ago with the goal of reshaping their lives.

"The most important thing is to change their environment, modify their whole situation," said educator Jorge Arzate, 21.

Club de la Calle is a joint operation between the San Felipe de Jesus Parish where it is located, on Jilgero 44 in the Colonia Jose Maria Pino Suarez, and Ednico (Education with Street Children) which runs several group homes throughout the city.

The most pressing problems faced by the callejeros are police violence, malnutrition and drugs.

Twenty-two year-old Cesar Javier, a good-looking man with a big smile and bristly hair, is a regular at the club. He has a big heart tattoo on his right bicep.

"It's for my baby. Her name is Areli Michel Bautista Ariza. She is two-and-a-half," he said.

While drugs aren't allowed on the premises, Javier still smokes marijuana and uses PBC (thinner), he says, and his drug problem makes him a perfect target for police.

"There is always the risk they will beat us up because we use drugs," he said. "Or sometimes we haven't done anything at all."

The police then take their money, Javier said.

Club de la Calle attempts to solve these problems by working with street venders who, Arzate says, sometimes give street youths drugs for their work instead of money. The center also works directly with the federal and city Attorney General's Offices when problems with the police arise.

Some times rival gangs attack callejeros as well. While Javier and his street friends have no gang name, they are called the Aguilas (Eagles) de Observatorio, or chemos in reference to their use of chemical inhalants, he said.

Lucio Corro Cruz has been living on the street for six years. He is the most listless of those at the center and when this reporter went to visit was obviously high and reeking from his drug of choice -- Activo paint thinner.

Corro was kicked out of his home by his father for being a nobody. "My father said I wasn't in school, I wasn't earning money," he said. Corro has been put in jail by police for drug use on two different occasions, each visit was for 24 hours.

The best solution for kids like Corro is to get them back with their families, said Arzate. The center has a School for Parents that counsels mothers and fathers on how to cope with their children.

Club de la Calle also has a leadership program called "Niño á Niño" where, through games, children teach their peers how to improve.

David Gutierrez, 20, is the most hopeful of the club visitors. A rapid-fire jokester, he is now an educator at the center and receives a regular salary, after living on the street for 3-1/2 years. He left home at 12, he said, because his alcoholic father, whom he refers to as el jefe, or the chief, beat him. Then he lived in an Ednico group home near Azteca Stadium for four years, but was kicked out for alcohol abuse. Next he hitched a ride with a truck driver who took him to Woodland, California. Gutierrez lived in the northern agricultural town for only six months. He says he has no plans to return.

"It is stricter there, more capitalistic," he said, handsigning a wad of money.

During the day at the center, Gutierrez spends most of his time digging a big hole on the parish property. In addition to the computer center, recreation room, cafeteria and offices presently erected near the church, Club de la Calle is adding a workshop where young people can learn carpentry, electrical engineering and metal craftsmanship. At night, Gutierrez returns to the home he has had since January 15. He now lives with his brother and, he said, visits his parents every 15 days.

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