Serving the Children Inside the Hidden City

Children Having Children

Girls aged 12, 13, 14 years are raped daily behind the walls of the hidden city. Some of the babies come from the rapes; some girls choose pregnancy as a strategy to deter the rapists. Others fall in love. The number of babies with very young mothers is increasing every day.

The Wall

The wall went up quickly. In 1978, the World Cup was coming to Buenos Aires and so was the world press. The Argentine dictatorship put up the wall to hide the city’s worst slum. The area, previously poor but connected, was cut off. Criminal gangs took control. Police, fire and utilities do not enter. The physical wall is gone, stolen brick-by-brick for building materials by those within. But the social barrier is just as high today as the day the wall was built.

Success Equals Survival

Food comes in trucks from the City or from soup kitchens. Clothes from donations and cast offs. Shelter is built from what can be found or is donated. The safest job strategy is to earn only a little or risk constant attack. Day labor is the best choice. Trust erodes. Ambition wanes. And over time, the ability to dream is lost.

Breaking the Pattern-The Babies Don’t Know Any of This

After 15 years working in this slum, the founders felt ready to attack the problem. We concluded that the generational patterns could only be broken by modeling for the youngest, least conditioned ones, a caring world full of loving people living up to their potential in a world with a bright future. In partnership with the City of Bueños Aires Department of Education which provides the teachers, a different kind of day care center was opened. From the beginning, we made clear that we would not operate a drop-off warehouse for kids. This day care had to be based on developing each child’s unique potential in a loving environment. Critically, we needed to accomplish this in partnership with the family of each child.

Something Unexpected

5 days a week the children come. The teachers hold the babies, read them the stories, and sing them the songs of the other world, the one beyond the wall. The teachers and the day care provide an opening into the goodness of the larger world for these children and, as it turns out, for their parents. Though the focus is on the children, the mothers (and the occasional father who is still in the picture) can’t help but take the lessons intended for their children as their own. And for some parents, old desires begin to re-kindle, ambition start to re-sprout, and a better future becomes worth considering again. And then something more: a bit of the day care is carried home with each child and their parents and from each of them it spreads contact-by-contact into the community. AND we are receiving reports of something new in the air.