I want to rescue this 8 year old girl from a life of poverty

I helped develop a partnership between my church and a church in a VERY poor, VERY violent ghetto in San Jose, Costa Rica called Pavas. Its been going strong for 5 years now.

Pavas is a damnable place. It sucks the young men into gang violence and early death/incarceration and the women into early motherhood, prostitution and general despair. It is truly a cycle of poverty that feeds itself. Last Thursday a 20 year old kid was shot to death behind the church.

Together we are able to do many cool things for the community there to make Pavas a better place. While we are Christian, we know that a big pile of Jeebus isn’t going to help the kids. We focus on meeting the kids’ daily needs for food and hugs, and their longterm needs by offering access to education.

Which brings me to Beblyn. Just look at her. 8 years old and beautiful. When I arrive in the church (2 or 3 times a year) she runs to me and jumps in my arms and gives such great hugs. Throughout the visit I will look down and find her clinging to my waist.

Her father and mother are both uneducated. Her dad pretty much steals things and sells them on the street to make money. Her mom volunteers in the church and is rewarded with any food leftover from the daily lunch program and maybe some clothes when donated. The donated clothes are the reason the pic does not betray the truth of her desperate poverty.

I went in their home last Thurday. It is very dangerous just to walk through the neighborhood. Imagine the worst tin shanty town you have ever seen. You walk down alleys and between corrugated walls. You step through mud and god-knows-what that is flowing under your feet. You turn sideways to squeeze through a narrow opening and come to a one room little shack with tin walls.

When Beblyn saw me come in she positively lit up. She has a little shelf and on it are her clothes. She was so proud to show me her church dress and the uniform and shoes the church bought her for school. Her mom served fresh, real mango juice and made me feel welcome. It was a sublime moment.

Here is the thing. Beblyn is 8. I can’t bear to watch her grow up and be swallowed up by the streets. But realistically she has a very small chance of coming from such circumstances and escaping the vortex of poverty. At 10 she starts running errand for the local drug dealers, at 12 she is sexually active, at 13 she is pregnant, and after that her fate is sealed. I can’t bear it.

I don’t know what to do. I could rent a decent house for the family for $400/month and at least she would have relative safety and security. But then the other kids in the church would definitely smell the favoritism and be resentful. Hell I could even raise the funds to buy a small house there and move them completely out of the community. There are definitely nicer parts of San Jose. But then she would lose the support structure of the church, and again, how do you explain her good fortune to the other kids?

How in the hell can I help this little girl at least have a shot? I am at a loss.

  • See if her folks will let you raise her–they can have full access, you’re just getting her out of the environment.

  • Rent the place for her family and to hell with anyone who whines about favoritism. You can help one family or none. I’d be wary of this, though because it sounds like her father, at least, is already part of the problem. If you can manage this, maybe you can inspire other members of your organization to do similar acts.

If you have a good relationship with the head of the church you’re working with, ask him. He’ll have a better sense of how to help this girl than we would. Offhand, though, I’d be leery of setting up the family in a new place - if all the father knows how to do is steal things and fence them, what will this change other than increasing the odds of him getting busted? And if you bought the parents a house, could they be trusted not to sell it for quick cash?

The best thing you could do for this girl might be education. Set up a fund to pay for her school - maybe even boarding school - and make sure it can’t be used for anything else. But, seriously, talk to this priest, or another knowledgeable local. Or an aid worker there.

I live in the US. If i could bring her here I would.

Her father IS part of the problem. I have wondered how he would respond if someone made an offer like the Bishop made to Jean Valjean early in Les miserables.

I have talked to them. I was there yesterday. She has food every day and she has education available to her as long as she wants - ever through college. The local group is at capacity to help people. But living in that utter shit-hole of a house really diminishes her chances. There is no place for her to just be a little girl and play, so the streets are where she spends her time.

The local church relies heavily on local volunteers to run its operations. These volunteers are from the community. You can imagine how the volunteers would feel if one family was singled out for special help.

Money is not greater than the love one gets from their parents and family. I believe you are overestimating your impact on this child. That’s not to say you are not and cannot continue to make an impact on this child. I just think you seeing her world through your own lens.

Taking her away from her family would be one of the greatest injustices I think you could do.

I agree.

The best thing you can do, is continue being a friend and presence in her life. Encourage her about her potential. Encourage her to take advantage of the longer road of education vs. the shorter road of crime and prostitution. Your time is the best gift you can give.

Maybe you could give her a stack of postcards, with postage. And you could write to her a couple of times a month. I think that if she got regular letters from someone who DOES care, and she was able to write back, that this would help her morale, without showing undue favoritism.

I’m glad that she is getting an education, because that’s been proven to be THE most important factor in getting a child out of poverty.

As Devil’s advocate: Why?

I have to assume that this “parental love” applies to every child spawned in this steaming corner of hell. Not doing much good, on the whole, from the sound of things.

I misread the OP: I got San Jose, C… and misread Costa Rica for California (I was wondering where you can rent a house for $400 in CA.)

In general I try not to judge other cultures by my own standards, but their own. So maybe the OP is best answered with: Do her parents think her prospects are acceptable? If they do, then OP needs to accept this. If they do not, then we might do well to remember that sometimes the best thing a parent can do is to break their own heart for the good of their child. Les miserables seems like a good comparison, but it’s been a while since I read it.

I got home this morning at 3am, and I am always emotional after visiting. Thanks for giving me a place to share and decompress.

Here are a few more pics:

Bev’s mom working in the lunch program

Bev with a friend of mine last July

Considering that OP has not alleged abuse of the child, but only living in very poor conditions, I don’t think money trumps a families love. Children want and need to be loved more than anything else. Taking a child away from their family, just because they are poor gives the impression that there must be something wrong with her family because they don’t have money.

If Annie, had not been an orphan, and Daddy Warbucks was had just come to save her from her socio-economic status, the comic strip would not have been as well received.

Both of them about 2 years ago

Sorry for going on and on. I’ll hush now.

Development professional here….

It’s natural to want to rescue people, and charismatic children are the obvious targets. Before you decide to “do” anything, I suggest you read “The Crisis Caravan.” It’s not a great book, but it has a few very relevant chapters on how a sincere desire to help children, coupled with a good old American know-how, can be absolutely devastating for the children and families involved.

You are treading on very, very, very sensitive ground here. You need to be aware of the limits of your ability to help. Even the most well-intentioned interventions can go horribly wrong, and if you start making top-down changes to her family and social circles, you are venturing into the world of doing irreparable harm.

Even if you could magically transport her to America and raise her as your own in the most comfortable circumstances imaginable, she would probably still suffer as much from the emotional trauma of losing her family and culture as she would by staying there. Children do not benefit from being separated from all but the most abusive parents. People do not benefit from sudden infusions of cash. The easy solutions simply do not work, and just as often ruin lives as they save them.

Think about all the lottery winners who find themselves in ruin. Think of all of the orphans who, even if they moved on to richer households, would give anything for another minute with their parents.

Your job, if you have one, is to enable her family and community to take better care of her.

To do this, you need to focus on the community’s strengths, not its weaknesses. And you need to come at it from a perspective of respect for the people in it. What do they have going for them? What are they doing that is working? What skills do you have that can help them make what they are already doing more effective? From the tone of your writing, I think you would be more effective if you sought to increase your cultural knowledge. Frankly, you have a paternalistic vibe to you, and that’s probably coming from an incompletely understanding of what is going on. You will be much better equipped to help people, communities and families if you approach them as a colleague and equal.

There are numerous development agencies that work in a variety of communities. Through years of experience, they have discovered what does and does not work when it comes to improving a community. It’s a profession, with a knowledge base and a series of best practices. While amateurs can do some great things, they also miss a lot of things that were worked out long ago. Don’t reinvent the wheel- expand your knowledge and understanding of how development works.

If you really are dedicated to this, I would venture to your nearest university with an international development course and ask for some guidance. They will often help. I’m flying to South Africa this summer to implement a professional well-designed and researched development plan thanks to a couple that did just that. They came to us looking for advice, and they got out of it a lot of ideas, a good set of literature to review, and two trained and experienced professionals to help them implement a sustainable program based on systems that are proven to be effective. This is much, much, much better than just blindly doing whatever seems like a good idea largely based on your emotions.

It’s a lot more work and a lot less glory than what you probably imagine doing, but it’s a lot more effective.

And always, always remember, *it’s not about you. *

I have been involved in this community for 5 years and we are doing exactly what you have said - we are helping the community be better at what they do well. I am aware of the damage we can do when we barge in and want to “help” without understanding. I am really just venting here. I have spent months there working alongside them, spending my own money and vacation time to do it. I have raised funds here, given presentations to local groups, developed 5 year plans, and organized about 15 trips and over 120 people have been there to visit and work with them. I know it is hard work and there is no glory. Actually I rarely even get a “thank you for your work” from the people here in my church. But it is all good.

The reason the partnership has worked so well is that since the beginning we have approached the relationship as equals who are partnered to help the community. I see the negative impact other organizations (ESPECIALLY church groups) have on communities and we are committed to NOT do that. We listen to them, share their struggles, and try to fit into their plan for bettering their community.

I appreciate what you said, and agree whole heartedly. I am just running on little sleep and am a bit emotional from the trip.

Are there schools in the community that aren’t subject to gang violence? If so, then I would work on getting her to one of those schools so that she could at least be surrounded by positive influences.

If there are programs in the community where she could spend time with kids her age that aren’t into drugs or gang violence then I would help her get involved with them.

The people she surrounds herself with are going to be her biggest influences. If she goes to school where everyone glorifies gang culture, then that’s going to become her philosophy as well. That’s because no one wants to be isolated in high school, and if she challenges the predominant philosophy then she’ll have to deal with being an outcast.

The more ways you can get her around people who have positive philosophies the better.

No worries. I had my own favorite kid in Cameroon, and have my own set of mixed emotions about what I was and was not able to do. Unfortunately, her own story ended far too soon, and I’m doing what I’m studying/working in development now because I want to learn specific skills that will enable communities to make sure their kids (and adults) have a happier story than dear Fadimatou.

One thing I did learn is that if you want to help and individual, it’s best to help their community. Even the most empowered woman is going to face problems if her community does not support her empowerment. If she is going to bloom, she is going to need friends, family, schools, and other institutions that can support this. So it makes the most sense to focus on the community level.

I’d look into Participatory Action Research and Participatory Rural Appraisal techniques. These are sets of tools that are really good at helping people analyze and craft solutions for their own problems. You mention a lack of playspace- perhaps this is a situation for participatory mapping. If housing is an issue, maybe it might be good to look at community/youth centers where children can do their homework and participate in social activities away from home.

Gender seems to be a big issue in this community, and Gender and Development is a huge field that I don’t know nearly enough about to make recommendations. But I’d look into life-skills and vocational training programs for adolescent girls. I ran a few life-skills workshops, and for a percentage of the girls I worked with, I think it really did contribute to their ability to make more empowered choices in their lives. I’m working with vocational skills programs right now, and I’m finding that it is a hard model to get right- you need a sustained and long-running program that feeds directly into existing jobs for it to really work. But it can work.

It looks like there are Peace Corps volunteers in Costa Rica. I know Peace Corps is always looking for good sites, and with the help of local schools or community groups you may be able to get a Peace Corps volunteer placed in the community. While some volunteers are more effective than others, Peace Corps has a huge amount of institutional knowledge from working in these communities for decades, and generally does bring some good things into the community. I encourage anyone working in development to see if they can leverage Peace Corps powerful network. It might be quite easy to get a volunteer to come in and run a series of Gender Empowerment workshops or whatever.

And again, I recommend talking to a local university. International Development grad students are usually knowledgable and have experience in the field. They are always looking for an opportunity to apply their knowledge.

Now get some sleep!

Consider giving a small cash stipend to the mother regularly. Women are less likely than men to spend it on alcohol or other vice and she knows much more than you ever will about the families needs.
If you think the father is someone of good character consider backing him in a business venture. Poor people have generallly no access to capital and it probably would not take much to stake him to a business venture which could improve the family’s lot immensely.
If you talk to the Peace Corps volunteers I am sure they know the joke about how many peace corps volunteers it takes to change a light bulb.

:smiley: snerk

The specifics of this involve you being able to (as the Bishop did) give him enough money to start a completely new life, and trust him to go use it, and there be opportunities in place for him to use it, and a fair bit of good luck to boot. Probably fruitless to think of this unless you could set the guy up in some cottage industry AND he had the personality to stick with it.