Street Children and Family Strengthening in Nicaragua
Family strengthening Programme at SC Matagalpa
The mother of two daughters both being cared for by the SOS family strengthening programme will have her third child in four months. She is thirty and able to read and write. What sounds obvious to many has just become her reality two years ago. 'Here at the family strengthening programme they have been, what they call it, alphabetising me. Before that, I could neither read nor write. The programme really helped me a lot.'
'Ask questions and I will answer', says Adaluz. Her voice is shaky, her left hand rolls a little piece of paper, her right hand rattles a few coins and she is intensely eyeballing the room. Adaluz is not used to telling her story. Nevertheless, she assures that she is willing to share her experience.
Working during childhood
At an age other children go to school at, Adaluz and her sisters had to sell flowers, cloth, perfumes or tortillas on the streets. 'Some days we would not sell anything because we would spend the whole time begging for food. At Christmas time we used to beg for shoes and clothes', she narrates. She would only attend school for two years and during that time she did not learn to write and read either.
Adaluz grew up with her mother. She was six when her mother married and sold the house because she could not afford it anymore. 'I and my sisters moved to my grandmother's place, later to my aunt's place. I did not live with my mother until we started working together in Managua.'
At the age of 15 she moved with her mother to Nicaragua's capital Managua and they worked as house maids. The two of them shared a room at the house they were working in, her mother cooked and did the laundry, Adaluz cleaned and ironed.
Five years later, back in their hometown of Matagalpa, she got to know a man and started a relationship with him. After a month she got pregnant and after another month he left her and started a family with another woman. Adaluz still remembers the pain of those days: 'I had no one to talk about those things. So I sought to distract myself in other ways: I started drinking.' She packed her things again to work in Managua, but for the birth of her daughter Amelia she got back to Matagalpa. 'She was four weeks old when I started working again to be able to afford buying milk for her. Her father never supported me. I did the laundry again, ironed or sold stuff - whilst my grandmother was looking after Amelia. I always hurried in order to not leave her alone for too long. Later I helped my aunt preparing and selling tortillas, there I always had Amelia with me.'
Nadia and a significant change
Amelia was three years old when Adaluz left her and went back to Managua. 'For two weeks I worked under pain and finally asked for some days off to see my child. When they called me again asking whether I would come back to work, I said I would only come back if they would allow me to bring my daughter with me. They gave me permission to do so - and from that time on we would live together in the capital.'
After two years they went back to Matagalpa and Adaluz got to know Pedro, her present husband. She got pregnant and nine months later Nadia was born. 'Many things have changed during this pregnancy. Pedro helped me to quit drinking. Moreover I knew that with two kids I wouldn't be able to go on like this. My sister dragged me to SOS Children's Villages to sign up for the family strengthening programme. I was still a single mother, Pedro had another family.' Adaluz says that she had heard from the programme before, but just could not take the initiative to go there. 'There was always some way how it worked out without it. You can easily bring one child to work, but two - that is too much.'
Adaluz is grateful to the social centre for the exception they made in her case. Nadia was accepted at the age of only two months; usually children at the centre are three months and older. At that time, Amelia was already six and joined the group of the oldest children. After a while, she started changing: 'She was a very shy child, never wanted to play with others and barely talked at all. Here, she has learned a lot - now she is bright-eyed and intelligent', says Adaluz and adds: 'A short while ago she even said that she loved me - and this I owe to all those improvements. She would never have been able to love me the way I was before.'
'You feel important'
The self-esteem course was the first class Adaluz participated in at the programme. 'One learns to behave in a way that really makes you worth something. The way I was before I wasn't worth anything.' Her voice shakes as she says those rough words. But the family strengthening programme has also taught her to forgive herself - she holds this particular class in pleasant memory: 'We talked and cried together - out of joy and emotion. We told our histories and listened to one another. One feels important.' For the first time in her life she got to know about having an amicable conversation about feelings - thanks to the presence of the psychologists who lead the class she now has no problem opening up and trusting. 'Never before I had talked to anyone like this - from woman to woman; in this class we could think of something else but just work, work, work. They played with us so that we could leave stress behind.'
Later, Adaluz got selected by the family committee for receiving a scholarship for learning child-care at the social centre. For six months she supported the teacher of the group of one to two-year-olds and received various trainings. She says: 'We learned how to teach various different games to the kids and how to look after them. They told us things about education we did not know before.'
Work, household and children
At the social centre, Amelia got to know her half-brother and asked him about their father. But the boy delivered the message that his father did not want to know anything about her. 'I told him, that he should not ask further. It would only hurt him, and me as well', says Adaluz.
Also, Nadia's father was absent for a long time until he got to be a family member. Almost three years after Nadia's birth, he finally married Adaluz and moved into a cottage with them. Sometimes Adaluz would wish there was more support by him: 'He works as a guard and his working times vary. Sometimes we hardly see each other. When invited by the family strengthening programme to participate in any kind of workshop, he is always busy. But I still hope he'll find the time some day.'
After visiting a sewing course, Adaluz was permitted to participate in another service by the family strengthening programme - the micro loan. To improve their living conditions by investing money reasonably, some of the mothers get a loan of US Dollars 100. 'I have bought and sold used and new cloth; on the streets, in my home, at the SOS Children's Village...wherever I went. Bit by bit, I earned some money. In December, after the wedding, we were finally ready to move to the neighbourhood where my sister lives as well.' Their new hut is only made of boards, says Adaluz, but at least they have electricity and water - and it is located only a few minutes away from the social centre. 'Back in the old days, it took us more than an hour going by bus to bring the children to the centre. And in the evenings, after work, I had to get back there with my poor kids. Amelia would get sick a lot of times because of exhaustion caused by the long way to go. Now everything is a lot easier!' After a year, she was able to pay back the loan and now lives free from debt in a new and improved environment.
At the moment, Adaluz works at her sister's kiosk selling fruit, vegetables and cloth. 'I owe it to the family strengthening programme that I can work in peace, without worrying about my children.' Nadia is still in day care and Amelia visits the centre after school to play and study until their mother comes to pick them up.
For her future, says Adaluz, it would mean the most to her to have her children receive any kind of education. For herself, she would like to build her own house for her family. But she does not want to look ahead too far: 'I have a little sewing machine and every once in a while I get orders to shorten trousers, patch holes or sew skirts. One day I would really like to focus on that and live from sewing. But everything has to go step by step - for the moment, I am simply grateful, that I can work here, that my daughters are able to study and for everything that has changed in my life.'