The Olive Press launches a Christmas appeal for the forgotten street children of Andalucia
FOR most people on holiday in Spain, the country represents fantastic weather, sandy beaches and great food and drink. For most people living here, it is building your home and how to make a living.
What most people do not deal with, however, is the issue of child poverty.
But in Spain, just like in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, child poverty is a real issue. According to a recent Unicef report, 15 per cent of children in Spain are living below the poverty line and struggling to gain an education; many have experienced the kind of trauma that you and I could not possibly comprehend.
Percentages, however, do not go near describing the emotional, educational, and social cost some children are paying here on our own doorsteps.
Children as young as three years old are being left to fend for themselves on the streets because their parents do not care or have no other choice.
Many are forced to leave them at home to work long, gruelling hours to make a living, some in the footloose areas of drugs and prostitution.
Suddenly one realises that there is another side to this beautiful country that is not shown in glossy holiday brochures.
Unsurprisingly, many of these children sadly end up in orphanages or children’s homes, many run by the church, others set up with public money.
City of Children
One particular home is nestled in the hills of Málaga and helps to support the local communities in the poorest, run down suburbs of the city.
Ciudad de Los Niños (City of Children) is one of three homes of the same name. It was founded in 1977, and is currently run by Hermano Juan Coreia, who himself spent most of his youth living in one of the sister homes in Granada.
Each morning Brother Coreia, a very private man, drives a coach around the streets collecting 160 children from the surrounding shanty towns. The homes they live in are run down with little space for the residents that live in them, let alone have the type of home comforts that we take for granted.
Schooling for these children is rare, but once at the home these children can take part in the daily lessons giving them a chance to achieve an education that might otherwise be denied to them.
Regulated by the Junta de Andalucía, the home is frequently inspected to check on its levels of education and staffing, and to ensure that the home has legal custody of
But as far financial support, the Junta only donates money for its full-time residents, which number 46 (the youngest being four), with a further 126 looked after daily (aged from three to 16) getting no state funding at all.
It is a sad fact that in many countries children fall through the social safety net. The social services in these countries are buckling under the pressure of the responsibility placed on them.
Here in Spain the story is the same.
The children needing help are not only Spanish. Every day, we read reports of boats from North Africa landing on Spanish shores some of those boats carry children.
Many of those children have to be placed in homes such as La Ciudad.
The road to the home heads through the main sprawling industrial estate of western Málaga city.
As the road lengthens the scenery changes and gone are the warehouses. What replaces them are clusters of what can only be described as shanty towns, house after house is run down, rubbish is piled high in gardens and children playing in the road.
These are effectively no-go areas, not just for tourists, but largely for the police.
It is intimidating and scary in equal measures.
You can be forgiven for feeling a growing sense of nervousness, it is so bleak and a long way removed from the holiday towns of Fuengirola, Salobreña and Marbella.
Finally you come to La Ciudad, which gives an overbearing sense of security after the drive up. But this is not the sort of security represented by chains and locks, but the sense of belonging and comfort you can see on the children’s faces as they walk around the grounds relaxed and happy.
Like most people, I was under the misapprehension that children in care must be unhappy, this could not be further from the truth at La Cuidad.
There are only three buildings in the grounds of the home: one is the school, and the other two are residential blocks. Babies, children up to age of 12 and young people up to 18 are accommodated there.
It barely makes a dent in the number of children who rely on Father Correia’s support.
Unlike other government centres, La Ciudad does not turn its back on the children when they reach 18.
They understand that for many of these young people this is the only home they have ever had. The members of staff have become their family, and to be cut off from that family environment, the type of support one expects from family members throughout life, would be too much of a wrench.
So they are encouraged to stay until they are ready to leave, and Brother Coreia helps them to find employment and acquire loans to, hopefully, one day buy their own home.
It is almost impossible to imagine being faced with such a huge responsibility for the welfare of so many children.
But that is what Brother Coreia and his colleagues have to face each day.
Sadly though, most of these children are in a catch 22 situation, as the law in Spain does not allow these children to be adopted.
If they have any living blood relatives they are considered to be responsible for them. Tragically, most of them get no help whatsoever from their families.
To quote Unicef: “The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialisation and their sense of being loved and valued and included into the families and societies of which they are born.”
It would appear that homes such as La Ciudad in Malaga and selfless people like Brother Coreia have been following that message for years.
They deserve our attention and support.
Fortunately he is not alone. Expatriate charity LIVE, based in Fuengirola, is helping to raise money for the home. To date the group has raised more than 11,000 euros for the home through donations and fund raising.
The charity got involved when it was asked to sponsor the Ciudad’s Christmas party a few years ago. “I had heard an appeal on local radio and felt compelled to find out more,” explains organiser Brian Marsh. “When I got in touch with them they said they urgently needed donations for their Christmas party.
“But when my wife and I went to meet the children they had such a profound affect on us that we wanted to do more than just give them a party.”
He continues: “These children have every right to be angry at the world. They are some of the sweetest and well-behaved children I have ever met. The home does the best it can but with limited funds it is very hard.
“The Junta does provide some money, and I know that Brother Coreia would be at a total loss without that. But they always desperately need more.”
It is clear on visiting the home that facilities could be better. The bedrooms are very basic and the beds are made of concrete, with matching concrete bedside tables.
But there is a good reason for this.
Some of the children have behavioural problems due to the traumas that they have gone through, and giving them access to anything that could be thrown, or used as a weapon, would be a grave mistake.
One child showed me a cupboard and inside was everything in the world that he could call his own. It was very moving and I could not help but compare the contents of my nine-year-old grandson’s bedroom, who seems to have everything any boy would want. The cupboard I was looking at was virtually empty.
Continues Brian: “Of course, when you start talking to people about the children it never fails to touch people. I would like to thank everyone who has shown their support for LIVE and urge them to continue to do so.
“With Christmas around the corner there is no better time than this.”
For more information on how to donate to the home, contact the LIVE offices on 952978458 or 620791441. Please mention the Olive Press Christmas appeal.