Street Children and Heroes in Manzanillo
by Terry Sovil
Street children in Manzanillo, say it isn't so! When I think of "street children" my mind conjures up images of children literally living on the streets. In Los Angeles I worked with the TopSail program for at-risk youth. These are children that haven't yet been in trouble, but because of their environment are at risk of getting into trouble. They come from families and neighborhoods with drugs, gangs and all of the potential violence that surrounds them. While Manzanillo doesn't have children living on the streets there are many children on the streets or selling to earn money. They are "at risk" of dropping out of school or worse. All have family situations that have left them in very desperate situations.
On December 15 I had the pleasure of meeting Mapy Seidel and going with her to the M.E.S.E. house in Colomos, just outside Manzanillo. I was able to attend a Posada with children dressed for the roles, piñatas, cake, pozole and an awards ceremony. It was a fantastic experience for me as I had never really seen piñatas getting seriously whacked by such intent children. I had never seen a real Posada with the costumes, traditions and excitement. I had never thought much about the conditions in families that could bring children to be "at risk" in a culture such as Mexico's.
Mapy Seidel is the new President of M.E.S.E. which stands for Minors in Extraordinary Situations which was founded n 1992 by Mapy and Sandra Martin del Campo. M.E.S.E. works closely with D.I.F., a social work agency. The city rents the M.E.S.E. house, D.I.F. pays for three psychologists and two social workers and M.E.S.E. covers the building expenses, a matron, three teachers and a cleaner.
Many of the children live at the house allowing them the structure and supervision they need free of problems. When I think of street children I think of abuse, drugs and gangs. Some of these same problems exist here but there are also problems that could happen to any family anywhere in the world. An example of a family that had sold a child due to the child's medical illness that they couldn't afford to treat. Extreme poverty and frustration causes one parent to abandon them. Families where everyone worked but didn't earn enough to properly cover expenses with many people living in a single room or two. A father injured on the job, can't afford health care and is unable to continue work because of the injury. A family with one alcoholic parent. All add up to conditions that could make children leave school and end up on the street selling bread or candies or working to harvest crops.
M.E.S.E. house is working with just under 40 children now but it has been as high as 60. They try to keep the children in their own homes where this is possible. Mapy coordinates fund raising efforts and visits as often as she is able. One of her jobs is to match a child with a sponsor. The cost is a low $2500 pesos for one child for one year. Keeping a child in school through graduation or even for an additional few years can make a difference in their lives and the types of jobs they may be able to get.
Every two months Mapy takes great pride in awarding an envelope of money to the children. This is done in front of their peers and family members. The money is used to cover the expenses of requirements to be in a school in Mexico (uniforms, shoes, text books, sporting and exercise gear etc.). As part of the overall agreement, the families have to assure their children are in school, that they obtain passing grades and that they are not working to earn money during the week. They are allowed to work on weekends. The staff works with the parents to overcome problems. While the children are at school during the week the M.E.S.E. staff will work with them to train them in job skills including such things dress making and making piñatas.
There are street children and there are heroes. Even in Manzanillo!
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