Morgan, R.J. (2000, February 6). Salving the pain of the streets, Honduran youth go to glue. The Boston Globe, p. A15.
In cities around the world, poor children hang out, begging, ready to do simple tasks, committing petty crimes…and often sniffing glue. They are called street children, parking boys, dump kids, and other local names. There are 1,500 children living on the streets of Comayaguela, Honduras, and an estimated 5,000 nationwide. This article describes three years in the life of one of them, Charlie Reyes, as "incredibly simple but dangerous."
He would wake up on the hilly traffic-congested, smoke-filled streets of Tegucigalpa, and he would begin begging for money. "I would accumulate around 40 lampiras" or $2.70, said Reyes, who is now 7. The money would go for baby-food jars filled with Resistol, a shoe-solvent glue.
His day would be spent in the cloud of a glue high, his eyes glazed over and unfocused. It killed the hunger pains, erased the cold at night, and made the blows of the other children easier to withstand.
Those blows would come, sooner or later, every day. ‘It was a very ugly life,’ he said. ‘The big people would always beat me. There were a lot of thieves.’
When he needed food, Charlie could scrounge a few scraps at a Burger King. ‘I never spent money on food,’ he said. The glue demanded every cent he could get.
Six months ago, Charlie walked into the medical clinic at the Casa Alianza—the Latin American branch of New York-based Covenant House. He was soon out of his glue stupor and safe from street predators. Now his eyes are shiny and clear, and Charlie mixes schooling and athletics in a home-like environment at an Alianza shelter.
The article goes on to tell how Charlie’s place on the streets will be replaced by one or two incoming kids a day. Many come as victims to Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the country—killing 6000 and leaving 1.5 million homeless. There is a 15% increase in the number of street children in Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela since then.
Another young person who found hope in a shelter is Marvin Matute Martinez, 15.
‘My family life wasn’t bad. I was beat at times, but I knew how to handle it. I got drawn to the streets by my friends. But really they weren’t my friends. They were nothing.’
Marvin was on the streets from age 6 to 9—when he was accepted into a shelter where he can stay until the age of 18.
‘Thank God it happened, because I have learned a lot about getting ahead. I’m studying now, and I’m going to try for a profession. If I had stayed on the streets I probably would have died. Who knows what would have happened.’
Marijuana and crack cocaine are also a problem among—especially the—older street kids. Ones Italia Garcia, head psychologist at Casa Alanza explains:
‘The youths that mention use of this drug (crack cocaine) are between 16 and 18 years old. And they are youths that usually have gone to other countries, especially Guatemala. The children from the streets of Tegucigalpa talk more of glue and marijuana.’
The glue business is run by adults or older youth. It is bought for about 100 lempiras ($7) per gallon, and then sold in baby-food jars for 10 lempiras ($.70). Dealers thus make about $35 a gallon. Even though selling glue to children was made criminal in 1996, the business still goes on near market places or under bridges clearly visible to those interested. Most street children (an estimated 95%) sniff glue—most going through one to five jars in a day.
Along with crime and drugs, prostitution is always present among homeless youth. According to Garcia:
‘Seventy to eighty percent of the (young people) we see have been involved in prostitution. The boys don’t like to talk about it. But over times it comes out.’
The pressures upon girls to become involved in prostitution are overwhelming. Misaela Mejia is an outreach worker for Casa Alianza. Twice a day, she and a male coworker visit 42 areas of the city where street kids hang out. " ‘Most of the girls don’t sleep on the street,’ " she said. " ‘Prostitution gives them money for a room, food, and drugs.’ "
A real danger for street children are the police. Goaded by merchants, they are tempted to scare or even kill those seen to be public nuisances. Fifty unsolved murders of street children occurred in 1998. Casa Alianza is not only serving kids; they are advocates on their behalf. They are working for the prosecution of those exploiting them sexually in bars or selling them glue. Along with the United Nations, they have pushed for a new kind of training for police officers. Mejia describes the difference that has made:
They (the police) would do things to the kids like take their glue and pour it over their head and hurt them. Now we have more police sending kids to Casa Alianza.
There is also a campaign to get manufacturers of Resistol to create a nontoxic, water-based glue—and to add mustard oil making it more difficult to inhale.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- Have you seen the use of inhalents? Do you understand what leads kids to do something that causes pain and harms the brain?
- On several occasions I have talked to young people sniffing glue—often after they have asked me for money. What would you say to them?
- Is it clear to you from this article that glue sniffing does not exist as a problem by itself and therefore cannot be legislated away or treated without attention to other issues?
- How important is this issue in your situation? What would you like to see done about it?
- Inhalents are among the cheapest and most available of drugs. They are used especially by the very young, poor, and homeless. But occasionally, you will hear of well-to-do young people using them out of curiosity or desperation.
- The pain and anger that some young people feel makes them disregard or welcome the destruction of their own bodies.
- The presence of poor and homeless youth ought to be of concern to any society. These vulnerable human beings need our advocacy and action.
Dean Borgman cCYS