The WHY of Peruvian Classics (Part 2): The Girasoles Program

November 24, 2019

The WHY of Peruvian Classics (Part 2): The Girasoles Program

What is a street child?

A sad reality in most developing countries is significant poverty. Unfortunately, this poverty often affects the most vulnerable in society- the children- leading many of them to be abandoned by their families or left as homeless orphans. In Peru, these “street children” (boys mostly, hence the term “Street Boys” you may see at times) are known derisively as Pirañas (the vicious, flesh-eating fish of the Amazon).

In the expression, street children, the word street encompasses all of the hidden places that have become these children’s hide-outs, day and night. Street children means children living in poor slum areas, ground around major tourist spots, railways, trains and bus stations, wastelands and isolated areas, unoccupied buildings, abandoned cellars, and sewers under the streets.

Without the love and security of family, they look for belonging and protection on the streets with gangs, drug dealers and prostitution rings. They are the most vulnerable to sex and human traffickers.  Many become addicted to sniffing glue and other cheap drugs, all in effort to numb their pain.  The majority of street children are between the ages of 3 to 14, school age, but they do not attend school.  Without a place to call home or food to eat, they have no ability to pay the required school fees. 

Street children also include those who still live with their families but are put out on the streets to work.  Toddlers are placed on busses to sell candy or put on corners to beg.  Children make money for food by collecting trash and sorting through it for paper and other scraps to sell. Others are forced to engage in prostitution just to get food to survive.  Human and sex traffickers prey on the vulnerable youth.  Fortunately, Scripture Union of Peru devotes itself to providing safe shelters and homes, food, education and care for these kids.


What is the Girasoles program?

While the cold world may call these street children Pirañas, they are called Girasoles (Sunflowers) by those who love them. The Girasoles program began in 1987 with a small group of Peruvian volunteers who wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children abandoned and living on the streets, alone and in fear. Armed with nothing more than some sandwiches and soccer balls, volunteers faithfully went out into the streets at night to share Christ’s lovewith these children. The first home opened in 1992 and grew to encompass eight homes across the country. Unfortunately losses in funding have resulted in the closure of four homes. Today this program includes four different homes in three of Peru’s main geographical regions: the coast, the mountains, and the jungle.

While Scripture Union of Peru serves culturally diverse population of children, they generally have one common element regardless of their background—a very negative self-image. Many have undergone years of neglect, abuse, and abandonment before arriving to SU-P homes, and after being marginalized and mistreated for so long many of them believe that they are the problem. The staff at each home work hard to change their world view. The goal is to provide a Christian family environment for each child, where they can be nurtured physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Scripture Union of Peru strives to provide a safe environment for each child coupled with proper care, counseling and education.  The message to each child is that they do not have to be defined by their past. Instead, we share that God created them in His image with a specific purpose. For that reason, they have infinite value, are worthy of being loved and of sharing that love with others.


Why are there so many children living on the streets in Peru?

There are 32 million people living in Peru – 6.9 million are living in poverty.  The cause of children living on the streets is not a simple consequence of poverty.  Rather, it is the culmination of different phenomena, including rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, population explosion, family disintegration, unemployment, insufficient income, maladjustment of formal education systems leading to school failures and drop-outs, and an insufficiency or lack of institutions to take care of children in need.  Put simply, many of the children living on the streets were abandoned because their parents could no longer afford to feed them, while others ran away on their own to escape violence and mistreatment.


Why does Scripture Union only work with street boys?

When parents cannot afford to feed their children, often, it is the boys who are the first to be put out on the streets.  A mother hopes her son will be strong enough to survive.  Scripture Union of Peru first began its outreach program when the vast majority of children living on the streets were boys.  However, over the last decade, the emergence of girls on the streets demands help for them, as well.  Separate centers must be built for the girls and equipped to provide for the young children and babies that often come with the girls.  Extensive funds are needed to provide this, and thus it is hoped that revenue generated from the sales of Peruvian Classics may one day enable Scripture Union to expand to help street girls as well.


How does a boy typically come to Scripture Union of Peru?

The doors at the Scripture Union homes are ALWAYS OPEN. Many boys living on the streets come after having heard from others on the street that it is a safe place where they are treated with kindness.  Some of the older boys choose to work and volunteer with Scripture Union of Peru, and reach out to children where they once were.  In desperation, some parents even bring their children to Scripture Union of Peru homes.  While it is the hope of Scripture Union of Peru to always keep families together, and to provide the support to help do so, it is not always possible to do so, and Scripture Union will not turn a child away.  For a mother living on the streets with her child, she seeks the support of Scripture Union to provide safe shelter to her child. 

Recently, a 12-year old boy named Miguel was just taken into the home in KUSI. His parents did not want him and an aunt took him in. But after several years, she too abandoned him to the streets. The police caught up with him and tracked him back to a tiny village, high up the mountain near KUSI. The police handed Miguel to the father whom they had tracked down but the father abandoned him again. Now brain-damaged after years of mistreatment, Miguel wandered around the tiny town where the villagers would hand him bits of food. When the authorities heard about our home in KUSI they brought him to us where Miguel now lives in peace and safety.


Read more:

Part 1: Our Mission and Mission Partner in Peru

Part 3: KUSI- The Newest Boy’s Home

Part 4: Fair-Trade and the Artisans

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