Monday, January 15, 2007

Youth in Poverty and Precarios

Youth is synonymous with potential and hope. Robert Frost spoke of "nature's first green" being gold and all of us have felt the tremendous power and promise of a new day. Young lives are much the same. They are fresh and forming with infinite possibilities.

Working with youth is not about keeping them from dying. Death and youth are words that were meant to be strangers to one another. Death is already a horrific intruder into life but it is never more unsettling than when it touches youth. Young people were born to live, not to die. Like a plant in a healthy, vibrant garden, young men and women within healthy families and communities will grow up into healthy, wonderful human beings capable of as much as their faith will carry them to.

Many young people who grow up in poverty grow up in very healthy gardens. Their lack of material possessions, the latest styles of clothing or gourmet food actually serve to simplify their "garden" and prune their hearts to value what is important: relationships, family, friends, work, faith, hope & love.

However, poverty can also form into ghetto-ish gardens where families are not strengthened by the adversity of limited resources but fragmented and demented in their hopelessness and helplessness. Poverty is also often coupled with limited education which makes the individuals involved vulnerable to accepting incorrect ideas and perspectives.

Currently, Boy With A Ball Costa Rica is working in a Nicaraguan precario or squatter's settlement.

Every country, it seems, has the people that they don't need and, in fact, don't want. In Costa Rica, the group that fits this bill in many of the people's eyes are the Nicaraguan immigrants who flood into the country from the homeland to the north. Nicaragua entered the 1980's as the "breadbasket" Central America and exited the very same decade following the war between the Sandanistas and Contras as the poorest country in their region. Costa Rica, their neighbor to the south, has been a stable socialist republic for the last 60 years, providing free health care, education and more to it's inhabitants. As a result, Nicaraguans flow into Costa Rica in pursuit of a better life with better opportunities. Costa Rica 's reaction is predictable. Nicaraguans are called "Nicas" and are considered the reason behind almost every problem a Costa Rican has.

Many Nicaraguans can only afford to live in squatter's settlements called "precarios" where thousands of immigrants will crowd into a few acres and live packed into small shacks with dirt floors. Many of them can only get water from a small amount of water faucets located across the precario. As in any situation where poverty abounds and hopelessness with it, teen pregnancy, sickness, malnutrition, drugs, crime and gangs abound more. It is very difficult to emerge out of a precario and into a life beyond it.

Boy With a Ball/La Bola Costa Rica began going into this precario called Los Triangulos two years ago in connection with another local organization. Recently, our team has committed to going into this community several times a week. Our focus is to reach young people and families in order to draw them into one-to-one mentoring relationships and small group communities as a platform for providing educational resources that can help develop leaders within the precario. We hope to deeply reach and equip 5- 12 individuals within the precario who can then turn and do the same with their neighbors.