Funvini ( the charity’s name in Colombia ) is currently helping about 550 children through its various programmes. This population includes children who live in the street; children who do various kinds of work – begging, selling sweets, cleaning car windscreens, juggling, prostitution, etc. – in the street; children who are at social risk of abuse or of becoming street-children; children with learning and/or behaviour problems; adolescent mothers and their babies; and the children of Cor Videns, Funvini’s choir.
However, the situation in Medellín is changing, and Funvini must adapt to meet the changing needs of its children. Although the murder rate in the city has dropped dramatically, the crime rate has not: it is simply that the main gangs have established an uneasy truce, and instead of causing mayhem with their fights for territory, they are now devoting their energies to more lucrative activities, such as extortion, prostitution and drugs. Many fewer children are now to be found sleeping on the pavement in the city-centre, because those whom the authorities find there are whisked away to a protective custody in special secure unit in the city’s mental hospital. But the social pressures of poverty and family violence which have, in the past, forced children onto the streets, remain unrelieved. But now, instead of taking to the streets in the city centre, the children who are subjected to these pressures are more likely to turn to the gangs as a substitute family. Other girls and boys resort to prostitution. A Channel Four News report on Medellín in 2014 called the city “the world’s biggest brothel”; and the increase in tourism has been accompanied by an increase in sex-tourism and child-prostitution. To combat this, Funvini’s financial and social-work support for its children’s families make it possible for most of them to stay at home; and its psychological and educational support helps to keep them in school. The charity is therefore playing a vital role in keeping these children safe and happy, and in helping them to build a decent future for themselves.
Funvini’s work is highly regarded by other organisations in Medellín, and for some time the city’s educational authorities have been putting great pressure on us to open our own school. They know that we consider Funvini to be an organisation of last resort, and that we will work with youngsters with whom the ordinary schools cannot cope, or who would not be able to cope with the ordinary schools without the extra support they receive from Funvini. For example, when the Head Teacher of one local school visited us the other month she was surprised – and grateful – to find no fewer than 11 of her most difficult pupils busy doing their homework at Casa Walsingham with the help of our teachers and the benefit of our computers. The authorities therefore want Funvini to use all the experience it has gained over the last 21 years of caring for such children to open a small school for them at Casa Walsingham, with specialist teachers, very small classes, flexible hours, and innovative and highly-personalised teaching methods. The idea would be to build on what Funvini is already doing, and to use its existing staff, but to keep the children at Casa Walsingham for most of the day instead of sending them off to separate schools in other parts of the city. Funvini would use all of its other cultural and recreational activities, and its social-work, psychological, catechetical, health and nutritional support to encourage the children to keep attending the school. And at the end of the year, it would be able to award them with grade certificates in its own name.
The classes would be provided for a total of up to 50 children in the course of the day in a couple of the class-rooms at Casa Walsingham; and in the meanwhile all of Funvini’s other activities with street-children, working children and adolescent mothers would carry on around them. So the school would only be an extension, intensification and formalisation of the charity’s existing educational work, but not a replacement for its other activities. Inevitably, the project will require some additional staff, and generate some extra costs. Unfortunately, the city authorities are not offering Funvini any help with these, so the extra burden will fall on Let The Children Live!, provided that its supporters in Britain are able and willing to meet this challenge.
As has already been mentioned, the resources of Let The Children Live! are already over-stretched, so additional funds will have to be raised by means of a special appeal in the charity’s newsletter, Vivant! Very few of the charity’s supporters have given it their e-mail addresses, so the only way to communicate with most of them is by sending them a printed copy of Vivant through the post. The cost of postage has increased so much that the charity can only make such an investment periodically. The last one was published in 2012, and whereas some charities have been criticised for constantly badgering their donors for more money, the supporters of Let The Children Live! are more likely to complain that they don’t hear from the charity often enough. All being well, a new issue will be sent out some time in 2016. This will be used as the vehicle for the special appeal, and it will also serve as means of seeking sponsorship for the projected concert-tour by Cor Videns, Funvini’s choir, and to publicise their new CD which was released last Christmas.
Because Cor Videns is a children’s choir, its membership is constantly changing as the choristers grow up. This means that new recruits have to start their training every year, and in order for the choir as a whole to continue to develop and attain higher standards, more time for more training will be required. In order to gain more experience – and to earn more funds for Funvini – the choir also needs extra time to put on more concerts. By the time the children come to sing at Casa Bannatyne on week days, they are already fairly tired after spending the first part of the day at school, and they still have homework to do. Without the risk of overloading them, there is therefore no extra time for them to have extra musical classes on these days. On Saturday morning Funvini provides football classes for the choristers who want them, and other recreational activities for the rest. And Saturday afternoons are already taken up with choir practice. The children – and their voices and teachers – need a break on one day a week, so the choir has Sunday off. So where is the time for the extra classes to come from?
The answer would be to include the choir as a separate section within Funvini’s new school project. Despite their higher academic and musical ability, many of the children in the choir present the same behavioural problems, and suffer from the same situations of family break-down, and face the same social dangers, as the children at Casa Walsingham. They also would benefit from being able to attend a school of their own, with flexible hours, small classes, specialist teachers, and tailor-made curriculum, in which their musical training would count towards their progression through Colombia’s grade system.
This is our plan for the future and to put it into practice in its entirety it is going to mean either buying a piece of land and building from scratch, or finding the right new building and buying and adapting it. At present we have some of the money that we will need, but we will need to raise much more and so we are launching “The School Project” in order to raise the necessary funds. However, because the needs of the children are great we have decided to start up our school in a small way this month-July 2016. We will use 2 classrooms in Casa Walsingham and our first pupils will be some of the most vulnerable and damaged children in Medellín. We have taken on a new teacher who is specially trained and gifted in teaching these children and she has already begun preliminary work with some of them. Other members of our staff will also be involved and we have been assigned one of the state schools as an ‘umbrella’ school that will validate the children’s work so that they will receive the state credits that will count towards their grades.
The hope for the not-too-distant future is that we will be able to raise enough money to create a whole new complex containing a school and living accommodation. In the school will be a chapel with a shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. We will encourage people to come on pilgrimage and donate to support our work and we will have a gift-shop and cafe where we can both raise money to maintain our work and provide work for our older children. This is the vision towards which we are working, beginning in a small way with the opening of our school this month.
So, this is where we are at the moment and what we plan for the future. Many of our former children are now professionals. One is a doctor who is now training to be a Renal Consultant and another has just completed the first year of a 5-year university course to become a Musical Director. He spent 6 months in the UK last year as a guest of the choir of Worcester Cathedral. We hope he will be able to come on a visit next year, and when funds permit, we hope to bring the choir over on a Concert Tour.
Let The Children Live! PO Box 11, Walsingham, Norfolk. NR22 6EH. Tel: 01302 858369
e-mail: email@example.com letthechildrenlive.org