Homeless -- yet dignified and fearless -- young children personally visited the president of Chile to request his assistance on their behalf. "They asked for a new house, because theirs had burnt down," recalls the country’s minister for social development, Alfredo Moreno. "Now, those children have a place to go."
In February, a destructive fire had ripped through the Salesian-run Miguel Magone House in Santiago, Chile -- which housed dozens of vulnerable girls and boys, many of whom had been rescued from the streets. Here, they had been working to overcome their homelessness, hunger, poverty and addictions. Fortunately, none of the children were injured; but the disaster left them homeless once again.
"It was a heartbreaking situation, especially for our missionaries in Santiago," says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. "Without the resources to rebuild, they were powerless to protect the girls and boys they had worked so hard to rehabilitate." Back on the streets, these same children risked renewed exposure to crime, violence, substance abuse and despair.
"The saddest thing about this situation is that many believe these children and young people do not exist," says Sergio Mercado, executive Director of Fundaciόn Don Bosco (Don Bosco Foundation) in Chile. "They are hidden from sight -- in abandoned houses, under bridges, and in the subways -- but their reality is much more difficult and harsh than the short-term memory of the general public."
Fundaciόn Don Bosco has been operating in Santiago since 2001 -- offering educational and social services support to more than 15,000 youth and adults. Among the first to respond to a troubling rise in homelessness within the city, the foundation has an established record of successfully convening area social welfare organizations to address common challenges in a holistic way. Drawing upon this experience, Fundaciόn Don Bosco sought to develop a new public-private partnership to fill the void left by the fire. And the solution began with the children themselves.
"For the first time in history, street children were welcomed in the Palacio de La Moneda," Mr. Mercado marvels. As a result, the Chilean Government and Sodimac, a local construction company, teamed up with the Fundaciόn to restore a historic building and transform it into a place of refuge for homeless youth.
"I received instructions from President Sebastián Piňera to make good use of the house," explains Felipe Ward, Chile's minister of national heritage. "Undoubtedly, this is good use."
Inaugurated on Friday, June 29, Nueva Luz ("New Light") now beams hope into the hearts of the children who were displaced. That afternoon, three girls and two boys who had been forced to sleep on the streets moved into their new home. Ultimately, Nueva Luz will accommodate many others seeking to transform their lives.
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