Millions of children throughout the world live on the streets. These children are among the most deprived; they usually have no access to health care or education and many countries have used violent and punitive measures to remove them. At Yo!Fest we discuss ways in which we can promote equal access to opportunities and a safe environment for young people in Europe and beyond. Here we share the story of Tjerk, and Erasmus+ volunteer, who is using music to empower street children in Ecuador.
Tjerk walks towards a woman in Guayaquil, Ecuador. With a questionnaire in hand he asks her what she knows about the struggles of street children. She encounters kids on the streets quite regularly, she says, but her perception is shaped by the negative and stereotypical images of begging, drug abuse and violence. Tjerk, a Dutch Erasmus+ volunteer working on a Don Bosco project, is using music therapy sessions to empower young people and change societal narratives about street children in Ecuador. Together with musicians, international volunteers and a group of former street children, he is spreading awareness and fighting stigmas with music - one note at a time.
Tjerk has been working on the front lines trying to change perceptions among the people of Ecuador and other Latin American countries with the ‘nuestros hijos’ campaign - sharing stories of street children. Stories marked by challenges but also strength, creative capabilities and opportunities for growth.
“I was inspired by the solidarity and talent surrounding me; it’s something I wanted to share with others. Instead of focusing on negative images, I wanted to show their capabilities. I tried to create a positive impact with my music, yet the whole experience had the most impact on myself.”
Most street children in Ecuador are found in Guayaquil, the country’s largest and most commercial city. A study of homeless and unprotected children in Ecuador documented very high levels of sexual abuse and exploitation stripping street children of their humanity and burdening them with the everyday concern of survival. Tjerk’s goal is to offer a ‘normal’ childhood and education to (former) street children. Depending on the child’s needs, the Don Bosco project offers daytime activities, shelter on school days and a safe home to the street children of Guayaquil.
Tjerk assists local staff and organizes activities focusing on life-skills leveraging on the notable psychological resilience and adaptability of many street kids. He equips street children with decision-making abilities, problem-solving skills, critical and creative thinking, communication, self-knowledge and ways to deal with emotions. Through music therapy and performances, the project also provides former street children with the opportunity to shine and boost their self-confidence.
Tjerk volunteered via an Erasmus+ project as part of a Don Bosco SAMEN initiative. You can follow the Nuestros Hijos campaign on Facebook. This story is part of a publication by SAMEN called ‘Gifted’. Find the full publication here. Do you have an Erasmus+ experience you would like to share? How can we empower young people living in poverty and with little access to opportunities?