A dream from downtown Bogota:

Making “Disposables” ‘Angels of the House’

By —— Bio and Archives--October 25, 2007

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imageIt’s the flicker of hope that comes from seeing a hungry child eating a bowl of soup that keeps Diana Sanchez going on her longest days.  It’s a never-give-up kind of hope that the soup kettle will be full enough to feed all of the children who find their way to Fundacion Mundial tomorrow, and as on many days as possible after that.

Fundacion Mundial is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that got up and running with the help of hundreds of neighours in April of 2004.  Too busy feeding hungry mouths on a daily basis, Sanchez is now counting on Canada Free Press’ partners at the Bogota Free Planet to get the word out that it is only the kindness of people that can keep the organization going.


The lineup of children at the ramshackle kitchen housed in the Fontibon working district of Bogota, seems never ending.

From the outset, dozens of hungry children came to Fundacion Mundial when news passed by word of mouth that its doors were opened.  Three-and-a-half-years later, the children number almost 200.

They come cautiously and unbelieving, many in the most desperate of straits. The facial expressions of the children when they spot the food keep the volunteers wanting to be there to look after the cooking and clean-up, no matter how pressing their outside commitments.

imageDiana Sanchez could not work in more desolate circumstances, but is mostly too busy to even notice.

Bogota’s hungry children number in the tens of thousands.  The stories of the children’s backgrounds are always sad. No one wants them, for some not even their own families.

At worst, they are `Los desachables’: the disposables; at best, the “gamines”, in Espanola pronounced (gah MEE nays).

Sent out onto the streets to fend for themselves, they forage in the garbage along with the city’s stray dogs.

Sanchez, who long ago gave up trying to save them all, counts them all as individuals and looks at her mission is saving one child at a time.

Colombia has the second highest mortality rate in the Western hemisphere. 

Roughly half the population in Colombia lives in poverty, and in rural areas the figure soars to 80 percent. 

Thirty-nine percent of Colombia’s poor are children.

These are the street children of Bogota, the true-to-life street urchins straight from the pages of Charles Dickens in another century. 

But there are no fictional heroes to save these children, only the Diana Sanchez’s to whom an apple is a ruby and a pear, an emerald.

To be a poor child in Colombia is as complex as the circumstances that made them.  It is to be a runway, a disposable, a child prostitute, or a child abandoned by a family coming into the city from a war zone.

In some circumstances, a mother knowing her brood goes hungry sends one child out to the streets in the hopes that even a few pesos will make the difference at that night’s supper table.  In other even crueler instances, a child is thrown out onto the street because there will be one less mouth to feed.

Life on the street spawns its own terrors, all of them real.

The threat of murder in the streets of Bogota is not the stuff of television drama, it is everyday harsh reality. 

“At an average of six per day, 2,190 children were murdered in 1993, according to Colombia’s national statistical bureau (DANE).” (Human Rights Watch).  “In some regions, the murder of children has reached epidemic proportions.  In the city of Cali, for instance, the murder of children jumped over 70 percent between 1991 and 1992.

“Per capita killings of children in Colombia exceed those in Brazil, where the killing of black street youth has captured world headlines.  Like most poor countries, Colombia is a nation of youth, so to speak of children is to include close to half its population of thirty-five million. “

The 200 children between the ages of 4 to 12 fed daily at Fundacion Mundial would starve without the organization, which also runs a one-room nursery called the Hause Cuna Baby for infants to three-year-old toddlers. 

But Funacion Mundial is so much more than a soup kitchen feeding hungry children.

Sanchez and her volunteer mission is to get as many children in off the street as possible.  Restoring children back to their families is a top priority.  That’s an undertaking not always easy to accomplish when it is considered that some children are out on the streets to support household incomes.

There are no government-funded social services in many of the regions where hungry children live on the streets.  Sanchez is negotiating with the government for help, particularly the Sistema Nacional del Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar.

Sanchez and her dedicated group of volunteers know the importance of keeping families together wherever possible.  They counsel mothers on nutrition and teach them the importance of nutrition, how to find the best busy at the markets, and even cooking.

Funacion Mundial is only one of dozens of inner city volunteer groups feeding Bogot�‘s hordes of hungry children.  They have to compete with the others for every peso they can get to pay for food, and they do so willingly.

As far as Sanchez is concerned, volunteer groups working to feed hungry street children should be on every corner of Bogota.

The children who come in off the streets for food are often difficult to deal with.  They are suspicious and mistrustful and have learned to be that way as every day survivors in a desperate world.

Many have to be rehabilitated.  It takes time to teach them that there is a better way.

“It can require infinite patience, but they again these children have been thrust onto the streets because of often desperate circumstances,” says Sanchez.

No matter how high their numbers, Sanchez does not allow herself to become discouraged. 

“We might not be able to save them all, but we can strive daily to save them one by one,” she told Bogota Free Planet.

Dianna Sanchez does not recognize the street children as statistics but as children who are individuals with individual names.
  In her books, no child is ever a statistic.

“Every child in every city should have a warm, safe home where they are welcome and where they can take supper for granted.  That is my dream for the children,” she says.

While some may call them “the disposables” or “gamines”,  Dianna Sanchez won’t consider her job done until they are called “Angeles de la casa”, in anybody’s language, “Angels of the House”. 

(Diana Sanchez can be reached at 011-57-316-855-5275 or 011-571-574-1647).


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Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience in the print media. A former Toronto Sun columnist, she also worked for the Kingston Whig Standard. Her work has appeared on Rush Limbaugh, Newsmax.com, Drudge Report, Foxnews.com.

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