History of Si a la Vida:
The project was founded in 1994 as a residential program for homeless street kids. Although homeless street kids were a common sight in other parts of Latin America, this was a new phenomenon in Nicaragua at that time. Nicaragua has continuously been one of the two poorest countries in the western hemisphere, but even the meager social safety net for kids began unraveling in the early 1990s. In response, Jonathan Roise, a Seattle Quaker, and Mercedes Guido, a Nicaraguan activist, began offering first-aid and friendship to glue-sniffing street kids in the local markets in Managua where the boys gathered. As they gained the confidence of the kids, they were able to convince some to give up the street life. Thanks to neighborhood volunteers and foreign financial support. Sí a la Vida purchased a house and began offering educational and health services.
At Casa Nuevo Amanecer in Managua, the original house, about 30 boys received care each year, with about 10 living there at any time. Staff did outreach in the markets and guided the new arrivals during their transition from the streets. For about the first three months, the newly enrolled boys stayed at this Managua center and are supported in unlearning the habits of street life and adapting to the Sí a la Vida program.
Then, after stabilizing in Managua, they went to Casa José María, the Sí a la Vida center on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, where the focus was on education, counseling, and developing and reinforcing a healthy lifestyle. The boys lived on Ometepe until they were able to successfully reintegrate into their families or live independently.
Our Current Program:
In recent years, social conditions in Nicaragua have changed. There are no longer kids living around the markets of Managua, begging for food and sniffing glue. Most “street kids” actually live at home, at least at night. Many of the kids coming to Sí a la Vida in recent years have been brought in by their despairing parents who see them getting into trouble, avoiding school, and slipping into “the world of the streets.”
Consequently, Sí a la Vida has changed from a residential program, rescuing and rehabilitating street kids, to a prevention program - working with kids who are still living with their families, but are slipping into lives of school truancy, drug abuse, petty crime, and ultimately, failure. As always, Sí a la Vida will help kids to turn around their lives, but now in the context of family and neighborhood, helping them and their families to cope with the stress of living in one of the poorest nations in the Americas. This change is also consistent with new directives from the Nicaraguan Ministry of the Family stating that children should not be placed in residential care unless there are no other options.
Sí a la Vida is working with “day kids” on Ometepe Island as well as in Managua. Not surprisingly, there are many kids on Ometepe that have the same problems as the kids in Managua, including school truancy, vagrancy, and petty crime. Thus the center on Ometepe Island continues to be an important part of the project, but it is now serving Ometepe kids rather than kids transferred from Managua.
Sí a la Vida includes girls as well as boys. In the past, girls were referred to other projects because it was not feasible to include them in the residential program. Now Sí a la Vida can help them as well. Having girls in the program has also provided some important educational opportunities, including training and modeling for how young men and women can interact in positive, mutually respectful, and non-violent ways.
Sí a la Vida’s program is based on the Si, yo puedo! model developed by Nicole and Joel Espinoza. Nicole is a social worker who volunteered at the project, and Joel is the son of longtime Sí a la Vida social worker, Rosario Poveda. Key elements of the model include:
- Increasing school attendance, reducing drop-out rates, and providing academic support;
- Offering engaging activities after school to decrease the likelihood of involvement in negative social activities such as gang membership and drug use;
- Educating youth and families about non-violent conflict resolution;
- Improving family interactions by providing in-home counseling;
- Providing parenting classes and parenting support groups;
- Providing individual counseling for the boys and girls as needed.