They live in abandoned buildings, cardboard boxes, parks or on the street. They frequent street corners, markets, gas stations, traffic lights and fast-food chains, meddle with the garbage, or sniff glue. Without a doubt, one of the biggest concerns for the Honduran government has been the rising number of children living in the streets – a tough environment without the care and protection of a family.
Children may end up on the streets for several reasons. They may have no choice — they are abandoned, orphaned or disowned by their parents. Or they may choose to live in the streets because of mistreatment or negligence or because their homes cannot provide them with their basic needs.
The majority of street kids live in the capital city of Tegucigalpa or in the second-largest city of the country, San Pedro Sula. Most fled from homes where abject poverty, violence, alcoholism and familial disintegration are the norm. In order to survive, they steal, dig through trash, shine shoes, or do other odd jobs.
Sadly, an estimated 90 percent of them become addicted to toxic “yellow” glue and paint thinner, which is highly addictive and extremely damaging to the human body, causing kidney failure, irreversible brain damage and, in some cases, death.
The reality is that many Honduran street kids do not make it to their 18th birthday because of the dangerous living conditions that prevail in the country.
Instead of going to school, the children are engaged in some kind of economic activity, ranging from begging to selling things like bubble gum or sweets, so they have no hope of escaping the cycle of need.
As child advocates, those at Compassion Honduras work to ensure that the children in every community have a voice and that their needs are met. The only qualifications for being an effective advocate are concern, compassion, commitment and action. This is the case of Pastor Pinto, a man of faith and vision who has been directing the Santidad church for nearly 20 years. He also directs the Catalina Student Center in the community of El Bosque in Tegucigalpa.
For many years this man has watched his now- 500-member congregation grow in number and quality. For a time he thought that he would continue doing it without any worries, just working with a great staff and servant leaders to continue with his ministry. But God had another plan for him.
Pastor Pinto has always been burdened with the problem of the street children in the country. On many occasions, street children have approached him in his car as he waited at traffic lights. Pastor Pinto felt a big concern for society’s indifference toward these kids, wondering, “Why does nobody care about them?”
When God started to work in his heart, he at first resisted the idea of getting involved because he was comfortable with his position at church. But with time, he started to open up to this idea. He began by talking with kids and later on invited them to church where they were fed and advised with love.
This started to bear fruit among the children, and with time and God’s blessing this action became a vision of love, named “Manuelito Project,” a special program destined to rescue children from the streets.
“Manuelito” is a common name that represents any kid who lives in the streets and needs help and love. And the fact is that Pastor Pinto also was a fatherless kid.
“I never knew my father, and my mother got married with another man when I was like 9 years old … I was placed along with my older brother in a special center for poor children where I lived for eight years, so as you can see it was a personal struggle in my life and now God has called me to look after these kids.”
The Manuelito Project is now helping 40 children in two special centers, one ofwhich is located within the church, called the transition home. Here the kids have rooms, and receive school classes, meals and love.
“What we do here is to recruit children from the streets. We bring them here, which is quite difficult because they do not want to come. We also educate them and teach them good hygiene habits, and we help them through counseling in order to overcome the addiction to drugs, especially shoe glue.”
There is also a field center located in the community of Talanga, 45 minutes from the capital city.
“We send a child to this place because they have improved a lot and have overcome the addiction to drugs.”
The Manuelito Center in Talanga is a beautiful place with a lot of space and great facilities for the children. In this place the children continue with their studies, learn computers, English, and how to work the land. The spiritual component is also very important for these children, who receive Bible teachings and the support of the center’s staff.
Children are very important for the kingdom of heaven; Pastor Pinto knows that it is a great responsibility not just for him, but for his staff and family. As a servant of the living God, he feels optimism and believes that something great will happen in the lives of these children.
Perhaps the best achievement for this man of faith is seeing these children free from drug addiction and becoming involved in the church ministries.
“It has not been easy for us. Each child is different with his or her own conduct patterns, but the Lord is with us so we cannot fail. We have many kids from the Manuelito Project who are now participating in the youth group, worship ministry and as Sunday school teachers.”
There is still so much to do, but for Pastor Pinto it has been a life-changing experience. He is confident that nothing is in vain and that the good seed that is being grown in these kids through the student center and the Manuelito Project will bear good fruits in time.