Boys who made their homes in the street

Malgorzata Cichon

Those who have come here recently are still like wild cats. They have that in their eyes: half-closed, distrustful... They often lie on the concrete, hide in some nooks under the wall. The yard of the homeless children’ house in Lima, run by the Salesians of St John Bosco, has a smooth concrete surface and high kerbs so that it would not be too strange, especially in the beginning.
Jozue was a shoeshine boy. He earned four soles working all day, which was hardly enough to buy food. He could not afford any villa, car, journeys. Before coming to Lima he had lived in the country and had watched the soap opera about the Carringtons and he thought that the film showed what city life looked like. He had neither a bed nor a table in his house; he had only a television set... Why should he not have believed it? The street took him in. Cold, chill, fights, fear of violence and the police. Without any education and money he had no chances of survival in Lima. Jozue was 11 years old when the Polish missionary Fr Piotr Dabrowski from the Salesians of St John Bosco asked him whether he could come to the house at 210 Brasil. The Salesian had four pairs of shoes to polish. He paid him for the job and then asked the boy whether he wanted to wash himself and eat supper. Jozue wanted to do that. He saw other boys. After a few days he came to the missionary’s office asking whether he could stay for good.
‘I never refuse anyone. This is a house for those who have no home’, Fr Piotr Dabrowski says. ‘But the new boy must follow some rules: he must decide himself whether he wants to be with us, not to leave the house at night and follow the schedule of the day. The boys wake up at six o’clock, exercise, take a quick shower, have breakfast and go to school. They return for lunch. In the afternoon they clean the house together: they wash up, sweep the yard, water the flowers. They work shifts in the kiosk selling soft drinks and sweets. After cleaning they play football. Afterwards they do their homeworks. At 8 p.m. they sit on the kerbs and listen to Fr Piotr. After prayer he delivers a short sermon: sometimes he praises them, sometimes he reprimands his community consisting of almost one hundred boys. On Mondays laundry is done and the boys hang up their washing around the yard. They must attend Mass on Fridays and Sundays. On Sundays they can visit their families and those who are alone go to the beach with Monika.

Izaak asks Monika to give him a rosary

Monika, a volunteer from Bialystok, is an educator. She arrived in Lima after her graduation. Some boys call her ‘mamita’, meaning mummy, but she admits that it was very hard for her in the beginning. The boys trusted her only when she cared for them during the flue epidemy. She gave them vitamins, antibiotics. She often gave injections. She visited those who were taken to hospital. She deals with many things at home: buys food, supervises the serving of meals and cleaning of the house. She also runs an art room: she teaches about Impressionism, abstraction and Cubism... Recently one of the boys called Izaak has asked Monika to give him a rosary.
‘What for?’, the volunteer asked with disbelief. ‘When I last gave you a rosary you cut off the cross and made beads.’ ‘I will pray for my mother’, the boy promises. ‘I do not believe you any more’, Monika answers. But after a while she adds, ‘Well, all right but we will pray together.’ After several months another volunteer Darek from Lodz came to help Monika. Before he left he had sold his car and left his flat. He has no pedagogical education but he worked in a hospice in Lodz and then in a young offenders’ home. In fact, he is not Darek but the boys call him in Spanish Dario. The volunteer believes that this is a symbolic change of his name since a new phase of his life begins. Some years ago he was different, rebellious, he was even homeless. Now he calls that period of his life ‘my former life’. There was a turning point, his encounter with God. He wants to be brother and friend for the boys.
‘I can understand them to some extent’, he confesses.

Fr Piotr’s charges

Those who have come here recently are still like wild cats. They have that in their eyes: half-closed, distrustful... They often lie on the concrete, hide in some nooks under the wall. The yard of the homeless children’ house in Lima, run by the Salesians of St John Bosco, has a smooth concrete surface and high kerbs so that it would not be too strange, especially in the beginning. With time the boys get used to the house and the house to them. Jan reads books patiently in the study room. Like other boys he has got a comfortable chair and a good desk. Nice pictures are on the walls. The centre is well kept but still under reconstruction: it will have a new little hospital and a larger library. The 19-year-old Mauel Rojas has been four years in the house. He works at the airport; he makes packages for the meals served on the plane. He wants to be a pilot. He is full of joy and with boldness looks his interlocutor in his eyes. He carries many notebooks since he has just returned form his technical school. Fr Piotr paid for his driving license and now he often sends him to do shopping. Recently Mauel has brought his brother Saul to the Salesians. He keeps an eye on him. God forbid he did something wrong! Saul is on duty in the kitchen. Fr Piotr is instilling the boy to clean the tiles carefully as if he did it for his fiancé. He is joking that Saul’s future wife will thank him for his good upbringing. ‘The lives of women in Peru are not easy. It is them that they are the heads of their families. Even before their marriage they wonder what will happen if their husbands leave them. There is no family model here’, Fr Piotr complains. ‘Man can have a few women. They drink too much and many a time they throw their kids to live in the street. For boys the most important person is mother; they do not know who their fathers are or they want to forget them...

I have found the street, I have found a home

Some time ago Fr Dabrowski used to walk in the streets and looked for boys. Now the boys bring their friends to him. They are drawn here because they can have some things for their own use: a bed, a desk and a locker. The missionary does not want his charges to have any old things.
‘You cannot give them what you do not use’, he explains. So the boys wear colourful t-shirts and jeans. When some sponsors gave them sports shoes they did not want to take them off and wanted to sleep in them. ‘I can find money for everything somehow’, the Salesian priest admits. ‘The owners of the airlines give us the lost passengers’ properties; the companies organize internships for the boys, the shops share food. When one of the charges celebrates some feast: he is baptized, receives his First Communion or confirmation, after the ceremony he goes to a restaurant with Fr Piotr. The boy orders something special: chicken with chips. He feels awkward but he smiles. Such a treat with ‘daddy’ is a great day for him. Fr Piotr puts posters of the Salesian technical school up. The school is just around the corner. You can become a mechanic or a computer specialist or a carpenter...Jozue looks at the colour photos of the workshops. Not a long time ago he did not dream of going to school but now everything has changed. He has got his address: 210 Brasil, Lima.


In January 2007 Fr Piotr was sent to Piura, northern Peru. Monika returned to Poland and currently she lectures in pedagogy in Bialystok. She is writing her doctoral dissertation about the street children. Dario is in Peru where he met the love of his life. Jozue left the house. Saul has become the best pupil in his form...

"Niedziela" 3/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: