This summer, we are working as volunteers at Los Quinchos, a Nicaraguan non-profit organization that seeks to rehabilitate and offer hospitality to abandoned and mistreated street children from Managua, many of whom are victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as drug addiction. The organization has four main projects: the Filter House in Managua, the Los Quinchos and Las Yahoska projects in San Marcos, and a career development project for older teens in Granada. The organization was founded by Zelinda Roccia, an Italian woman who, during a visit to Nicaragua in 1991, witnessed the devastating reality of so many homeless boys living on the streets of Managua (many of whom were orphaned by the Contra Wars of the late 1980´s); that same year, she uprooted her life in Italy to found Los Quinchos. “Quinchos” is an Italian word meaning “little rascals,” and it is the term that is used to affectionately refer to the boys in the program; four years later, Las Yahoskas (named after a river in Nicaragua) was founded to serve girls living in similar circumstances on the streets of Managua.
The Filter House serves as the organization’s most direct link to the day-to-day lives of kids (usually ranging from ages 6 to 18) living on the streets or in abusive households in Managua. Every child participating in the Filter House program has been assessed by the organization´s “street doctors,” Los Quinchos staff (often former participants in the program themselves, and almost always trained in psychology/social work) who have spent a lot of time with the kids on the streets of Managua, and who have determined which children are living in unhealthy or harmful circumstances (often in their home life), and who, thus, are in need of a relocation to a more stable and nurturing environment. The kids usually live with their parents while participating in this part of the Los Quinchos program, but it is understood by all parties that the end goal is for the children to eventually live permanently at the Los Quinchos or Las Yahoskas sites in San Marcos (weekly weekend visits to San Marcos are an integral part of the Filter House´s efforts to smooth the transition to the more orphanage-like lifestyle at the sites in San Marcos). The Filter House hosts meals, academic reinforcement exercises, as well as various non-academic activities before and after school every day. Participants in the Filter House program usually spend between a few months and a year in this, the organization´s Managuan branch, before officially coming to live at the “finca” (farm) with Los Quinchos or at the organization´s Las Yahoskas site. Though we are not working at the Filter House site specifically, we felt that it was important to explain where the majority of the Quinchos and Yahoskas are initially introduced into the organization.
We are both working at the organization’s main site in San Marcos, a town located about 45 minutes south of Managua that is home to about 30,000 Nicaraguans. As we sit back and reflect on the parts of these past ten weeks in Nicaragua that we will most miss, it becomes clear that getting to know this quirky town has been one of many favorite parts of the experience. We have befriended a handful of San Marcos´ motortaxi fleet (one of whom asked for Rosemary´s hand in marriage this morning…he´s no longer our favorite); we know who sells the best street food, we know at a distance which of the stumbling men are drunk and which are the local ¨locos¨ (in local parlance); we know at what times we can grab a weak thread of wi-fi at each of the few available hotspots; and we know (and have occasionally been known to succumb to the impulse) where we will be offered free kittens.