Si a la Vida strives to rescue kids living on city streets throughout Nicaragua, rehabilitate them, and then reintegrate the kids, whenever possible, with their families and their communities. Most of these kids -- all boys -- are runaways or "throwaways" from very poor and troubled homes. Many are addicted to sniffing glue, which banishes hunger pangs. Si a la Vida provides these boys with a stable place to live, food, clothes and health care, teaches responsibility and respect for self and others, and emphasizes progress in school as the road out of poverty.
The project started in 1994. 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, Si a la Vida purchased a house and began offering educational and health services.
Now Si a la Vida has two residential centers.
At Casa Nuevo Amanecer in Managua, the original house, about 30 boys receive care each year, with about 10 living there at any time. Staff does outreach in the markets and guides the new arrivals during their transition from the streets. For about the first three months, the newly enrolled boys stay at this Managua center and are supported in unlearning the habits of street life and adapting to the Si a la Vida program.
Then, after stabilizing in Managua, they go to Casa José María, the Si a la Vida center on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua. At this center, the focus is on education, counseling, and developing and reinforcing a healthy lifestyle. Sixteen boys live in the dormitory, located on a 17-acre waterfront plantain farm purchased in 1998. The boys attend public schools, do homework, get tutoring, perform chores such as washing their own clothes, making their beds, and helping maintain the facilities. On weekends there are scheduled work and sports activities as well as outings to local beaches and volcanoes. A second dormitory on the Ometepe farmland is being constructed and will house an additional 16 boys.
From an initial bare-bones effort, Sí a la Vida grew into a stable project that has rescued many youngsters from glue addiction and the dangers and hopelessness of life on the streets.