Chile is lucky to be in the southern part of South America and becoming,
once again, part of the global economy. The successful economy reflects Chiles type
of government, but there are those, such as Chilean intellectuals, who have realistic
The 1996 United Nations development report shows that one of our communities has a
standard of living equal to Canada, and another community located in the southern region
has development equal or similar to Canada. It is true that our child mortality and child
malnutrition levels have gone down. Nevertheless, we have been able to accomplish these
things only by using our natural resources in a disproportionate way. There has been land
and ocean water pollution. Social exclusion has developed within the neoliberal model.
Those new social sectors that are excluded are the new alien groups that are not part of
society. They go beyond marginality. There are children, boys and girls, who are loitering
in the streets. They are simply carrying out a way of surviving.
I decided to work with girl children in a rehabilitation center because in my country
there has been an historic tradition of working with street boys. There have been two
groups that have worked with boysnuns and the police. There was not an
acknowledgement of girl children in the streets.
Over many years, I was labeled crazy. It was unacceptable to many people to see that
these children were there. There is a culture of submission embedded in official or formal
education which is linked to the image of a suffering woman, who sacrifices herself for
her children, family, society, and has no identity of her own. It was extremely difficult
to show them evidence of girl children in the streets, but it was even harder for me to
discover the conditions of prostitution in which they were living.
I got close to them through adult women who were in prostitution. I had to get rid of
prejudices, language, which actually effects us all, and establish new tools to form
relationships. I became aware that some adult women in prostitution were worried that they
were losing business to younger girls. And some women in prostitution were mothers, who
would cry when they were talking about finding young girls who were in prostitution.
I am not going to repeat the same topics addressed elsewhere in this volume, like why
prostitution exists, because those reasons are common to all the regions. When I became
involved with this work, I realized that I couldnt do it alone. I went under ground
with the girls because I was politically exiled to Central America, and I had been thrown
out of my country. I came across people like Professor Sotto, who is the co-director of
our center, and Ana and other staff members who have been working with me for many years.
It was necessary for us to devise a program that would address itself to street educators
and trainers, to teach youngsters and adults how to reach street girlshow to talk to
them, how to look at them. It is not easy to tell you the stories of these girls and
women. Adults who are immersed in this type of work still never stop being astonished by
the stories being told to us by girls of nine and eleven years of agethese girls who
are surviving this dirty war called prostitution. The victim who survives this macabre,
sordid game becomes involved in this without realizing that it is not a childrens
Why is it so important to rebuild their lives? Or should I say to build them? At the
moment we are actually reconsidering our name in terms of social
"rehabilitation," because they were never functioning, previously. We are
thinking of a center for "repair" in terms of social and psychological ways. It
doesnt have anything to do with coming along and using a band-aid or some cream to
heal a wound. It is a matter of sewing, ever so skillfully, each one of the tears without
making a mistake. When the girl realizes that it is important that she is alive, something
happens to her eyes, to the way she looks, and I call that the magic moment. They begin to
open themselves up, to sing, and to cry. They tell us part of their stories. And something
very important to us, they laugh. That is the most important moment in this process of
repairing all the traumas that they have suffered.
What are our tools-what do we do at CERSO? We train a team of workers who will be in
direct contact with the girls. I dont like to use the term "select," but
it is very important who goes out on the outreach program on the streets. We begin to make
contact, visiting the nightclubs. If we visit houses of prostitution, we change from time
to time those who go along so that people working at the brothels wont become
familiar with them. Our relationship with women in prostitution is very important; they
help us a great deal. It is also very important in this process that the street actors,
the children, the trainees, and the women in prostitution become aware that they are doing
something for society. We have to decide and map all the streets to show which route we
follow. The active participation of girl children in prostitution in our project is very
important. We attempt to use community centers, but this is not always possible. If we
come across a case where we see that the girl is in danger or that its going to be highly
explosive we take her to the center for "repair" and healing.
When the girl comes to the center, she joins in the activities there. We do not write
down a history, because it is a violation of her rights to maintain files on her. We
decide together what issues to work on, based on what the girls think affects them most.
CERSO is a lifeline to save childrens lives. If they had a minimum of human dignity,
they would not live as they do. They need to learn to have dignity.
CERSO started in one room, in a house with no running water. Now, we have a place that
offers psycho-social "repair," and a dream to better the lives of the girls. In
12 years we have had no government support. Sometimes I dont know how the program
will carry on. Every time I think that we will have to close, more children arrive, and we