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Swiss kids get taste of street life

Estefania, Fabiana, Massimo and Benoît were among the thousands who took to the streets swissinfo.ch

Swiss children have been taking part in a charity-sponsored event to find out what life is like for the world’s many street kids.

This content was published on November 19, 2004 - 16:15

They carried out tasks such as shining shoes, washing windshields or selling trinkets in the street in order to help raise money for children in developing countries.

The two-day event was organised by Swiss charity Terre des Hommes to mark the United Nations “World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse” on November 20.

The UN estimates that there are as many as 100 million children worldwide who rely on the streets for their survival.

Terre des Hommes hoped that by carrying out street vending and other tasks, Swiss children would find out what life is like for many young people in other parts of the world.

Those taking part also made a donation to the charity, which will be used to support 10,000 street children in ten developing countries, including Afghanistan and Ethiopia.

New record

An estimated 5,600 young people across the country were expected to take part. Last year, there were 4,000 participants, who raised a total of SFr200,000 ($172,000).

Many schools across the country have got involved in the project. Fribourg teacher Gabrielle Gawrysiak is just one of many who encouraged her students to participate.

"They’re easy to convince,” she said. “They know it’s a good experience for them, you just have to overcome some reservations from the ones who think it’s degrading to shine shoes, for example.”

"I also asked them to work together, by saying that if even one refused, we would not go,” Gawrysiak told swissinfo. “That way, the ones who were certain persuaded the others."

Fortunate

swissinfo caught up with a group of 15-year-old pupils who took part in the event.

"Honestly, I’m not sure I would have taken part just based on a pamphlet from Terre des Hommes,” said Benoît, one of the participating students. “But since my whole class is involved, I’m happy to be able to do something concrete.”

For her part, Estefania said the street children event was important “to understand what it’s really like for them, and what we can do to help them”.

Massimo added that it made him think about how lucky children are in Switzerland.

"We should realise we’re very fortunate to be able to go to school every day and eat when we’re hungry,” he said. “In other countries, that’s not possible.”

Unfair

Gawrysiak said that, in general, her pupils were well informed about the problems facing street children.

Estefania added that the class had studied other parts of the world and learned that children take drugs or get into prostitution to survive.

“We know Terre des Hommes helps children in countries like Brazil or Vietnam,” she said.

For Fabiana, the situation facing these children is unfair. “If they’re poor, it’s not their fault,” she said. “Their parents were poor and you know there’s a deep division between the rich and poor in those countries”.

She knows that children work the street even in Switzerland. "But because we’re a rich country, nobody talks about it.”

swissinfo, Marc-Andre Miserez in Fribourg

Key facts

On Friday and Saturday, 5,600 young people took to the streets of Switzerland to appeal for children’s rights and raise money for charity.
The event was held to mark the UN’s “World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse”.
Last year, 4,000 children took part and raised a total of SFr200,000.

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In brief

Terre des Hommes provides around 10,000 children in ten countries with shelter, food, medical care or vocational training.

It says that in Europe most street kids are young immigrants without residence permits.

They often fall prey to drug and prostitution rings.

90% of young foreigners disappear from the system after being refused a permit.

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