Basic Needs as Basic Human Rights
In this series, we’ve examined how meeting a child’s most basic needs can help that child develop toward self-growth, healing from trauma, freedom from fear and hope for the future.
Not being distracted by a rumbling stomach, itchy skin or trying to sleep on a wet, cold sidewalk can free up space in a child’s mind to learn how to regulate their emotions, to dream and to prepare for the future.
At Micah we are aware that as child’s rights are routinely denied, children will continue to struggle in cycles of trauma and poverty. Their rights ignored or stolen, children connected to our city’s streets are being abused and left feeling damaged, destroyed and hopeless. They often turn to substance abuse like alcohol consumption or inhaling yellow glue to mask their pangs of hunger or feelings of abandon. And this cycle often ends in overdose or violence. It’s the reality of the situation…and we at Micah are dedicated to standing against it.
We are dedicated to honoring and respecting children, to upholding their human dignity, to standing for their human rights and meeting their basic needs.
So, how do we do that? Where does this process begin?
It often beings with food—a most basic need. Every week we head downtown with meals to hand out to our friends on the streets. (While our focus is on children, we also provide food, other provisions and some medical care to older youth and adults we’ve gotten to know. For this series, we’ll focus on the relationships we form with children, specifically boys as our three homes are for males.) When we meet a new boy on the street, food is often a tool we can use to open a door of communication. As we chat over a baleada (typical Honduran food, kind of like a North American burrito), we start to get to know this young man. At his pace, we’ll start to earn his trust and get to know his situation better. We hope to discover things like if he is homeless 100% of the time or just walks the streets begging throughout the day and returns to a family at night; if he is consuming yellow glue or another substance; and if he is in a place of urgent need—for example, he is in danger of abuse or an orphan who has no family to turn to or if, instead of inviting him to be a resident in one of our homes, we might be able to help meet a need for him and his family so that he can get off the streets and back into school. This process looks different for every child, but there are some elements that are consistent: (1) it usually starts with a meal, meeting a basic need (2) we must display and develop mutual respect between us and the child (3) we must act on behalf of the child’s safety and have accountability with other safe adults. While we cannot rescue every child currently connected to our city’s streets, we must always engage in responsible, thoughtful behavior with the children we contact so that our involvement in a child’s life never provokes or facilitates abuse, violence or even disrespect.
After developing relationships with boys and young men on the streets, some decide to take up residence in one of our three homes. The Micah House is a group home for boys and teenagers, the Isaiah House is for older teens and young men who leave the streets, and our Timothy House is a transitional home for young men who have graduated from one of our other houses and are not quite ready for complete independent living as they study in university or work at one of their first jobs.
Within these three homes, one of the first things we focus on is meeting the basic needs of our residents: providing food, clothing, shelter and safety. This coincides with our understanding of human rights and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As discussed earlier, helping a child know he is in a safe environment where he will not go hungry, where he will be clean and where he will not experience abuse is often the first step toward helping that child overcome past trauma and develop into an adult who is capable of pursuing his goals, holding down a job, participating in a healthy marriage and being a responsible parent.
We’ve been doing this for 20 years, and to be honest, we’re still learning. There truly is no magic formula to help a boy leave behind his connections to life on the streets. However, when it comes to providing a healthy environment for our residents, we’ve figured things out pretty well. As we continue to learn and improve, we’re currently providing nutritional food, shelter, clean water, medical care and safety to 17 boys in our Micah House, five young men in our Isaiah House and another six young men in our Timothy House. We’re constantly reevaluating our menu to provide food that is delicious, kid-friendly and healthy, we employ a large staff to help keep our houses clean and maintain safety throughout those spaces, and we work to provide wholesome activities to engage our residents’ minds and keep their bodies active and healthy.
That’s the easy part. It takes funding and organization, but after 20 years of ministry we’re happy to report that we’re doing a pretty good job. The work of honoring the more nuanced human rights and agency of each young man in our care—that’s a little more complicated. And that’s what our next blog post is about.