Wender belonged to the first group of kids rescued from the streets by me between 1993 and 1995. He was 13 years old at the time.
His story was an incredible one, although not uncommon in a country hosting hundreds of thousands of abandoned and neglected children on the streets of its major cities; himself being lost to the streets after having run away from home at the age of nine together with a young boy from his neighborhood, who already had strong ties with the streets at the time.
Once engulfed by the other kids on the streets Wender was soon indulging in all that is far too common for children living on the streets in the big cities; drugs, violence, sex and thieving. Finding his way back home soon became a nightmare for the young boy and after almost a year had passed, with several failing attempts by his desperate parents to find him, the family eventually gave up looking. They actually believed him to be dead.
The following year, during a television documentary about street kids in São Paulo, Wender was unexpectedly recognized by his mother who immediately followed the tracks left by the television reporters and eventually managed to discover the whereabouts of her son to meet up with him in the city centre.
But alas! A child abandoned on the streets in a major city for more than a year becomes completely dependent to the life he has become all too familiar with and there was absolutely no way of keeping Wender at home again, although several attempts were made. He would simply run away back to the streets, time and time again. What his family could not understand was that street dependency is the strongest “drug” for any child accustomed to surviving on the streets and that they had no means whatsoever to counteract such an attraction.
Eventually I became involved with Wender when he was 13 years old, slightly older than most of the children I was working with on the streets at the time, but as he was operating as a “street father” for one of the younger street kids I was recuperating, it was more like a strategic choice to involve him in the program, which actually resulted in his own rescue from the streets and after a couple of years tough rehabilitation work he was reintegrated once again with his family. The reintegration process went surprisingly smoothly and Wender continued studying part of his day at school and had a part-time job during the rest of the day.
But as with many of the kids with longer street histories, Wender had also experienced many difficult situations during his time on the streets. One such situation ended up with the killing of a drug trafficker during a brawl resulting after Wender had tried to remove the much older guy from their underground “den”. The trafficker had been abusing and attempted to rape a nine-year old friend of Wender and he merely wanted to protect the boy. The drug trafficker attacked him but was met with equal force and stabbed to death by the other boys in the den, including Wender.
The episode resulted in some serious consequences for Wender and he was sent to the juvenile reform and detention centre (FEBEM), but a later appeal by my organization backed by witness statements from the other street children present during the killing, resulted in his release and he was sent back home to follow a normal life with his family.
Albeit the difficulties, Wender was a great kid, always very moral in his attitudes. During the making of a TV documentary about his recuperation between 1994 and 1996, in a night sequence where he was preparing himself to sleep on the sidewalk, Wender stated the following:
"Live more..., live less........, I don’t know! If I die, I die. Then they will come and bury me. It’s also cold here on the streets – I am often freezing."
At the end of the film, Wender rides off on a horse belonging to his scrap merchant father after having spent an entire year back at home. He finishes the film by saying:
"Everyone has their dreams. Some dreams will never come true. It’s not everyone who can fulfill their dreams. We shall have to wait and see...."
Unfortunately, Wender was murdered in 1999. Suddenly and unexpectedly one afternoon, on his way back home from school, two shots were fired from the open window of a passing car, hitting him in the back whereupon he fell to the ground and died on the streets that he had strived so hard to resist the previous years. Nobody ever discovered why, but we suspect it was a cold-blooded execution by relatives of the guy he had killed on the streets a few years earlier. Brazilians can be most revengeful at times.
Wender's death was a tragic loss for all of us who shared his plight.....
(...to be continued)