FOR Peter Ta,con, the case against indifference is a simple one. ``If you don't care about kids, then you don't care about the future,'' he says. ``You're tossing away a precious resource. There's a tremendous human cost that will result from our not caring,'' says Mr. Ta,con, director of CHILDHOPE, a new organization aimed at helping the millions of abused and exploited children working, sleeping, and begging on streets around the world. ``One question is, Why should you care? The other question is, What happens if you don't?'' CHILDHOPE, which was set up early this year in Guatemala, draws on Ta,con's years of experience as UNICEF's leading expert on street children. Its aim is multiple: to act as a clearinghouse for information on projects for street children around the world; to lobby governments on behalf of street children; to provide technical support and training for grass-roots organizations; and to raise funds for child-relief programs worldwide.
Unlike many aid organizations that take a percentage of all donations to cover administrative costs, CHILDHOPE has done separate fund raising to cover the organization's operating costs of $400,000 for its first year. Instead of keeping a portion of the contributions it receives, CHILDHOPE will forward all of a donor's money to a recipient - funds from a sixth-grade class in Wisconsin, for example, may go directly to a school for street children in the Philippines.
CHILDHOPE is also unusual in that it will have a roving international headquarters, so that the organization can focus attention on the worldwide nature of the problem of street children. Ta,con says that after five years or so in Guatemala, a branch office will be established in that country, and international headquarters will be moved to another continent. The moves, he says, will continue in the future.
That long-term agenda reflects what Ta,con says is the long-term nature of the problem and the need for a long-term approach to the search for solutions.
``You know that North American attitude that you can be anything you want to be, that you can solve anything in your lifetime,'' says Ta,con, a Canadian who has lived in Latin America for years. ``We move mountains, there are no limits.
``Well, suddenly you start working in an area like this, and you find limits,'' he continues. ``You know that these kids are going to be around after you're not. It's a generational problem.''
Change, he is convinced, will come. It will just take time. Ta,con urges action, patience, and hope.
``You have to have a little bit of faith with these kids,'' he says, ``that what you're doing will emancipate them.''
Groups that are helping The following is a partial listing of children's-rights organizations and other groups trying to stop the exploitation of children. Child Relief and You (CRY) Akash Ganga, 1st floor, 89 Bhulabhai Desai Rd. Bombay 400 036 India
CHILDHOPE Apartado Postal 992-A Guatemala City Guatemala, C.A.
Defense for Children International Case Postale 359 1211 Geneva 4 Switzerland
Defense for Children International 534 Eighth St. Brooklyn, NY 11215
International Catholic Child Bureau Rue de Lausanne 65 CH 1202, Geneva Switzerland
Anti-Slavery Society 180 Brixton Rd. London SW9 England
New Beginnings c/o CRIBS 14 Dama de Noche New Manila Quezon City Philippines