Na rua | On the Street

Photographic collaborative project with street-children, Mindelo (Cabo Verde). Exhibited: Leiden (The Nederlands) 2008; Vila Real (Portugal) 2009; ISCTE-IUL (Lisboa) 2009; Museu da Cidade (Lisboa) (group ex.) 2012.

By Lorenzo Bordonaro & Helton

"You ask me if the street is good. When you are in the street you think it’s a good life. You are tranquil. When you move to the street and you run away from home, yes, that’s good: you don’t have to go to school, you never lack food, and you never lack friends and life together. In the street you live like a rebel. You are tranquil. You are free".
(Inmate, S. Vicente Prison, former street child)

Helton and I took these pictures in Mindelo (island of São Vicente, Cape Verde) in the summer of 2007. Helton was 16 at the time and had been living on the street for most of the time since he was 10.

These photographs, where his gaze and mine overlap, are emblematic of an approach to street-engaged youth which acknowledges their critical and dire conditions and social and economic constraints but refuses to victimise them. Rather, it takes seriously their motives and recognize their agency, autonomy and will for independence.

Interviews and dialogues with these children and youth in Cape Verde surprisingly revealed that most of them considered their engagement with the street as a choice - even though this was made within limited life-chances. For most of them, street life was comparatively satisfactory: a space of freedom and self-determination. Most of them declared that they prefer staying in the street rather than at home or in institutions.

Cape Verdean youth making a living in the street are certainly doing their best to upset an image of passive and innocent victims waiting to be saved, complicating efforts that are made to ‘save’ them. As reported by many children and social workers, even when a drop-in centres provide them with food, shelter, and the possibility of a ‘normal childhood’, most children run away and return to the street.

Planned interventions should take account of the fact that, despite difficulties and violence, life in the street provides youth with chances, advantages and pleasures that neither their families nor social services can grant them; that the street can be a space of freedom and empowerment. Those which do not, are doomed to failure.

How far can we go to impose ‘rights’? Where does the border between protection and correction lie? What are the moral biases of social intervention?