Project Nelhuayotl: Roots. Nelhuayotl meaning roots, foundation or base in Nahuatl, one of Mexico’s many indigenous languages.
What do we mean when we talk about a social reintegration and does it matter?
A lot of research and literature that discusses social reintegration or social reinsertion does so in the context of the rehabilitation of offenders or the rehabilitation of those suffering from addiction. However, whilst not all of the young people who sleep on the streets of Mexico City commit crime or consume drugs, they all suffer a extremely high level of social isolation. These young people, as all homeless people the world over, survive on the edges of their society rather than being able to participate as active citizens in their own communities and most suffer discrimination, violence, abuse and often sexual exploitation. It is also true, however, that many of these young people do have problems with addiction to drugs and alcohol and many also have a history of having commited crimes and spending time in prison.
For young people who have lived on the streets or with an addiction, especially those who have been in this situation for a long time or from a very young age, social reintegration is a process that can present them significant difficulty. Most have not attended school nor have they spent much time in their family home or with their family unit. They are excluded from society and exposed to an environment of insecurity, violence, exploitation and abuse. The adolescent years are when a young person in more stable circumstances is able to develop more effectively their sense of self. This is also when, through their parents, teachers, friends and peers, they acquire the life skills that they need to be able to function productively and positively within society. For young people who live these years of adolescence on the street and / or consuming drugs lose this education primordially and socially they work at the level of development that they had when they fell out of society (P. Harris, Youthoria: Adolescent Substance Misuse. Problems, Prevention and Treatment).
Therefore, a program of support for young people who have lived in this situation of social isolation and neglect, is not simply about giving them a home or helping them detox from the drugs or alcohol they consume but instead it is about giving them the social and academic education and the love and support that they lost out on during their time on the street.
Social reintegration programmes for offenders and those suffering from addiction differ widely in their form and effectiveness but most evaluations and analysis of these programmes agree that the process should start early and not wait until someone is ready to leave their rehabilitation clinic or prison. Or in the case of some of the young people we may work with this process should start early on in their time in the hostel, children’s home or homeless shelter where they are staying. Also largely there appears to be consistency amongst analyses over which areas of life a reintegration programme should focus on. These areas include: housing, social employment and training, education, parenting advice and assistance, finance, legal issues and the reconstruction or, for some, the construction of social relationships and social support networks. The other important factor in successful reintegration is the input of the community within which the individual lives or will return to live in. Without the acceptance and open mindedness of a community a young person will struggle to adjust.
Project Roots aims to provide a supportive and caring environment within our non profit cafe where the young people in our programme can learn new skills, earn money, interact with others with similar experience, gain the social skills they need to function effectively in society, rebuild relationships with family and friends and most importantly learn to achieve and to see their value and place within their communities.