News feature: Immigrant children learn how to cope with life at child care centre
Children who have made their way to Spain from Africa learn how to cope with life at child care centre.
Jawad says he is 14, but an x-ray of his wrist suggests that he is probably aged about nine. That makes him the youngest of the 47 children living in an emergency centre set up three months ago in Tenerife for unaccompanied minors who have crossed to the Canary Islands from Africa aboard open fishing boats carrying migrants.
"I arrived from Morocco three months ago: I slept on the boat, I wasn't seasick," he explains. Most children in the centre are reluctant to talk about where they have come from, wary that if they give too much away they will be sent back. But Jawad is open: "I come from Rabat, and came here to work," he says.
In Jawad's centre, in the small town of Icod, in the slopes of the Teide volcano, the children are aged between nine and 14. When they reach 15, they are sent to one of four other centres. Until then, the authorities avoid contact between the older children and youngsters such as Jawad.
The majority of the children in Jawad's centre are from Morocco and Algeria, although there are also several young boys from West Africa. The head of the centre, Jacqueline Castañeda Padrón, says that many of the children say that they have run away from home, "but there are some who say that their parents put them aboard a boat and then left them to their fate, and they don't know why."
Jawad shares a room with three other boys. They are woken up each morning at seven by a monitor. They shower and get dressed, and after breakfast they attend class.
Yuns is a 14-year-old Moroccan, and the oldest in the centre. He says that his father is a policeman. "I left from Tarfaya, managed to get to Lanzarote, and have been in different centres there until they brought me to the nursery here."
Five other boys who share a room are in charge of the kitchen and dining room today. They help set tables, collect dishes and clean up. Tomorrow, a different group will be assigned domestic chores. "Just the same as normal kids do at home," says the head of the centre. "When they leave here, they will have an idea of how to look after themselves."
Jacqueline Castañeda says that many of the children at the centre come from homes without electricity or running water, and are initially fascinated by the modern conveniences at the centre. "But our job here is to teach them what all children have to learn: how to make their bed, how to keep themselves clean, and how to behave properly. This is their home for the moment, and we look after them as if they were our own children," she says.
[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ JUAN MANUEL PARDELLAS 2008]
Subject: Spanish news