The oldest of five brothers, Father Ricardo Lach arrived in Peru at age 23. He grew up in Poland when it was a communist country. His father was a farmer and his mother worked at a hospital teaching and taking care of children with tuberculosis. Perhaps, it was his mother’s work what influenced his desire to serve; he was also inspired by an old Salesian priest who had worked several years in Peru. Today, at the Don Bosco Shelter, Father Ricardo Lach and Father Raúl Acuña provide opportunities to young people and adolescents so they can have a decent job in the future that allows them to reach economic stability. It is necessary to make a difference between street kids and kids on the streets, he says. The first ones have no family; the latter do, but they are so chaotic that they prefer to live away from them. The doors of this house remain open those who want to leave can leave. It is up to them to choose the best choice: having a better quality of life or living in the streets.
How did you decide to go down the streets in search of kids to offer them housing, food and education?
They come in four ways: because they themselves look for us, because some organisation brings them, because some Salesian work sends them to us, or because we look for them. This last experience is very rewarding. We leave at eleven at night to share with those who sleep on the streets. Many people sleep on the streets; outside the Children's Hospital, for example. Some people come from the interior with their children for three, five days, but the Hospital gives them no prompt appointment...
And, as they have no money, they have to sleep on the streets.
Especially in the gas station that is in front of the Hospital. When you go out, you find not only children, but entire families or women with their babies. We offer them shelter and food, or we look for help. As a parish, that is our job.
How long ago did you start?
Seven years ago, but the founder was Father Pedro Dabrowski. He built this house out of nothing, I am just keeping it, giving these kids a little joy.
Tell me about a case that shows what you are doing.
I met this boy called Iván Córdova; he cleaned car windows and sold bottles of water. I bought him two, three times, and one day I asked him if he was studying. He told me that he was working for that, that he was saving money. He was from Bagua and lived here with his brother. He had no father, and his mother was still in his hometown, sick. I invited him to come, but he hesitated and threw me a suspicious look.
After a two-week trip, I saw him still working on the streets. “You never came!”, I told him. “Soon”, he said. “Hey, the Father’s offering shelter, you should go!”, said some street vendor who wanted us to also take her son but he was too young, we only take kids over 13. He finally came. He had already finished high school, so we got him a half scholarship to study Administration at some institute and we paid for the rest. Now Iván lives outside (our shelter), works in the Logistics Department of a factory and is taking English classes.
Some boys are used to violent environments. You cannot be so soft with them.
When you provide them with an environment of love and respect, they are different, you know. They learned to behave on the defensive, but here they do not have to.
How did you learn to deal with them?
It is the Salesian Preventive System: reason, religion and loving-kindness. Here we offer them everything they need for their development, but we do not just give it away, they have to earn it. Each day they are responsible for one part of the house. They may even earn some money, because we have a bank. Let me explain: If I need to paint a room that is not part of the kids' tasks instead of bringing in a painter, I ask who wants to do it. I choose two or three, I make sure they do a good job and I write down in a notebook the amount I would have paid to the painter so that I can keep a record of their savings. If someone wants to buy some shoes, for example, they come and ask me for what they have saved. Some have more than a thousand soles!