Hope for Joel Acevedo, An Invisible Child
Santiago, Chile - La Pintana is a slum in Santiago, Chile with a population of about 200,000 people, 80 percent of whom are living below the poverty line. Many children in this neighborhood live or work on the streets with no one to care for them, and those who do have homes often deal with abuse or neglect.
Joel Acevedo was one of those vulnerable children. Joel was born in Argentina, but his mom who was young, scared and unprepared for the responsibility of raising a child brought him to Chile. Due to her lack of education, Joel’s mother never knew to register Joel’s birth in either country. Joel was an invisible child; he did not exist. He had no access to education or healthcare. He couldn’t attend Chilean public schools and his mom couldn’t afford to pay for his schooling.
By the age of ten, Joel’s mother was in jail and his father abandoned him. He went to live with his grandmother where he slept on a couch in a dirty, crowded space that they shared with ten other people. Without structure in his life or even someone to teach him basic hygiene, Joel became very rebellious and other kids would reject him because he was always dirty. Since he couldn’t attend school, he spent his days begging on the streets for food.
Then he heard about Pastor Andrea of La Parcela and the afterschool program she ran. The first day he visited the program, she recognized his need for love and attention. She and the other volunteers welcomed him into the program, correcting his bad behaviors with loving and forgiving hearts. They taught him about the grace and love of God through both their words and their actions.Joel began spending more time with Pastor Andrea and her family in the mornings, the afterschool program in the afternoons, and less time on the streets. As other people in the program mentored and guided him, Joel learned how to read and write. Pastor Andrea helped Joel apply for Chilean citizenship, and a year later, he was able to enroll in the first grade with his very first backpack and school uniform.
Now, four years later, Joel is at the top of his 8th grade class. Thanks to the love and support of the afterschool program in La Pintana, Joel believes in himself and sees the love God has for him.