2023.09.25 Documentario Canillitas

"Canillitas": The Salesian documentary that gives voice to exploited children

The tragic condition of 340,000 children working in the Dominican Republic prompts the Salesian Congregation to intervene with the launch of projects to recuperate the minors and the production of a documentary that recounts the scourge of child labour.

By Luana Foti and Camilla Dionisi

"I am Moisés, I am 14 years old and in Santo Domingo I used to clean people's shoes in the streets...". Moisés' is just one of the dramatic stories told in the documentary Canillitas, screened for the first time on Tuesday 26 September, at the Benedict XVI Hall in the Vatican's Teutonic Cemetery. The documentary is set in the Dominican Republic and at the heart of its message is the testimony of the scourge of exploitation of minors, forced to work to survive poverty and violence and to ensure a future for their families. Accompanying Moisés at the screening were Alberto López Herrero, spokesperson for the Department of Communication of Misiones Salesianas and producer of the documentary; Juan Linares, Salesian missionary in Santo Domingo; and Karen Montàs, educator and executive director of the 'Canillitas con Don Bosco' programme. 

The work of the Salesians

The Salesians operate in more than 130 countries and work to help and save children from exploitation by offering them an education. In addition, they started the first project in the Dominican Republic, which will soon be 38 years old, called 'Canillitas con Don Bosco'. The documentary came about as a result of their experience in the field and tells the story of six child protagonists, a missionary - founder of the programme, and the educators who accompany the children. Moisés is one of the protagonists of the documentary and he recounts that on Saturdays and Sundays, from 8 am until 7 pm, he would walk around the streets of his neighbourhood, La Ciénaga, in the Dominican Republic, carrying a wooden crate on his shoulders with the products he needed to be a shoe-shiner. "I really enjoyed making the documentary," Moisés tells Vatican News, "because it tells who I am, what I have lived, how I live, where I live and how I clean shoes. He does this work to help his grandmother, he says, and his mother, "so that I can buy what I need for the house". He says that when he grows up he wants to be an artist, a singer and a lawyer, "even though I wanted to be a doctor first".

From the producer

The title of the documentary, explains producer Alberto López Herrero, comes from the word 'canillitas', an appellation for children who try to earn a living for themselves and their families by moving 'las canillas', or legs, in many Latin American countries. "We make a documentary every two years," says López "set in a different country of the world to inform, denounce and raise awareness about a particular violated right of childhood. This word also gave its name to the first Salesian project launched in the Dominican Republic, which will soon be 38 years old, 'Canillitas con Don Bosco'. López explains that when we talk about child labour we usually think of factories in India or Asia or mines in Colombia but it is an issue closer to us than we think even if in most cases it remains invisible. "Even in our wrongly defined 'developed world', there are situations of child labour: many children, including migrants, are subjected to this type of exploitation, sometimes finding themselves in a condition of slavery".

A Salesian missionary

Juan Linares, Salesian missionary in Santo Domingo, coordinated the work with children living or working on the streets. His experience put him into contact with a harsh reality but laid the foundations for a direct project in the field to ensure a future for these children. "I have a strong memory of the raw experience these minors go through," says the missionary. "As Salesians, faced with these cries, we could not remain silent. That is how the Canillitas project was born with Don Bosco in Santo Domingo. Every morning these children went out into the streets to sell their produce and we devised an accompaniment plan for them, especially with a view to their full development for the future. First,' Linares continues, 'we got to know their reality, where they lived and what they did. We also studied the level of schooling as a primary element in order to set up an integral project based on research, reception, socialisation and accompaniment. This was our experience, which was then replicated in other centres'.

Linares has noticed changes over time. The aim was to have political influence and he actually managed to attend meetings where funds for government projects to protect minors were decided. The Salesians also acted in the social context, particularly in the business world, so that society would be involved as much as possible. "I started this project in 1985," he says, "and at that time half a million children were working. Today there are 340,000: the number has decreased. It is therefore a question of making this reality as visible as possible because child labour can be eradicated, especially if there is good education on the subject. To inform oneself, we offer Don Bosco's preventive system, which is mainly based on empathy towards children. In the end,' concludes the missionary, 'we managed to write many stories with a happy ending and we continue to do so'.

A harsh reality

Carrying out the Canillitas project with Don Bosco in Santo Domingo is not without its obstacles. As director Karen Montàs tells us, one of them is getting accepted by the families because the children's participation in the centre's programmes means fewer hours on the street for them and this has a negative impact on the family's overall income. "That is why," explains Montàs, "we first had to make them understand that children should not be on the street working but studying and that it is the adults who should take responsibility for supporting the family. Therefore, they help the adults acquire new skills that will enable them to find better occupations to increase the family income. Another difficulty is with the children: "They feel the need to help their families by going to work," Karen emphasises, "so we have to occupy their free time after school with art courses and sports activities. Finally, it is not easy to find the resources to make the project sustainable". Montàs also explains how to combat social inequalities and child labour. At the heart of this is education. "It is necessary to educate people and children so that they do not remain in situations of poverty," says the director. "It is also necessary to work with society so that employers do not hire children because it is cheaper. Finally, we need to pass targeted laws because child labour can be eradicated with public policies that guarantee basic rights to children."

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26 September 2023, 13:05