CWS Partner honored for work with exploited children in Boca Chica, DR

November 4, 2011

Denisse Pichardo, director of Caminante, is the winner of the 2011 World of Children Humanitarian Award. Photo: Lesley Crosson

Denisse Pichardo, director of Caminante, is the winner of the 2011 World of Children Humanitarian Award. Photo: Lesley Crosson

NEW YORK, NY — Denisse Pichardo, founder of a Dominican Republic educational project for children supported by CWS, is the 2011 recipient of an  award that has been called the “Nobel Prize for child advocates” – an annual honor that includes a cash grant of up to $50,000 for honorees’ programs.

The World of Children advocacy organization presented its 2011 awards to Pichardo and six other “changemakers” the organization says have “dramatically transformed the lives of children around the world,” last night at its 14th Annual World of Children Awards Ceremony in New York City.

Pichardo, a nun with the Order of the Altagracia, began studying the issue of sexual tourism and children working in the streets of Boca Chica, Dominican Republic in 1994.  The sight of foreign tourists with local children, especially young girls, and extremely poor families forced to give or sell their children to preying tourists moved her to establishCaminante Proyecto Educativo (Caminante Educational Project).  The nonprofit works to empower the most vulnerable youth in the sex tourism center of Boca Chica as well as in neighboring Haiti and beyond.

Together, CWS and Caminante have changed the lives of nearly 13,000 youth affected by sex tourism – preventing the sexual exploitation of minors, reducing violence in their communities and rescuing and healing youth affected by commercial sexual exploitation and other traumas.

In an interview following a presentation today at CWS’s New York City headquarters Pichardo expressed a desire to expand Caminante’s work to include programs for young adults, ages 18 to 25.  Speaking through an interpreter, Pichardo explained that young people in the older age group also are being impacted by sexual tourism, accompanied by “a lot of violence associated with drug trafficking”

The organization already has taken its expertise beyond the resort town of Boca Chica.  After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Caminante staff went to Haiti–which shares an island with the Dominican Republic–to assist CWS in its trauma recovery work with young Haitians.  A group of five young staffers–two psychologists, two teachers and a social worker–from Caminante led children in workshops using dance, music, art and storytelling as part of the healing process for the traumatized young earthquake survivors.

In announcing yesterday’s awards to Pichardo and the other honorees, Harry Leibowitz, World of Children Award co-founder and co-chairman, said, “We are humbled by the efforts undertaken by these amazing people and it is our great pleasure to recognize and reward their work on behalf of the world’s vulnerable children.”

For Pichardo, the motivation behind that work is simple:

“Every one of them is a child of God.  There is not a child that you can look at and say that they don’t require your protection.  All children are equal and they all have rights and none of them should suffer because of their particular circumstance.

Other 2011 World of Children Award Winners are:

Health Award
Dr. Ashok Banskota of Kathmandu, who in 1984 started a small program to help poor children with disabilities in Nepal and has since grown it into what is now the Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children.

Youth Awards
Tatiana Grossman, 16, of Palto Alto, Calif., who founded the nonprofit organization Spread the Words to increase early literacy by helping children create school libraries in impoverished communities; Neha Gupta, 15, of Yardley, PA, who founded Empower Orphans, which works to help orphaned and underprivileged children gain a basic education and become productive members of society and Luke Lancaster, 16, East Sussex, UK, who founded The Young Pioneers, a youth-led organization in the United Kingdom whose goal is to “make it cool to care,” with training programs to equip young people with the tools and abilities necessary to overcome adversity and lead change.

Advocacy Award
Laura & Harry Slatkin of New York, NY, who co-founded the New York Center for Autism (NYCA), will receive a non-monetary award for their efforts to improve children’s health. Ms. Slatkin is CEO of NEST Fragrances and Mr. Slatkin is CEO of Belstaf.