“At first I felt great sniffing glue. I felt I could do anything; nowI feel nothing.” Sergio has been
addicted to glue for more than half of his 20 years. He is one of thousands of glue-sniffing youth,
called Huelepegas, who live in the streets of Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city. “The good thing
about the glue is that it distracts you. I was always beaten by my stepfather, and it helped me get
Glue sniffing is common among street children in Central America, many of whom have fled abuse
at home. Glue is the only affordable escape from constant and brutal violence at the hands of police,
shopkeepers and gangs. It also empowers the children, initially at least, in the face of their new
reality on the street. Though most of the children realize that the glue’s neurotoxins kill brain cells
and damage internal organs, in the streets and markets of Managua it’s worth the risk.
Two youth dig through trash in Managua’s garbage dump. For some of the children in the city, this offers their only chance to earn money to eat, or to buy glue.
A Huelepega urinates on a wall in Managua. The stencil on the wall reads, “Look, sons of a thousand whores, do not urinate, shit or leave trash here. Got it, you sons of whores?” Because they often steal food or money to buy glue, these children are considered by many Nicaraguans to be delinquents and criminals. The main reason they cite for wanting to quit glue is to gain some respect from the public. “When we’re on the street, everybody looks at us and thinks we are going to rob them and that we are putas,” says Dorven, 12. Local business owners contract private police who intimidate and beat the children, either for minor offenses or for no reason at all.
A Huelepega encounters a group of school children in Managua.
Manuel leans against a wall in the alley where he sleeps. He holds a bottle of glue. The night before someone had poured oil all over the alley to keep Manuel and his friends away.
A child wakes up and starts sniffing glue in an empty house where he sleeps.
A Huelepega sniffs glue out of a plastic bottle in a market. The street children living in the market are abused by shopkeepers and their hired security
guards. But living there also gives them the chance to steal food, as well as money for glue.
A woman who sells glue to street children in front of her house. A large problem for Huelepegas is that glue is readily available.
A young Huelepega sits on the edge of her bed at Yahoska. The Yahoska Project takes in young and teenage girls in the San Marcos house. Their past is marked by violence and abandonment. They all go to public school, where they participate in lectures about social problems and women and girl’s rights.
A Huelepega sits in the “Filter House” run by the NGO Los Quinchos. Located near Managua’s Mercado Oriental, the Filter House assists street children and teenagers. Here they can wash themselves, eat, receive treatment for wounds or illnesses, play, and participate in sports or cultural activities. Every day, educators walk through the streets to offer the children assistance and to convince them to leave street life, a very difficult task. On average, about 30 children live in the Filter House. They are immediately registered in schools. After three months they go to live with a longterm community of former street children. But many children can’t turn away from the glue and return to the street after a month.
Ignored, mistreated and constantly harassed, the only protection the children have is each other. They live together in focos — abandoned houses or alleys — where they play, fight and share whatever food they have. Ostracized by society,
they turn to pega, or glue, as a way to escape their reality. Without a family, these children cease to exist in the eyes of society.
Speak is an online magazine that publishes and discusses rights media pieces. Rights Media is the process of writing, collecting, editing, producing and distributing media that creates societal dialogue on human rights issues. Speak magazine mainstreams human rights issues through, progressive, balanced and objective reporting into everyday news stories.