On any Mallorcan beach, you’ll see happy families enjoying themselves. It’s an image often conjured up by this island: children joyfully splashing in the sea, building sandcastles, or burying dad’s feet in the sand. For these little people, Mallorca means fun – and childhood is carefree and innocent.
Sadly, this picture postcard image doesn’t reflect the reality of some children’s lives on the island. In a country where children seem revered, where locals swarm around a baby buggy to coo over the neighbourhood’s latest arrival, the reality is almost unbelievable. And it’s truly shocking.
In 2007, a total of 623 children – ranging from babies to 18-year-olds – were cared for in residential children’s homes (Llars de Menors) on Mallorca. There were 87 cases of sexual abuse; 102 children abandoned by their parents, and 58 badly treated. Many are wards of court. Some are foreign, but most are Mallorcan. The statistics are shocking, but the stories behind some of them are even more so.
Take the Moroccan couple who brought their children here on holiday, then abandoned them here. The British woman in a wheelchair, who was incapable of looking after her five children, leaving them to run loose and unclothed in the streets. There are heartbreaking stories of children so traumatised by their experiences that they never fully recover or know how to respond to kindnesses.
One man was so touched by the plight of these disadvantaged and abused children that he decided to do something. Former Salvation Army Captain Allen Graham had been living and working on Mallorca since moving from Madrid. He’d always had a love of children and is well-known for his magic shows and storytelling.In 1991, Allen heard that all the children’s home bicycles had been stolen. He decided to replace them, using his warm Irish charm to obtain bikes of various vintages and conditions. His public appeal was broadcast and printed in the local media, and bicycles and cash donations came in. He was able to deliver 48 bikes – some new, others reconditioned and all roadworthy – to the home.
Thus began Allen Graham’s mission to improve these children’s lives and to make possible the words of the writer Graham Greene:
“There is always a moment in childhood when a door opens to allow the future to enter.”
He vowed that the children would never get another secondhand toy, and The Allen Graham Charity 4 Kidz was born.
But why do these social problems exist? “It’s a sign of the times,” says Allen. He cites one reason as the high cost of living here, leading to more mums having to go out to work than on the mainland. Latchkey kids can become vulnerable kids.
Today, Allen Graham plays an important role in the Llars de Menors, the 26 residential centres on the island, administered by the local Consell. His tireless work was officially recognised two years ago when the Llars de Menors formally established the Allen Graham Foundation for Disadvantaged and Abused Children.
“I no longer feel I have to go out asking for money tongue-in-cheek,” says Allen, clearly delighted. The charity’s official status makes it easier to fundraise for things for the children that cannot be publicly funded. Allen uses the analogy of a birthday cake: “The Consell provides the cake, we put the icing on it.”
In practical terms this means paying for a child to have medical treatment that’s not covered by the Social Services, or simply providing things that other children take for granted. Even something as fundamental as a Christmas present can bring great joy: Allen recalls one little girl who unwrapped her gift with huge delight, then repeatedly re-wrapped and unwrapped it. It was the first present she’d ever had.
The charity has recently provided five complete computer systems to various homes, and a people carrier to take children to school and other activities (some are so badly traumatised that teachers have to be brought in).
Although some of these children will become institutionalised all of their lives, there are heartwarming stories of happier futures. Allen recalls a young teenager who was a very good artist, who’d become despondent as he approached the age when he’d have to leave the home.
Wheels were put in motion and a successful gallery exhibition later, someone generously paid for the young man to go to Barcelona Art College. He’s now an acclaimed artist, with two years’ worth of commissions. He’s never forgotten his roots, and still visits the home – where some of his work now hangs.
Other youngsters are given help so they can integrate more easily into the outside world at the age of 18. The charity pays for them to obtain a driving licence, a motorcycle so they can travel to work, or for further education.
Now, at Allen’s suggestion, a “halfway house” is planned: a place into which the 18-year-olds can live initially on a cost-free basis until they’ve established themselves.
With the charity’s official status, Allen Graham has been busy networking: Fairline adopted the charity after he gave a talk to staff there. Their recent donation of €15,000 became the largest to date.
Many people provide tremendous support to Allen and the charity: Rosemary Stone, whose particular help is “phenomenal”; Tracey Furness of Vitesse Yachts, organiser of the King Richard’s Christmas fair and the annual “kids for kids” production (this May it was Aladdin); Irene and Morag of The Bookworm in Palma Nova; Reg and Rose, who run the charity’s shop in Son Caliu; Michael Atkins, who collects donated items from The Bookworm and stores them, and Amigos Para Siempre – a group of people who holiday here each year and raise money (they funded a playpark at the main home). Many others have helped to make a real difference in the lives of Mallorca’s disadvantaged and abused children.
There’ll never be a time when the Llars de Menors won’t be needed but, thanks to the Allen Graham Foundation, these children have a brighter present and future.
How can you help . . .
- By donating new or nearly-new baby clothes
- Clear out those cupboards and donate unwanted items to their charity shop in Son Caliu (on the other side of the road to Mercadona). Items can also be dropped off at The Bookworm in Palma Nova
- Attend our fundraising Gala Dinner Dance at Castillo Hotel Son Vida on June 28.
Find more information about the charity: www.agrahamcharity4kidz.com