A part of our mission to transform lives, one child at a time, involves preparing each child for the time when they will no longer live with us. As the children who live with us at NCV get older, we now have a plan to help them prepare to emerge into the "real world" where they must successfully complete the transition to self-sufficiency in order to function as adults. Over a six-year time frame, we will explore with them concerns like job readiness, any needs for educational support and tutoring, developing time management skills, career pathway exploration, creating access to community resources, parenting education and skills development and finally, education about sexual health and family planning. All of these elements have been deemed necessary components for a successful transitional program.
The transitional program will consist of two main elements: a program for the physical, emotional and mental preparation of becoming an adult that will be started when each girl is around the age of twelve, and a physical house for the girls to live in once they turn eighteen. The purpose of the transitional house is to provide a stepping-stone for the girls into their adult life, so that they will not feel unprepared or abandoned when they are legally required to move out of Corazón del Pastor.
Since each of God's children is an individual, we know we will need to tailor the program to the needs of each individual. Many young adults in the foster care systems of the world have identified the need to have an active role in the decisions that influence their futures.
Olivia, Sofia, and Ana, who will be the first three girls to reach the age of 18, have been a part of the project's development, and recently helped us choose the name for the transitional program: Sendero de Esperanza (Path of Hope). They hope to move to their new home next January, when all three of them have turned 18. The girls chose this beautiful name to signify the path to maturity they are travelling and the hopes they have for their lives as they transition from the years they have been with us in Corazón del Pastor, supported by its structure and to a future with much more independence.
We interviewed each of the girls hoping to hear a little of their own perspective, their current situation, and their hopes for the transitional project. Their profiles can also be seen by clicking their photos found on the home page of the Niños con Valor website.
Olivia, though our oldest girl, still has three more years of high school ahead of her due to years of not attending prior to joining us at Corazón del Pastor. When she moves out of CDP, she plans on completing her secondary education and working part time. Olivia is a girl with many friends in Bolivia, Canada and the US, and she enjoys staying in touch with them through Facebook. Olivia's favorite subject in school is psychology. In the future, God willing, Olivia would like to study psychology at the university.
Besides the enjoyment she gets from using the computer, Olivia loves to draw and also enjoys using her secretarial skills. Her favorite memories of Corazón del Pastor are the vacations—to Sucre, Potosi, Oruro and Chapare. Olivia notes that the trip to Chapare, where she is originally from, was especially important, leaving her with many memories, and describing it as her favorite place. Right now, Olivia's favorite activities are reading and connecting with her friends on the Internet.
Sofia will finish high school in November of 2014. Her favorite subjects are mathematics and biology, and she plans to study business administration in the future. She also hopes to travel to every department of Bolivia, to Korea, to the United States, and to England.
A girl of many talents, Sofia is athletic, and loves basketball and volleyball. She also loves to read. A creative person, she loves to draw, and enjoys being creative with the younger girls at CDP. Sofia has also chosen to be a vegetarian.
One aspect of life at CDP stands out for Sofia. She emphasizes that she has really appreciated the help of the Tias whenever she has needed it, and has also treasured the support of Tio Tyson. In general, she has very much enjoyed living at CDP, sharing life with the other girls. Over the past 6 years, one of her favorite memories was her fiesta de quinceaños—her 15th birthday—which in Latin America is celebrated differently from any other birthday, as it marks the transition from childhood to young womanhood. To celebrate this event, CDP helped her prepare a big party with friends, family, and of course, dancing.
Each of the three girls expect that life within Sendero de Esperanza's transition house will be different, with just three living together. The girls have been used to sharing life with 20+ people, and "sólo tres" represents a huge change. In particular, Sofia is looking forward to deciding how to live together and share responsibilities, deciding who will cook and who will clean. She is glad to be able to continue a connection with NCV administration through the facilitator who will help guide this process, as she knows they will need this guidance and thinks that someone with life experience will be able to help them a lot.
Ana is excited about finishing high school in two years. While she is considering becoming a teacher, she is not yet sure about her professional goals. She does want to travel and see the world. Ana loves to draw and to paint, and to generally be creative.
She has been grateful to live at Corazón del Pastor, where she was welcomed with open arms. Here she was able to find many forms of support for getting an education, and now she has many friends here. Some of her favorite parts of living at Corazón have been the annual excursions to Mizque and her fiesta de quince.
In school, her favorite subject is music, and her favorite performer is Enrique Iglesias.
For each of the three pioneers, one of the primary challenges and goals for the next couple of years is to complete their schooling. They are aware that the support of NCV has made getting this far in school possible for them. Each is working diligently to complete the necessary courses, but because it is normal that when kids come to us they have missed out on some school, and consequently are often older than their peers, they will need to continue their secondary studies during the transition. It is also a challenge for them to identify other concrete goals for the time after their studies.
As they prepare for the new responsibilities that will come as they emerge into adulthood, it is important to realize that these three did not experience the full six years of preliminary preparations that are currently in the plan. In a very real way they represent the reasons that NCV developed the transitional project. Our mission statement reads: "To see hope, healing and dignity flourish in Bolivian children, values that they will multiply into society through the establishment of self-sustaining and scalable models of care." In light of that statement, the big step away from one home to another has to be included in each child's journey.
To make the transitional project a reality and develop it to help each individual child, NCV is also preparing for these new responsibilities. The biggest challenges we face as a Foundation with Sendero de Esperanza are diverse and substantive.
First, the girls who are going to be leaving over the next couple of years have not benefited from the full six-year preliminary portion of the project, where they receive guidance on independent decision-making, and have opportunities to gradually become more independent while still living in Corazón del Pastor. We have observed a level of immaturity that has us concerned with how they will handle things when they have less guidance.
Second, while the first three girls who will move to the new home all have families, none of the families are in a position to provide them the emotional and financial support they will need nor the guidance which will be required during this crucial phase in their lives. It would be easy for the girls to count too much on the resources they would emotionally like to see their families provide, and not be as fully committed to the transitional project as we think they must be if the transition is to be successful.
Third, to add this important program, we must find financial support above and beyond the support for our already existing programs. We know we have amongst our current supporters people who are interested in helping this project move forwards. However, if we see a shift in support, rather than new support, it might mean a shortfall for our current programs.
Sendero de Esperanza Photo Gallery
Above Left: The three pioneers of the Sendero de Esperanza transitional house.
Above Right: Tia Paty helps Sofia with a practical project.
Above Left: Sofia is a natural athlete.
Above Right: Ana demonstrates her creativity with a puppet.
Above Left: Olivia, at a recent trip to Pairumani ecopark.
Above Right: Abigail, who will turn 15 this year, will be in the next wave of girls moving out of CDP.
Above Left: Abigail camping out with Elena, our other quinceañera of 2013.
Above Right: A group of girls who are a part of the preliminary portion of the program with a cooking instructor that taught them in the home.
Above Left: Lourdes, Elena and Abigail watching Cochabamba's Carnaval parade a few weeks ago.
Above Right: Sofia, soaked, and trying only somewhat successfully to defend herself with foam spray at Carnaval.
Above: Lourdes and Olivia describing their team's "path of hope" projection at last weekend's workshop.