Niños con Valor E-Newsletter: Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Greetings from Cochabamba!
In this month's newsletter we hope to bring our work a little closer to you. Our communcations director, Kimber, recounts a hard night on the streets just this past Thursday she had with one of the girls we are working with. There are updates on the other projects we are working on, some exciting news about a new project we are planning for the end of 2008, and some great opportunities to join us as a volunteer in Bolivia. I hope you enjoy what you read, and encourage you to contact us with any thoughts or questions that might arise.
Peace in Christ,
Executive Director, Niños con Valor
I was sitting in the police station that is wedged between the bus terminal and the edge of the huge main market, not saying a word. For one who takes seriously the commands to defend the cause of the fatherless and speak for those who have no voice, it pained me greatly to sit in silence and listen to the captain speak with such little regard for the human being sitting just ten feet away from us.
The human being is a 15 year old girl named Melinda. We are beginning to get to know her, we’ve been chatting with her for about 3 or 4 weeks now, so we’ve only just started putting the pieces of her story together. From what we’ve been able to gather, she’s been on the streets for about a year, she’s never been in a residence or group home, she went straight from home to living in one of the toughest parts of the city where street kids live, the Coronilla, and she’s tired of her boyfriend beating her.
Melinda had been arrested for possession with the intent to distribute drugs. The police found her with six bottles of the toxic cobbler’s glue that is the popular drug with the street kids. We were informed this wasn’t her first time.
We had the opportunity to at least speak briefly to Melinda, but mostly it was for the captain to further humiliate her and belittle her in front of us. Her hair was matted and disheveled, her clothes in disarray. Her eyes were swollen from crying and her left cheek was swollen, whether that came from the police, her boyfriend, or some other person, we weren’t able to find out.
She was sent back inside the holding area while we continued to meet with the captain. Our president, and lawyer/psychologist extraordinaire, Jackie tried to ask him how we could partner with the police to really help these children get off the drugs, stop stealing, get off the streets, and be productive members of society. His suggestion was that we basically become informants to catch the suppliers and leaders within the glue circles. When we didn’t exactly respond positively to his suggestion, he added that he didn’t understand why we bothered with these kids anyway. There were many other poor people who weren’t drug addicts and didn’t steal from people and weren’t violent, who were much more deserving of our help.
I mentioned earlier about taking seriously the commands to speak up for the poor, the oppressed, the fatherless, and I do. But, I am also aware what the Bible says about an unruly tongue, and at that point, I was filled with such a mix of anger, frustration and despair, I don’t think I could have formed a proper response in English, let alone Spanish. Oh I wish it could have been one of those instances where you have the perfect response, one that is respectful enough that they cannot come against you, but has a sting of truth to it that makes them stop and realize what they are truly saying!
Melinda’s story is all too common for a girl on the streets. We encounter her story so frequently; we must be careful to not allow it to become mundane or accepted as normal. While her story is one that we hear all the time, it is not a simple story. There are so many layers to how she’s arrived to be speaking with us at that moment, how she got herself arrested for possession. While I can’t confirm it, and she’ll never admit it, the most likely scenario is that she was acting under the command of her boyfriend. Street boys are notoriously brutal to their girlfriends, possessive and violently jealous, but willing to put them in dangerous situations ahead of themselves or pimp them out for extra drug money without a second thought. And the girls accept this way of life because it’s easier to put up with the abuse of one male than the abuse of many.
I wish this tale had a happy ending. But it does not. Yet. There are many organizations working here with street kids, fewer with the girls than the boys, but there are programs in existence. However, the issue is growing larger, and more dangerous, more violent, and no one seems to have developed a feasible response to this reality.
We need wisdom. As we become more connected to the street population, as we learn what they want, and what they don’t want, we are trying to develop outreaches that they will respond to positively. We don’t want to go to them and tell them what they should want to do or should want to be, but developing an effective approach is difficult. We are also looking to be able to partner with other organizations, the government, and the police, but there is a distinct lack of cooperation within these groups.
Please be praying for:
- A means to develop a cooperative relationship with the police and government. Current policy is to round up the kids Gestapo style and ship them out to a ‘rehabilitation center’ in the jungle four hours outside the city. Most of the police see these children as a menace, and near non-humans, but there are police who are just trying to do their jobs, feel badly for the kids, but really have no resources to deal with them effectively. Pray that we might be able to work with these police to change the way street children are viewed.
- A cooperative spirit to be amongst the organizations, Christian and non-Christian, working with the street children in all areas of the city. We realize that there’s no one perfect way of working with this diverse population, and in order to create a lasting change, we are going to need to be able to work with other organizations.
- Supernatural protection over these girls with whom we are meeting. These girls are trapped in a cycle of violence and fear. Black eyes, swollen noses and cheeks, gashes, welts and bruises are the norm for them, and the majority of the time, these come at the hands of people who are supposed to care for and about them. While they are safe for the few hours a week that we are with them, we cannot physically protect them on a constant basis. They need God’s protection over their lives.
- Effective means of reaching these girls. There are many programs, and many schools of thought on the best manner of working with street children, but we’ve come to realize that each girl is unique and often times what works for one, doesn’t work for another. We need wisdom and understanding as to which approach or approaches we should take with the girls with whom we work.
Communications Director, Niños con Valor
Corazón del Pastor Girls' Home - "Children's Day"
Celebrations are an important part of the culture here, and it seems like just about everything gets its special time to be in the spotlight- from saints to seasonal crops to chicha, the local fermented corn drink. This past month we celebrated Children’s Day, a very large celebration where the local parks are packed with families picnicking and playing with their children.
At Corazón del Pastor, where the girls come from histories of abuse, neglect, and abandonment, to be able to celebrate the lives of these girls whom have lived through much more heartache, disappointment, and trauma than most of us will ever have to in our lifetimes, is a special time. The staff planned a day full of fun and yummy food- always a winning combination with children! Below are some photos of the excitement, including a treasure hunt in one of the nearby parks, pin the tail on the donkey, a mummy wrap competition, a variation on bobbing for apples, and several other games. It was a blast!
Also, perhaps the biggest news this past month for Corazón del Pastor is the arrival of our youngest girl yet. She is the youngest of four sisters living with us, and is already improving so much in such a short time.
Street Outreach - Day Center
A key to success here in Bolivia is to be open to changes and the unexpected. You can start out thinking you’re headed in one direction, and end up in another place entirely; such as it has become with our day program. We started our day program to be an outreach aimed at reaching the street population, but it has unexpectedly become a program for young mothers. The young women in our program have not had positive, if any, role models as to how to be a good mother, and so things that seem commonsense to us are a radically new way of thinking for them. We often find ourselves frustrated in having to convince them of the benefits of preventative care and basic hygiene with their babies. We’ve had to realize that the realities of poverty are often at the root of many of the issues. Sterilizing bottles, using boiled water with formula, and washing hands after changing diapers have been major struggles with the ladies as they aren’t necessarily common practice, but when working to make lasting changes in a collective way of thinking, we must rejoice in the small successes and trust that they will lead to larger, more systemic changes over time.
We took a bit of a break from the routine of the program to celebrate Children’s Day with these young mothers, but as the babies are still quite young, it became more a day of fun for the mothers. We took them to the Cine Center which is a large cinema complex with a food court and arcade. The center also has an escalator to go up to the theater on the second floor. This was definitely the highlight of the outing, as they had never been on one. With that look of a mix of trepidation and excitement that you see on the face of those about to go on the newest rollercoaster, the girls carefully stepped on to the escalator. Their expressions were truly priceless. We all burst into laughter at the top and we certainly drew more than a few stares. We all enjoyed our special lunch and a break from routine. It’s nice to be able to see them be relaxed and laughing and having a bit of a reprieve from the more difficult reality they live within each day.
Please continue to pray for these young mothers as they learn and grow as women and mothers, that they would begin to see the roots of the issues that they struggle with, and that they wouldn’t be too scared to step out in faith and make some difficult decisions that would help end the cycles of abuse and poverty in their lives.
HIV / AIDS - Daycare
We are excited to announce that we will be opening our daycare center for children living HIV/AIDS in early fall of this year! We have been in much prayer and discussion about this needed center for well over a year now, and we are thrilled to finally see it to fruition. We will begin our search for a facility in the next few months and begin training staff in August. As we've mentioned in previous updates, this is a desperately needed project here in Cochabamba, and Bolivia at large. This will be the first of its kind in the country, and we are hoping that there will be other organizations that will be willing to take on this awesome responsibility in other cities as the need continues to grow. NCV will be running this project in close collaboration with Vivo en Positivo, an alliance of like-minded organizations seeking to confront the growing problem of children affected by HIV/AIDS in Bolivia.
After much prayer, we feel that there is an urgency to this project, and that we are to move ahead in faith, believing that there will be additional partners in this project to make it a success. We will be able to start the project with the current funds, but will only be able to serve a small portion of the existing population. If you would like to partner with us, and enable us to expand our outreach to children living with HIV/AIDS, please contact us at email@example.com.
Camila* is a cute and affectionate 12 year-old who always seems to have a smile on her face and sparkle in her eye. To those who haven’t met Camila, that description might seem a bit trite, but she is indeed one of the sweetest and happiest girls you could ever meet. Despite her difficult young childhood, she is very respectful of the tias and is helpful around the home and with the other girls.
Like many of our girls, she is very good in sports, and particularly enjoys Bolivian style dodge ball, and of course, soccer. She is also a very good student, and dreams of one day being a doctor. We are sure that with her strong work ethic and ability to get along with the both adults and peers that she will have a very successful future.
If you would like to sponsor a child like Ana, please go to our website, www.ninosconvalor.org, and click on Sponsor a Child, where you’ll learn more about the sponsorship program and have the opportunity to sign up for sponsorship. If you do not have internet access, please write to Leslie Cooke, our US sponsorship coordinator, with your mailing address and she will send you the sponsorship form
*Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.
While our board of directors and paid staff are all Bolivian nationals, we rely heavily on the experiences and investment of our short- and long-term volunteers. Below are some positions that we are currently seeking. Both men and women, as well as couples and families are invited to consider applying.
Please click the link to read more details. If you are interested in volunteering, please write our volunteer coordinator Ana Carolina: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our most pressing need continues to be monthly funds to help us contract Angela as our social worker.
This position is crucial to the proper care of the children we serve, yet we are currently not in a position to hire her once her college internship with us ends. While this was originally not to take place until July, she has recently been informed that her internship will only continue until the end of May. Please do consider giving towards this very pressing need.
We thank you so much for the support and prayers you have been sending our way! Please continue to help us improve lives, one child at a time.
Much Peace and Love,
The Staff and Volunteers of Niños con Valor, Cochabamba