Here in La Paz it is summer! The children have finished their school year and are enjoying summer vacation!
The children at Kaya are forced at a very young age to learn to survive. Whether it is a 4 year old who is left alone to take care of her 2 year old sister or a 8 year old who must bring home a certain amount of money each evening or face abuse at the hands of his father, children are forced to grow up very early. Children come to Kaya from sleeping in ATM booths, from working 12-hour days on the streets, from abusive situations; these children have never had the opportunity to play like the precious children they are.
Our founding vision at Kaya was to restore childhood to those from whom it has been unceremoniously stolen and summer vacation is a great time for this! During the school year, one of the main activities and goals of the Kaya center is academic support. By the end of the year, both children and staff look forward to summer vacation when they have the opportunity to play, go on fieldtrips and explore the city of La Paz. Kaya has a summer program where children have the opportunity to visit museums and parks, go to the swimming pool, participate in dance and music classes, bake together, play sports and much more.
Liseth is a precious 6-year-old child who came to the Kaya Center at the beginning of this year. Initally, her mom didn’t allow her to attend because she had to take care of her two baby brothers. We worked with her mom to find childcare for the two babies so Liseth could attend school and Kaya. Liseth has spent much of her short life locked in her small, one-room home. She is responsible for much of the cleaning and cooking at her house. Before coming to Kaya, she had hardly left her neighborhood.
To get to accompany Liseth during summer vacation has been a great joy. She was amazed at the zoo seeing all the animals. She doesn’t stop smiling the whole time she is at the swimming pool. She loves making Christmas crafts and eagerly decorated the Kaya Center. She loves to bake and is the first to volunteer to help. Liseth is one of many children who for the first time this summer has had the opportunity to play and participate in the joys of childhood.
Each morning, nearly 70 children eagerly await the activities of the day. Summer vacation is normally when children spend more time on the streets and are forced to fend for themselves as their parents disappear for days at a time as they are partying for the holiday. This is a time when children are lost. However, Kaya offers a safe alternative for the children to come and celebrate the holidays in a healthy, fun manner. We assure the children stay fed and are taken care of during the time school is out and the children are the most vulnerable. In this holiday season, please consider how you can support Kaya as we restore childhood…one child at a time.
First Results of Census of the Homeless Population in Bolivia
A census of people who currently live in the streets in Bolivia was recently completed. This census was a joint effort between the Bolivian government and organizations that work with the homeless population. The Bolivian government provided funding and oversight and the organizations went to the streets to fill out the census. This helped assure that the information provided in the census was correct and allowed for the highest number possible to be counted. The official results and compete report will be released next month, but the first results were shared in a meeting last week. Below are some statistics that can help us better understand the population with whom Kaya Children International works:
The population living in the streets is young:
Children turn to the streets at a very young age:
There are second generation children living in the streets:
Life in the streets is hard:
The work that Kaya Children International and other organizations do is important but there is still much to be done:
Because they have no other option, children are arriving to the streets. As we can see from the statistics above, without any intervention, these children are having more children and raising them in the streets. Now, more than ever, it is time to stop this cycle. Each statistic represents individual people and stories. Kaya provides a new start, new opportunity, a new life. Each and every child who has found a home at Kaya is one child that did not have to be counted in this census. Will you join Kaya in rescuing children from the streets and restoring their childhood? Together we can make a difference….one child at a time.
As I walk down the streets of La Paz, at times the need seems overwhelming. A very old woman wearing sandals in cold weather holds out her hands asking for a coin. A blind man sits on the corner singing with a hat extended begging for a donation. A young women with a baby on her back collects bottles. A man digs through the trash hoping to find something to eat.
However, nothing breaks my heart like seeing children working in the streets. A child who looks about 8 years old guards cars. He sits hours and hours waiting for cars to come and go, collecting a peso each time a cars leaves. I enter the grocery store and the girl bagging my groceries can’t be older than 10 years old. A group of teenage boys with who I assume are their younger brothers wait to shine shoes, their faces covered with a mask. Some say the masks serve to guard against fumes, others say the masks are to hide their identity. Children who should be playing and enjoying their childhood instead take on the responsibility of feeding and caring for themselves. When my eyes meet their eyes, I see desperation and hopelessness.
One of the children I often saw working on the streets was a little boy named Angelito. Angelito is 8 years old. He works at one of the stoplights on a busy corner. When the light is red, he goes into the cross walk and does acrobatics like handstands and cartwheels. Right before the light turns green, he asks for change from the people waiting in their cars. I have seen Angelito working until 11pm at night, outside, vulnerable in the cold.
Angelito was hesitant to talk with anyone from Kaya and refused invitations to come to the Kaya Center. He learned at a very young age, if he was going to survive on the streets, he must be guarded and trust no one. He was a child I often thought of and prayed for. One day I was at the Kaya Center and I saw Angelito sitting on a chair. I was shocked, how did he arrive to the Kaya Center? I approached him and we starting chatting. It turns out that social services had been contacted and they asked that Angelito attend the Kaya Center as he was at very high risk. With the mandate of social services, Angel started attending the Kaya Center.
When arriving to Kaya, Angel could not recognize any letters. He rarely attended school and got frustrated easily as he was extremely behind the rest of his class. There were days he refused to do any homework and some days he even refused to sit at a table. However, with a lot of patience and attention from his teacher at Kaya, Angel is advancing. Now when he arrives he is the first to take out his homework. He went from not knowing any letters to spelling words. Witnessing his transformation has been a privilege. Angelito has gone from not greeting or talking to anyone to giving long hugs.
Yes, the needs at times still seem endless. There is a lot of work to be done. However with the sadness and heartbreak, stories like Angelito’s fill me with hope and remind me that we are not alone. I believe with my whole heart that God brought Angelito to the Kaya Center. God did what we couldn’t do in our own strength. I have the privilege of seeing God working in Bolivia each and everyday in and through the Kaya Center. One of the core philosophies of Kaya is, “one child at a time.” This time the precious child is Angelito.