Kaya Children International

The mission of Kaya Children International is to address the unique needs of street children in Bolivia and around the world through direct service, research and advocacy.
Aug 26, 2014

Meet Jose

Meet Jose
Meet Jose

The Achumani Market is a place where you can buy just about anything; meat & vegetables, toys, school supplies and so much more. At the market you will also find a group of children that spend their days working by guarding cars. When someone parks, the children approach the driver and ask, “I will watch your car for you?” This means while people are shopping their cars are being protected. When done, the kids are tipped a peso or two (20 or 40 cents). Jose is part of this group of children.

Jose has 9 brothers and sisters and learned at a young age that if he wanted to survive he was going to have to provide for himself. Jose’s family lives in extreme poverty, and he has never had a stable place to call home. At 4 years old, Jose’s cousin started taking him to the Achumani Market to occupy his days and make money for food. At the Achumani Market, Jose was often bullied by the older children, and over the years he learned to do the same to the younger children who were new to the streets. At 10 years old, Jose was having a hard time at school and wasn’t receiving the support he needed so he stopped attending.

The Achumani Market is one of the places that Kaya does street outreach, and this is where our social workers met Jose. When we met Jose, he had already spent many years without supervision. We would visit Jose and spend time listening and learning about him, hoping to develop his trust. In time he accepted our invitation to come to the Kaya Center, a day program to help at risk children and youth. He had already missed several months of school, but we were able to re-enroll him in school while also providing the extra educational support to get him caught up with his class.

Jose lives on the outskirts of town and the school system doesn’t provide any transportation. Jose was left with the responsibility to pay for public transportation to and from school himself, which he could not afford. At Kaya we are able to provide transportation for Jose each day, we pick him up at his house in our mini-van each morning and drop him off at school. Since Bolivia has a half-day school system, Jose spends the rest of the day at the Kaya Center.

At first Jose struggled at the Kaya Center. He had never experienced boundaries and for the first time it was expected that he complete his schoolwork. There were days when Jose was very defiant and refused to listen to anyone. However the staff at Kaya was very patient. In time Jose got used to coming to Kaya and learned what was expected of him and his behavior started to improve.

Although Jose is still a very active, rambunctious child, a year and a half later, the transformation in Jose is remarkable. Each morning he waits enthusiastically for the Kaya mini-van and is able to attend school regularly. He participates in the activities at the Kaya Center and follows rules. Kaya provides Jose with a nutritious meal each weekday relieving the heavy burden of not knowing when his next meal will be.

We met Jose at a very critical point in his life. Many kids who spend a lot of their time on the streets enter into consumption around this age. The Kaya Center provides a safe alternative to the streets and both academic and emotional support for Jose. Instead of working, Jose is able to play and interact with his peers.

By giving to Kaya Children, you are helping to sustain the Kaya Center and restore childhood to children like Jose…one child at a time.

Jul 15, 2014

Double Your Impact to Kaya

It is summer in the States, but here in Bolivia it is winter and it is cold. It is a critical time for us to ensure that our programs remain open and the children have a safe and warm place to be throughout these winter months. These next couple of months are particularly challenging for us because this is the season when donations are down. We currently provide for over 75 children in Kaya’s prevention program every Monday through Friday. Each of these children are on the brink of homelessness and depend on the Kaya Center for academic assistance, emotional support, and nutritious meals. Without your financial support, we cannot provide programs like the Kaya Center to provide that safe, nurturing environment that helps keep children off the streets.
 
The commitment of our staff here in Bolivia inspires me daily and their faithfulness to the children and the work we do has become incredibly evident as we navigate through financially challenging times. Our staff has committed to giving one month of their salary as a donation to Kaya, giving what they are referring to as a “mustard seed” in faith, believing that God will multiply the fruit of their sacrifice. We believe that God is providing and are excited to announce the first fruits in the form of a Summer 2014 Matching Challenge. Kaya has a small group of generous donors who have agreed to a matching gift of $25,000. That means that any donation you give to Kaya by August 31st will be doubled, ensuring that all of our Kaya programs here in Bolivia will continue to be sustained during these critical months.
 
Will you join the Bolivia staff and give sacrificially? Please make a donation today and help the children and staff through their winter while we enjoy this summer.
Jul 15, 2014

The Gift of Perspective

Every now and then one is gifted with an experience that expands one’s perspective and changes just a little bit the way the world appears. My recent trip to La Paz to visit Kaya was one such experience for me. My wife Amanda and I spent a week in La Paz, seeing the city and soaking in the wonderful work that the Kaya staff are doing. Led by the Program Director in La Paz, Ximena Alarcon, and Kaya Board Chair, John Eggen, throughout the course of the week we were able to see and experience the range of work carried out by Kaya.
 
Two experiences from this week in particular sat deeply with me and led to greater reflection: spending time with the boys in the residential homes and visiting the streets of El Alto, where many of the homeless children served by Kaya originate.
 
 
After some time acclimating to the city and visiting the Kaya Center, we paid two visits to the residential homes for boys. Overlooking La Paz from the outskirts, here the boys are able to experience not only shelter and security, but also the nourishment that comes from family life. Immediately upon our arrival I was moved by the sense of comfort and peace that was evident among the boys. From the simple ways they laughed at the lunch table, played outside for hours, or proudly showed us around the houses, it was clear that this isn’t just a residence for these boys, it is home. Here they are given not only shelter and security, but also guidance from the family in residence and new “brothers” to grow up and develop with, in many ways like siblings.
 
 
 
             The Kaya boys’ homes                             The boys playing soccer
 
 
The results of this support over time were exemplified in a Kaya graduation ceremony one night following a visit to the boys’ homes. Cesar, now in his early twenties, left the streets eight years ago to live with Kaya in the Residential Program. Kaya supported him as he matured, completed school, attended university, and recently secured a position as a consultant with a major international firm. During the graduation ceremony stories were shared from his teenage years to the present, and he was given an emotional sendoff by the staff. All of the other boys were in attendance, and Ximena told them that she looks forward to one day having this ceremony for each of them.
 
 
Cesar (in the checkered shirt) at his graduation
 
 
On the Streets of El Alto
 
The other poignant experience of the trip for me was time spent on the streets of El Alto. Positioned high on a plateau overlooking La Paz, El Alto is both more populous and more chaotic. Here there are two million generally poor people squeezed into a small space with very little government oversight, resulting in high crime, drug use, and prostitution. This is also where many of the homeless children either begin living on the streets or eventually end up.
 
We visited El Alto twice, once during the day and again during the middle of the night. During both visits, we looped through the city checking the places where homeless children tend to take shelter. During our first trip in the daytime, after stopping at a few places we visited an arcade that is popular among the children. Just outside, sitting under a vendor’s counter, were two young homeless girls.
 
The girls were crouched down with their knees pulled up looking sullen. Both were dirty and disheveled but otherwise could have been any other young girls. Compared to other experiences with homeless children, these girls struck me as looking particularly sad and vulnerable. Everything about them, from their messed-up hair to their bent-over posture, seemed to convey hopelessness. What the details of their lives are like, day to day out there on the street, I struggle to visualize.
 
 
 
A picture of the girls outside the arcade, taken discreetly by John Eggen
 
 
Our second visit to El Alto took place late at night. Once again we looped through the city, checking the popular shelter locations. After a little while we encountered a young girl named Josefin.
    
On one of the more crowded streets we saw a small figure curled up on the floor of an ATM booth. John approached with Carla, Kaya’s Outreach Lead, and quietly knocked on the door. At first she wouldn’t speak, but gently and persistently they coaxed out some words, including her name and age. She was thirteen, and she had been staying here for "a while" - this ATM booth was her spot at night. At one point she stepped out onto the street momentarily, and I was shocked by how small and thin she was - she looked more like eight than thirteen. The thought of someone so young and fragile out on that street every night alone gave me chills.
    
 
Josefin in her ATM shelter  
 
Reflecting on these experiences, I am struck by the contrast between the two encounters: on the one hand, the experience of the peace and joy of the boys’ homes and on the other, the harsh environment for these young girls on the streets. While Kaya does what it can to support girls like Josefin, it is currently unable to provide them with the safety, shelter and family support of a residential program. This contrast brought home to me the importance of developing such a Residential Program for Girls, so that Kaya can offer girls like these another alternative to life on the streets just as it does for so many boys, one in which they can be little girls again: have some peace and security, go to school and play, and make goals that they can hope to achieve.

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