Here I am, 4800 miles away, far from my friends and family in California. I don’t think I had ever imagined what Christmas Eve would be like without them, and if I had, I don’t think I could have imagined this. No, I’m not sad nor lonely. Instead, as I look around the room this Christmas Eve, I think to myself, “There is no place I would rather be.” There is happiness and anticipation throughout. The children cannot contain their excitement! The overwhelming joy they are feeling as they are preparing to celebrate this day with their new family. What an incredible peace I feel on this Christmas Eve, knowing there is no other place in the world I would rather be, than here at Kaya.
However, I also know that not everyone in the room feels peace. The holidays can be a difficult time for our children at Kaya. The holidays can bring back agonizing memories for many of the children. Memories of when the children’s biological families failed them. Memories of binge drinking by their parents. Memories of being hungry and searching the streets for food. Memories of abandonment and sadness. Memories of waking to beatings on Christmas morning. Horrible memories for anyone to have.
But as I look around the room this Christmas Eve, I know that new happy memories are being made. I’m overwhelmed by the redemptive stories that each child represents. I look at three brothers, laughing together as the youngest shows off his new shoes. Just years ago these three brothers were all sleeping on the streets. Cold. Tired. Hungry. Today, these brothers celebrate Christmas as a family; safely at their home they call Kaya.
It is a rare and priceless gift to sit by and watch these children celebrate together. I can’t help but think of the new beautiful memories being made. Memories of a supportive and encouraging family. Collectively these children all tell a familiar story of their past. But today, they are now safe in a home full of love and have a future full of hope.
Overwhelmed by the grace of God, it was in that moment it struck me. This is what Christmas is all about, lives being rescued and restored with the Love of God that was born on Christmas Day. What a gift to spend Christmas with my Kaya family.
She layed in my arms, motionless and distant, a child who seemed to have nothing to give, staring into space with empty eyes. Sick, weak, and hungry, she weighed hardly anything, but the weight of her sadness was almost more than I could physically bear. I was shocked, heartbroken, and full of anger. How could anyone do this to a child? I didn’t understand the feelings that overwhelmed me. I only knew that I had never felt this heartbroken before, and I hoped I would never have to feel this way again.
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.