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.
Dec 27, 2012

Kaya Staff Share their Hopes

As Kaya house parents, Franz and Griselda have the unique experience of seeing the children in the residential program grow day by day. They live and work in Kaya’s Renacer home, where they take care of 10 boys ranging from seven to 12 years old. The boys call them tio and tia, or “aunt and uncle.” Here the couple shares their experiences working with the Renacer boys—their challenges, their proud moments, and their hopes for the boys’ futures.

How was it when you first started working with the Renacer boys?
Griselda: It was challenging. Despite the fact that we are working with fewer children now than we have in the past, these boys come from extreme poverty and from very troubled families.
Franz: A few would be aggressive towards us. You see it most in the boys who have experienced abuse.
How did you approach working with them?
Franz: We knew we had to build trust with them, which we have been able to start doing over time. They began to see that we don’t use violence when we need to discipline them; we talk with them and explain what is the difference between right and wrong behavior. We read passages from the Bible with them, and we try to show them movies with values rather than movies with violence. Don Bosco [a movie about an Italian who dedicated his life to working with street children] is a good one. They all really liked that since they could relate to the children in it.
Since your work happens at home, what are your hours like?
Griselda: We are up at 6 a.m. for a house wake-up call. Usually we are in bed around 10 p.m. after we have put all the boys to bed. In the past if one of the boys has had unfinished homework, we would stay up late with them until they finished, sometimes until midnight or 1 in the morning. We never go to bed without them finishing their homework.
Franz: We don’t always sleep through the night. A few of the boys are afraid of the dark and have trouble sleeping at night. You see it in the boys who had violent fathers. When this happens we stay up with them and pray with them. We tell them that they don’t need to be afraid because God is with them.
What accomplishments are you most proud of, in your time with Kaya?
Franz: The changes we’ve seen in the boys.
Griselda: Some of the chiquititos [little ones] weren’t reading or writing when we first came, and now some of them are starting to read and write. The older boys finish their homework every day now. The boys have also become more stable, responsible and respectful towards each other and us. Beymar, for example. We were both standing in the kitchen the other day, and we both said to each other, Beymar has changed.
Franz: He used to challenge everything we said. He would say, “Why should I?” when we told him to do his homework. He was little, but he would hold his fists up and challenge me to fight. Now we joke about this and shadowbox with each other. Every day he runs to show us that he’s finished his homework before he goes outside to play.
Griselda: Sometimes you don’t see it, because we are with them 24/7. But when we step back and think about what changes we’ve seen, we can really see them in each of the boys.
We also recently started teaching the older boys in Kaya's Renacer house how to cook.
Really! Are they good at it?
Griselda: Yes, they can make a few dishes all by themselves—I stay in the kitchen with them and give them guidance, but that’s it!
Do they have a specialty?
Griselda: Chorrellana. [A traditional Bolivian recipe; see here]
That is an accomplishment to be proud of. And what is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Griselda: We can’t just tell them how to behave; we have to set the example. We can't just tell them, “don't lie,” “don't fight.” We have to set the example, in how we treat each other and how we treat them.
Franz: Building trust with the boys is still the main challenge. It's an ongoing process. It doesn’t all happen in one day, but we are making progress, poco a poco.
What kind of progress do you hope to make with the boys during your second year with them?
Griselda: Some of them hopefully will be able to reunite with their families, and we want to prepare them to be ready to adjust. Others, it looks like because of their family circumstances, they will be staying with us permanently. For them, we hope they can become more and more stable and adjusted to their new home at Kaya.
Franz: We want to continue to help them improve their relationships with God. We also will continue to help them focus on their studies. I always tell them they need to have higher goals. Graduating from high school is good, but maybe one would like to be an engineer, another a doctor. We encourage them to make these goals, and we help them think about what they will need to do to get there.

As you know, Kaya Children has many supporters in the United States. They support your work from afar, but most have not had the chance to visit Kaya in Bolivia in person. What would you like to tell them?
Griselda: That the job is difficult, but it's worth it. Knowing that I can change even just one life gives me the passion for this work.
Dec 27, 2012

Thank you for Helping Me Change

Twelve-year-old Beymar easily comes across as your typical adolescent boy. “Nada,” he'll reply when asked about his favorite subjects in school, before proceeding to list a mouthful: math, language, science, social studies, music. His face lights up as he emphasizes the last—he’d like to learn to play the drums someday. “Nada, Beymar? You listed practically every subject!” “I guess so,” he'll say.

Underneath this practiced indifference is a cautious attitude towards his academic accomplishments. Beymar is in fifth grade; he knows he is two years behind. But three years ago when he moved in to Kaya's Renacer house, Beymar hadn't yet learned how to read or write.

Before Kaya, Beymar lived with his parents, his mother working in kitchens and earning five bolivianos (about 70 cents) a day. Escalating family problems forced him and his siblings to move in with his aunt, until she could no longer care for them between her poor health and limited financial resources. Throughout this time, Beymar skipped school, sometimes for weeks at a time. At seven, he started hanging out on the streets with a group of older kids, sometimes stealing alongside them for money.

On his ninth birthday, Beymar’s life slowly began to change when he moved in to Kaya. At first he couldn't sleep at night. "I was scared; I would hear knocking on the window," he remembers. But with time, even those nights became surmountable. “The tios (Kaya house parents Franz and Griselda) stayed up and prayed with me. I’m not scared anymore because God has helped me."

Nighttime was one thing. During the day, Franz recalls, “Beymar used to challenge everything we said. He would say 'Why should I?' when we told him to do his homework. He was little, but he would hold his fists up and challenge me to fight.” In the past year, though, Franz has noticed Beymar’s changes: “Now we joke around and shadowbox with each other. Every day he runs to show us that he’s finished his homework before he goes outside to play.”

A stable home with Kaya helped Beymar overcome his night fears and get back on track at school, but he is especially proud of how he has changed his behavior. "Aaaaaantes!" he says of the time when he used to "escape" from school, and when he used to steal: in the past, in a different childhood. "Without Kaya," he reflects, "I would be on the street."

This past Christmas, the residents and tios of the Kaya houses gathered under one roof to celebrate with a traditional Bolivian dinner. When the tios asked if anyone would like to say a few words, Beymar stood up. Facing his Kaya family, he kept it brief, in typical Beymar fashion: "Thank you for helping me change." Beymar, thank you for letting us into your life.

Dec 27, 2012

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty for Families in Bolivia

In 2012, Kaya launched Warmi Kaya, (Warmi is Aymaran for woman), a program designed to serve mothers of street children, former street children and children at extreme high risk of entering street life. Warmi Kaya is now working with 7 women.

Angelica is one of the women participating in Warmi Kaya. She joined the program after her siblings became part of Kaya.  Two of her younger brothers (ages 14 and 12) live in the residential program and a third brother is part of the Kaya Center. Angelica has two daughters, ages 3 and 1 years old. Neither father is involved.

When she joined the Warmi Kaya program, Angelica was considering moving to Cochabamba with a young man.  Her original request to Kaya was to take her daughters so that they would be safe.  The trip did not materialize.  In conversation with her following this situation, Kaya strongly encouraged her to participate in the program to improve the likelihood of positive life outcomes for her children.

Angelica works as an assistant in the market and earns less than $3 a day.  This leaves her family at extreme risk including low life expectancies, severe emotional vulnerability and intense financial needs.  Until she joined Warmi Kaya, her daughters remained at home with her father which was clearly not only ideal but dangerous.  Now her children stay at Kaya during the day.  They are younger than the typical children Kaya serves so we completed special waivers and paperwork allowing the organization to safely protect the girls during the day.

Angelica worries a lot about her daughters and brothers.  She has a strong motivation to work.  She is actively participating in everything that Warmi offers.  She has a solid short term and longer term plan to increase her income, provide a safe environment and provide her daughters with a better life.  One of the first steps in that plan was to secure a short term one room apartment away from her father with assistance from Warmi Kaya so that she and her daughters could live safely.

Upon successful completion of this process, the women of Kaya will demonstrate an improved ability to care for their children, no matter the circumstance. Warmi graduates will become role models and mentors to girls within the larger community. Kaya’s investment in women and girls has the very real potential to break the vicious cycle for these families in La Paz. Warmi is a multi-year effort to organically address the needs of La Paz's girls and women in an effective and unprecedented way.

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