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.
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.
It’s a beautiful day in La Paz. The sun is shining brightly and the air is crisp. The Vision Team that has traveled from the States are with me, and as we walk from the hotel to the Kaya Center the team wonders what this day will bring. We turn the corner and hear the voices of children laughing and playing. The gates to the courtyard open and kids come running out, screaming with excitement, to see strangers who have traveled from afar, to visit, to play, to learn. While I’m observing all of the excitement around me I’m told to turn around, and as I do, I hear “Christina!” and running towards me, with the most beautiful smile across his face, is my Godson, Ysrael. I love this moment.
It was May 2005. Michelle and I had been working in Bolivia for nine months. Kaya was completing construction of its first permanent home: the Barnabas House. For the past several years, the one and only home of what was then called the Bolivian Street Children Project was bursting at the seems. So this new home would not only transform our ministry, but would transform children's lives. We’d developed trusting relationships with children ready and waiting to enter a new life….
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