Rescuing children from a life on the streets

 
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It is not easy to get reliable statistics about the poverty in Bolivia, despite how widespread it is. Even so, estimates confirm that 35.3% of the population lives in extreme poverty, which means they cannot meet basic needs such as water, food, and shelter. If those statistics are accurate, over 1,883,000 women live in poverty, many of them very young, still girls. These women are the most vulnerable segment of Bolivian society.
 
Of those people living in extreme poverty, over 70% are children. As a result of this rampant poverty, research shows that more than 12,000 children have been abandoned on the streets of Bolivia due to neglect, abuse, poverty, or their parents’ addiction. In 2011, statistics indicated that 900 children per year were abandoned and only 40 children per year were adopted.This is why Kaya Children International exists.
 
Twelve thousand abandoned children means at least 6,000 abandoned girls. These girls are marked by that abandonment for life and are unable to break the cycle of poverty by themselves. The cycle of poverty creates a new generation of women that practice the same neglect toward their children as the one before them. Having known only neglect, they cannot envision another way of being. If nothing is done, for every girl who has been abandoned today, a new generation of girls marked by abandonment will follow in the future.Just imagine that one girl is left to survive on the streets alone and she has three daughters. Those three girls will in turn create a generation of nine girls growing up in extreme poverty and at high risk of being abandoned.
 
These numbers are overwhelming. These numbers are humbling, but these numbers make us realize something important: When you save a girl who has been abandoned, you break that cycle, and you are not just saving one child, you are saving future generations of children. The children at Kaya experience what it means to have a home and can in turn raise their children, the future generations of Bolivia, in the safety and love of a home. For every girl Kaya saves, we are saving girls in the near future and in the distant future. Imagine the impact if we had the resources to save more girls from the streets.
 
As many of you know, nine months ago we opened our first girls’ home at Kaya, rescuing five girls from the streets. These five girls might be a very small percentage of the 6,000 abandoned girls in our country, but we know that these five girls represent a lot more than that. They represent breaking the cycle, they represent escaping their expected future, they represent a much larger number than five—they represent a better tomorrow.
 
Please join the Kaya team and help us provide a family and a home for the most vulnerable girls in Bolivia. A home where the girls will grow in safety, learning about the love God has for them. Every child we save at Kaya represents a better tomorrow for future generations of children. There is no better way to invest in the future! Thank you for your partnership with us!
Update on the Kaya Graduates  
 
After being prepared in Kaya's Transition-to-Independence Program to live independently, the young adults who grew up in Kaya's Residential Program transition out or graduate from being under Kaya's formal supervision, though they remain a part of the Kaya Family forever. Here is an update on what some of the young men are doing since graduating from the Kaya Programs:
 
               Daniel
Daniel was one of the first young men to graduate from the Kaya Residential Program in 2012 after arriving to Kaya at age 9. Daniel just completed his 1st year at university where he is studying Education. He works as the House Parent in Kaya’s residential home, “Casa Juvinil” with boys ages 16-20. Daniel is thankful for the second opportunity that Kaya gave him.     
 Ariel
Ariel joined the Kaya family in 2003 at age 12. Since graduating from Kaya in January of 2013, Ariel has continued his studies at a local university to be a Physical Education Instructor. In January, he started his 5thand final year of university. He is currently working hard to finish his thesis. At night and on the weekends he works at a restaurant. Ariel loves to play sports and is a talented athlete. 
 
 Marco 
Marco was one of the first boys to enter the Kaya family in December of 2001 at age 10. He graduated from Kaya in June of 2013. Marco is currently finishing his 2nd year of university studying Business Administration. He also works at “Chocolandia” selling chocolate and other sweets. Marco enjoys running, and he recently got a puppy that he named Denali, that loves to run with him.
 
 Henry 
Henry came to Kaya in 2003 at age 13. Henry is finishing his 3rd year of university studying Psychomotor Activity. Henry works part-time in Kaya’s residential home, “Casa Betania” with boys who are 13-16 years old. Henry enjoys working with the boys in "Casa Betania" and thinks it is important to support children who have similar stories and background to his.
 
Kaya supporters have provided a family and a future for each one of these young men who at one time called the streets their home. Your continued support will allow Kaya to continue to rescue children from the streets and provide them with housing, clothing, food, medical care, protection, love and a future.
 
On behalf of all the Kaya graduates and all the Kaya graduates to come, THANK YOU for your generosity! Your support truly makes a difference…one child at a time!

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.

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:

  • 31.6% of those living in the streets are 19 years old or younger.
  • 60.4% of those living in the streets are 29 years old or younger.
  • The median age of those living in the streets is 23 years old; the youngest counted was less than 6 months and the oldest 94 years old.

Children turn to the streets at a very young age:

  • 50% of those currently living in the streets first began living in the streets at 14 years old or younger.
  • 18% of those currently living in the streets first began living in the streets between the ages of 5-9 years old.

There are second generation children living in the streets:

  • 46% of the population living in the streets have children and 26% have children that currently live with them.
  • 28.7% of those living in the streets between the ages of 10-19 years old have children.

Life in the streets is hard:

  • 22% of those living in the streets have no documentation of any kind.
  • 42% at the time of the interview reported some kind of illness.
  • 49.5% don’t seek any medical care when they are sick.

The work that Kaya Children International and other organizations do is important but there is still much to be done:

  • 40.1% reported that they receive some sort of support of which 92.3% said was from institutions such as Kaya.

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.

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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Organization

Project Leader

Sarah Kwok

Development Associate
Lincoln, MA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Rescuing children from a life on the streets