Extreme poverty is a sad reality in Bolivia. Mere words cannot describe the wretched conditions in which many children live. No running water or electricity. Crumbling walls that cannot protect against cold weather. Insufficient food to eat. No one to care for you. These are only some aspects that permeate the environment that some children in La Paz have to face every day.
"Sometimes you need 15 years to see a miracle."-- Dr. Chi Huang, founder of Kaya Children International in his book When Invisible Children Sing
Waiting is incredibly difficult. Sometimes we feel frustrated, anxious and disappointed when things do not happen quickly. At Kaya Children International, we are engaged in the long-term work of changing lives. This change happens slowly over the course of a child’s life, and at times it is difficult to see the impact that we are making. However, there are amazing moments, by the grace of God, when we clearly get to see the fruits of our labor. One of these moments is when a young adult graduates from Kaya’s Residential Program. Graduation signifies the successful completion of a cycle. The graduation ceremony at Kaya is a time for celebration as we look back on the graduate’s life and see the incredible transformation that they have gone through over their years with us. It is a time where we honor the graduate and bless them as they transition to the next phase when they will live independently. Last month, we had the privilege of celebrating the graduation of two very special young men, Nicolas and Israel.
Both Nicolas and Israel came to live in Kaya’s Residential Program when they were still very young. Nicolas was eight and Israel was eleven. Kaya staff members found Israel living in an abandoned building with no home to sleep in each night. At such a young age, he had already experienced the terrors of life on the streets—neglect, violence, and abuse. Nicolas' story is similar. He had no family to care for him; there was no place for this little boy to call home. Nicolas and Israel were welcomed and grew up in Kaya. They consider Kaya their home, their family. Over the years at Kaya, they faced many ups and downs. There were very hard moments, but the staff at Kaya never gave up on them. Through the hard times and good times, we were committed to Nicolas and Israel. This was a long-term commitment that included feeding and clothing these two boys. It meant sitting by their bedside when they were sick and making sure they attended school. At times it meant going out and finding them when they had run away and bring them back home. We celebrated birthdays and drove them to soccer practice. We accompanied them and listened to them. We modeled for them and taught them about the love of God.
At the graduation ceremony for Nicolas and Israel, we looked back and remembered the many challenges they had faced and saw how far they had come to conquer adversities. Today, over ten years since arriving to Kaya, Nicolas and Israel are healthy adults. Israel has completed a technical institute where he trained to be a chef. He is currently working in a bakery. Nicolas graduated from high school and is working at a local restaurant. After graduation, Israel and Nicolas will remain in close contact with the Kaya staff and their Kaya brothers. Kaya will always be their family; we will always be there if they need help or advice. Along with all the other Kaya graduates, Israel and Nicolas will come home to celebrate holidays. However, we are confident they are prepared to live independently.
When Dr. Chi Huang founded Kaya over 18 years ago he wrote, “Sometimes you need 15 years to see a miracle.” Immersed in joy, the children and staff of Kaya and guests at Nicolas and Israel’s graduation had the amazing privilege of seeing a miracle that night, a miracle many years in the making. The work that Kaya does is hard. The work that Kaya does is long-term. From a scared little boy who had no where to turn but the streets, to independent, thriving adults, the work Kaya does is truly life changing.
We are very thankful to be a part of Israel and Nicolas’ lives. We also thank each person who has supported Kaya over the last 18 years. You too have played a part in Nicolas and Israel’s stories. Because of you, these two young men had a childhood. Because of you these two young men grew up in a loving home. Because of you, these two young men are now independent adults.