What if you were born into poverty in Bolivia – the poorest country in South America? What if the parents you looked up to were unable, or unwilling, to care for you? What if they drank too much, got angry a lot, or abused and neglected you? Or what if they truly loved you and tried, but just could not manage to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders?
Maybe they told themselves that you were “better off” without them when they left you on a street corner saying they’d return. Maybe you convinced yourself that you’d be better off without them out there in the world with no rules, no chores and no school. After all, you’re only eight and you believe in magic. But the magical wishes for a better life fade and are replaced with a harsh reality.
Out on the streets alone, you try to steer clear of those who hurt you, try to stay warm in a cardboard shack with no heat, no clean water, no toilet, and no food. And worse… you soon realize that there is no one in the world who cares; no one to bandage your wounds or hold you when you cry; no one who loves you with an unconditional love. Imagine you’re only eight years old and, somehow, you’ve found yourself all alone with no place to call home and no one to call “Mom” or “Dad.”
But what if someone, far away in another country, decided that your life mattered; that you deserved help. Thank you for recognizing the children at Kaya and playing a part in their lives. We are grateful for you!
Kaya Children International brings these children home to a clean, safe place where they are not only given a warm bed, food, education and medical care… but the love and concern of dedicated staff members 24 hours a day. Kaya provides each child with “wrap-around” services that address not just the physical solutions, but also the root causes and invisible psychological wounds these children bear. Kaya psychologists help the children deal with feelings of loss and mistrust while Kaya’s “Warmi” (means Woman) works with “at risk” mothers to prevent the financial and emotional crises that may lead their children to a life on the streets. Together, let's restore childhoods and change futures.
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.
In Bolivia, thousands of children living in urban areas call the streets home. They sleep in sewers, in abandoned buildings, and in trees, surviving day by day. The majority have experienced abuse and neglect, and many are being pulled into prostitution as a means of supporting themselves. Street children are notoriously difficult to count, but it is estimated that over 3,000 children in the three major cities of Bolivia call the streets their full-time home, and nearly a million more are working on the streets by day, moving toward a full-time life on the streets (UNICEF-Bolivia). In a country of only 9 million people, the presence of so many children on the street is a significant problem.
To fulfill our mission, Kaya identifies, rescues and transforms street children through three successful and targeted programs: Street Outreach, Residences and the Kaya Center.
Street Outreach. Kaya identifies hundreds of kids living on the streets. We intercede in dangerous situations, build relationships and identify candidates for Kaya’s daily care programs. We respond to their extremely high- risk activities, with direct interventions and preventative resources whenever possible. At times, children are also referred to us through local aid programs and their outreach efforts.
Residential Care. Kaya provides holistic and residential care to dozens of former street children in a loving family environment while they successfully reintegrate into society as safe, confident and productive individuals.
Kaya Center. At the heart of all of Kaya’s day to day activities and services is The Kaya Center. The Center serves all of Kaya’s residential children and dozens of community children living on the streets, or those living at home but who are at extreme high risk of street life. Through education, therapeutic services and group activities, children grow emotionally, spiritually and learn to help themselves to a future with potential. The Kaya Center is also the site for implementation of the new outreach program for women, Warmi Kaya.
In our efforts to improve the lives of the street children, it became logical to consider the potential benefits of serving mothers. The reunification program and informal interventions had already demonstrated the positive impact of working with families, especially women and girls. In 2012, Kaya will formally launch 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. Upon successful completion of this process, the women of Kaya will demonstrate an improved ability to care 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.
To illustrate the need for Kaya's innovative services, we offer the latest story of two girls, a young mother and her daughter. Nineteen year old Mabel came to the Kaya Center with Claritza, her 5-year-old daughter. The mother had recently arrived in La Paz with no money or means to support herself or her child. After meeting their immediate needs – nourishment and shelter, The Kaya staff was able to give Mabel basic training as a housekeeper and found employment with a living situation. Claritza now attends school and spends days at the Kaya center. These basic interventions saved two lives by preventing their entering life on the streets.
We are confident that our actions today, may very well position Claritza to live to see a brighter and more promising tomorrow.
The breadth of care we can now offer girls and women are well aligned with our mission – and with the flexibility, compassion and dedication Kaya demonstrates regularly – we will continue to do God’s work.
I take my last evening walk before I head back to the States... Passing my local street children’s haunts, it is fairly empty tonight. Out in the corner of my eye, I see a small child crouch in front of the movie theater. I realize it's Marcos ... only I thought I had already saved him from the streets and brought him to an orphanage... Now I find the child glassy eyed, high on paint thinners, seemingly full of bravado and contempt, but in fact as fragile as... a lost child.
“Hey, Marcos... What are you doing here?”
“The streets are better than that crappy orphanage that you sent me to.”
I wonder, what went wrong? Where are all of the clothes that I got for him? Why did he choose to come back to the streets? My heart drops, my pride swells up out of arrogance for failure, but more importantly I am sad. I’ve failed... what was I missing? The answer was right in front of me. I understand in my heart that the typical ways of dealing with kids on the streets is simply not working, and was never going to work.
These children are so completely lost and broken, they need to be healed from the inside, they need more than just a roof over their heads -- they needed love, consistency, well-designed and specific wrap-around care.
Chi Huang wrote those words in 1998 when he was just beginning to understand the explicit needs of the children he was already caring for on the streets of La Paz. The children, their frustration and their desperation broke his heart and changed his life. He started a movement which is now Kaya Children International.
Your generous donations provide the resources Kaya needs to save, support and improve the lives of street children; teaching them self-sustaining life skills, and the opportunity to heal. As a Christian organization providing services overseas, Kaya depends on the consistent generosity of donors like you. Please consider a gift to Kaya Children today.
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