Project #4209

Rescuing children from a life on the streets

by Kaya Children International

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.
On Christmas Eve 2009, an 8-year-old boy walked into the Kaya Center, his arm wrapped firmly around the shoulders of one of his little brothers. Gerardo hadn’t seen his parents in years and didn’t know where his other little brother was. Hungry and hurting, his face was lined with concerns that no child his age should know: where will we sleep, when will we eat, how will I protect us tonight? He came with no possessions, yet he carried a heavy burden: the pain of years of abuse and abandonment, the unique wounds inflicted by life on the streets.
As I think about this time in the church year when we celebrate resurrection, restoration, and rebirth, I can’t help but think of Gerardo, that boy we met over 4 years ago. Because much like the story of Easter, Gerardo’s story is filled with new hope and new life.
That Christmas Eve, Gerardo was welcomed to Kaya with loving arms, and found a place where healing and transformation could begin. Today, Gerardo is an incredible kid. He is funny and smart. He makes me laugh when he talks endlessly about his pet snails. He has big plans for his life and dreams of travelling the world. He still has hard days. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and other holidays bring back the pain of the past, but he doesn’t have to face these days alone. He has people in his life that love him, care about him, pray for him, and help bear his burdens.
Earlier this year Gerardo went to our church youth camp. There, Gerardo walked through another new door, as he committed his life to Christ, one of four Kaya boys who asked to be baptized. Now that’s new life!
Kaya exists to live out the love and hope of the Resurrection in this world, and to love each child in our care as our own. Next week, we will be sharing with you by mail a new look at how Kaya loves and serves boys, girls, and mothers in Bolivia. Please take a moment to reacquaint yourself with our ministry and consider how you can support our work. We are in deep need for your financial partnership so our work here can continue. Through your support, Gerardo has found a new home and new life in a true family who loves him unconditionally. I want to be sure Kaya continues to provide a home for Gerardo. Would you consider making a gift to Kaya Children through GlobalGiving today?

The Children. They are the common thread that runs through our stories... about why we support Kaya; why we feel drawn to this cause. Children on the streets may feel invisible to most, but when we hear their stories and look into their eyes, we truly "see" them. By listening and caring, we've decided that these children, and their life stories, are important. And by taking action, we're doing something about it. Through our decision to give, we are changing their lives for the better, letting them know that they are not forgotten. 

One of our earliest promises was to "tell the stories" of the children whom Kaya is privileged to serve. So this Christmas season, we share with you the story of one boy, Angel, who -- abandoned by his mother -- spent his earliest childhood years living on the streets with an alcoholic father. The one wish he held onto was that he would, one day, be reunited with his brothers again. With your help, this wish came true. Please remember the many other children like Angel, living on the streets of Bolivia in severe poverty, beyond what most of us can imagine, holding onto nothing more than the hope that their lives might change.

Consider Jonathan. His mother, with whom he lived on the streets for years, was involved in the sex trade and contracted AIDS. When Jonathan's mother died, our friends asked Kaya to welcome Jonathan into our home because Kaya was the only organization they trusted to care for him. Or little Hector, whose mother died when he was just five. To help his father suppport the family, he left school at age 8 to earn money, watching cars. With Kaya's help, Hector now attends school in the mornings, and returns to the Kaya Center for lunch and academic support in the afternoons. 

When we hear their stories, we are reminded, too, of how our own lives sit in stark contrast to the lives of these young, struggling children. How blessed we are to have the means to help. So, please consider a gift in the amount that is right for you. It is your caring that makes a difference in the lives of the children!


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Organization Information

Kaya Children International

Location: Lincoln, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Kaya Children International
Project Leader:
Sarah Kwok
Development Associate
Lincoln, MA United States

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