Grubby, happy children in Cochabamba
October 12th, 2011
I was a bit of an emotional wreck at the end of the refuge day – so I approached today with no small amount of trepidation (possibly much like you are approaching this blog post).
I needn’t have worried, as we were whisked around project after project it was just fantastic to see so many happy children. Grubby – yes, but definitely happy.
We visited five projects – and what impressed me most was the scope of the work that was going on. Toybox supports over 20 projects in Cochabamba, and they really do everything from day centres and preschool nurseries to residential homes. These were set up and run by local people, which explains how they are all so different. But together they are all working towards the vision of a city with no street children.
Rather than describe each of them to you in detail I have heavily edited the day into a collection of heart-warming and amusing anecdotes to try and give you a flavour of what is going on.
– the first place we visited was not much to look at. Well that’s an understatement; it was the type of building that before the door opened you wondered how it was still standing. But inside was just a blur of happy children aged 3-5, running around and playing. I drowned in a mob of children that attacked me in an attempt to see the photos I had taken. This project is run by a church pastor called Luis. It is in an incredibly deprived area, and without his commitment the children would either be home alone all day – or out on the street. It’s making a huge difference to many children's lives.
Bolivian Children’s Mission
– this place is a madhouse. 26 kids live there ranging from 4 up to 18. They arrive as small children, generally because they have been abandoned by their parents, and stay there until they leave to get a job. We were swamped on entry by excited children who hung off every limb they could grab hold of.
I got to meet my first Child Ambassador! These are the children that people in the UK sponsor. They’ve been elected by their project to represent all the children there, to write letters to sponsors and get special leadership training. They take their role very seriously – as I was about to find out. 15-year-old Gonzalo approached me and asked what happened to the letters he wrote, I explained how we translated and sent them on. He then asked why sponsors didn’t answer his questions (he was particularly interested in what your family was like), and that he had only received a few. I promised I would speak to the UK about this. So, any child sponsors that are reading (particularly sponsors of Gonzalo) send in your letters please!
– this is a really impressive day project that has around 100 children aged between 8 and 14 attending. They come after school finishes at 1pm for lunch and stay till around 5 or 6: playing, doing homework and getting extra lessons. This means that they are not either home alone, or out on the streets while their parents are at work. Alalay is really well run, very impressive, and has benefitted from a lot of Toybox grants. Things like tables and chairs, a new library, and computers. The library was particularly impressive. Toybox had paid for new books, posters, tables, chairs, and wardrobes. It was very smart. I looked at one of the colourful posters, which was a map of the world, and had a bit of a shock. The UK has been missed out! Oh well, at least all the other countries appeared to be about right.
– this temporary refuge for boys is run by a very impressive woman called Christina. She had been through a lot: at one point her project was closed down and the children removed because she didn’t have the proper paperwork and was denounced as a child trafficker in the local press. She was ready to pack it all in but thanks to the support she got from the local Red Alert network, we were able to help her get the proper paperwork, clear her name and reopen this vital project.
was a very emotional story – and you could really see that this was a woman with a big heart who had just been overwhelmed by a political maelstrom she found herself at the centre of. Without the support she got to negotiate this minefield, there’s just no way she could have carried on. She said: “sometimes I am tired and I don’t know if I can go on. But with God I can. God is good.”
These projects are all doing such fantastic work, and with Toybox there to support them they can do more. They can get access to more funding, and they get help when things go wrong. All of these projects have gone through a lot of hardship – and all the people we met had made some pretty big personal sacrifices. But the rewards are fantastic, and in a city that swallows up so many children, it was wonderful to be a part of this for a day.
Thanks for your thoughts and prayers - more to come soon...