Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Being a child in Bolivia can be extremely challenging. Six of every 10 children have unmet basic needs, and half of the nation’s youth population live in poverty. Life is even harder for indigenous children, who are often marginalized and do not have easy access to education and health services due to geographic, cultural and economic barriers.
One of those children is Marielena, an 8-year-old who lives in rural Bolivia with her mother and three siblings: Juan Jose, 10; David, 4; and Jonas,18 months. Their house is made of mud adobe blocks and consists of two rooms – a bedroom and a kitchen. They have no indoor plumbing, and for fresh water they rely on a water tanker that drives by the community every two days to fill water tanks for $1.
Marielena is a small girl who weighs less than average for her age. She is prone to develop frequent eye, respiratory and skin illnesses, especially since the family lives near a dump and there is no sewage or clean water system for their community. With no hospitals or clinics nearby, it has been difficult for Marielena to receive treatment.
Education is another challenge in Bolivia, where only 30 percent of children are in school. Marielena is fortunate to attend first grade; however, she struggles with basic concepts, as she never had the opportunity to attend preschool or kindergarten.
The situation for Marielena is changing for the better now that she’s enrolled in ChildFund’s programs and has a sponsor. With ChildFund’s support, Marielena now receives basic medical attention as well after-school support to improve her performance in the classroom. Additionally, ChildFund and its local partners are providing the family with educational training on child nutrition and guidelines for overall health and hygiene that will help prevent illness.
Marielena’s mother remains the only income generator in the household. She makes a living by selling hotdogs and fries from a salchipapa cart, which was provided to her through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love and Hope catalog. Because she cannot work full-time and also care for her children, the family’s situation remains fragile; yet, day by day, their outlook is improving.
This is one example of how ChildFund, which began operations in Bolivia in 1980, is coming alongside families who are working to lift themselves out of poverty in a sustainable way.
by Monica Planas, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Americas
During a recent visit to Bolivia, I met an amazing group of ChildFund youth group leaders from the Obispo Anaya Educational Unit in Cochabamba.
From the moment we met, it was impossible not to sense their positive vibe and energizing personalities.
Like many other developing countries, Bolivia is demographically young, with more than 44 percent of the population (4.1million) under age 17. One of ChildFund’s top priorities in Bolivia is helping this young population organize in a constructive way and explore the issues that affect them each day. Issues like violence, addiction, discrimination and a polluted environment are top concerns.
Through leadership clubs like the one in Cochabamba, youth are discovering peer-support networks and developing leadership skills to help themselves and their communities.
I wanted to hear how the youth group began and why it caught on with these young men and women. “At first,” explains Juan Elvis, 15, “I was a bit curious. On different occasions I saw the group having so much fun I decided to try it out. In my community, youth spend their time on the streets chatting or spending money playing video games — nothing productive. This free time sometimes leads to bad habits like alcoholism and gangs.”
So I asked him what he has learned since joining the group.
“Since the beginning,” Juan Elvis tells me, “we’ve been taught that leaders need to be physically, mentally and spiritually prepared. This is why we live following and practicing a group of principles that help reflect the ways of leaders. Individually, we have our favorites or feel identified with some of them more than others. For example, my favorite is ‘If we were seeds and landed on rocks instead of fertile soil, we will bloom.’ This means we should never quit, never give up or feel defeated, no matter what happens. We are convinced that no matter the circumstances, our preparation will allow us to overcome any difficulty we might encounter.”
How about you? I ask Daysi, who is also 15. “My favorite” she says, “is [that] we’re all different, but at the same time, exactly the same. In my experience here, that specific principle has allowed us all to work toward common goals.”
She explains that the youth coordinate the Communications Corners for younger children, with supervision from ChildFund’s sponsorship coordinator. The youth hold weekly meetings to plan activities they will implement with children, including creativity workshops to teach younger children how to write more colorful and detailed letters to their sponsors.
“We organize and lead lots of things around here, so you might think it’s difficult to come to an agreement,” Daysi continues. “Well, it isn’t. We’re all entitled to our opinions and ideas. We share and discuss, and following this principle has allowed us to reach important decisions and accomplish great things.”
“Very true” agrees Juan Javier, 15, “We’ve accomplished a lot and seen great changes. When I arrived at the center I was shy and quiet, I didn’t know much. After the trainings I’ve received I’m now much more secure and a great spokesperson. This has also allowed me to do better in school,” he says.
He adds that his relationships with his parents and teachers have also improved. “At first our opinions were not valid. Now adults see us in a different way, as allies in important decision making. We’re seen as important supporters,” he explains.
At the ChildFund office, Juan Javier likes to help out in the Communications Corners. “I support younger children when they write to their sponsors. I share with them techniques on how to be more creative and original with their letters.”
In addition, he and other youth leaders have embraced more challenging roles. “Only last year we were presenting to an important group of executives who wanted us to form part of a social responsibility project,” Juan Javier says.
The youth presented a sustainable gardening project at the company’s booth at the international fair, presenting visitors with an explanation of the project and its contribution to the environment.
After talking with these exuberant youth, I’m extremely excited by their level of motivation and leadership skills. They already show so much potential and promise to do great things.
by Jason Schwartzman, ChildFund Team Leader for Child & Youth Involvement
In preparation for ChildFund’s Youth Program Summit in India, we’ve been talking to youth around the world, trying to get inside their heads to understand how they see the future unfolding, starting with their inner circle of friends.
We ask them to think of and actually draw a “friend” — a peer, a relative, a neighbor — someone they know well. We encourage them to be realistic. In five years, what do they really think their friend’s life situation will be? Not what they hope, but what they predict. We give them drawing materials, a quiet space, and we see what happens.
Often they are optimistic, like this drawing from a young Native American woman in the United States, who says her friend will be, “outgoing, energetic, and a great person to be around. She’s really bright and understanding. There is never a dull moment when you’re with her. She’s just a true friend.”
Sometimes they are quite sad, as illustrated by this prediction by a young woman in Sierra Leone, “Mary is the name of my friend. She is 16 years old. Mary is crying because she is carrying a heavy load. She is a girl. Mary is presently in the street. In five year’s time, Mary will be dropped out from school. She will be a failure in life.”
Sometimes young people are hopeful and romantic, as this future scenario envisioned by a young man in Bolivia, “Arturo is 19 years old and completed school and a lawyer’s course. He now has a fixed job and has a girlfriend called Katerin who is a teacher. The two love each other a lot and they get on really well. They like to go on walks. They are expecting Arturo’s baby.”
In other instances they predict that a friend’s situation could be transformed, as in this drawing by a young man in The Gambia. He writes: “My friend’s name is Abas. He is 13 years old. He is a male. In 5 years times, I am seeing my friend as someone who will not prosper in future because he don’t study at home. These might lead him to fail his exam. I think he may get involve in drug abuse, he can be in jail, or physically weak or die. If he change his mind and study hard and be punctual in school, he can be at the University or may even be sponsor by the president to go and read for further studies. He can therefore contribute to the nation development and build up a good family in future.”
In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the resources young people say they need to be successful.
by Monica Planas, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Americas
Because living conditions in Bolivia are challenging, many families struggle to feed and support their loved ones.
ChildFund Bolivia and its Estrella del Sur Project strategically analyze and plan to help families survive hard times and become more self-sufficient. Each community has different needs, problems and scenarios, so ChildFund works with and for the communities, seeking ways to guide, contribute and facilitate processes that will allow them to eventually make it on their own.
ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog is one direct means for Bolivian families to acquire necessities that help alleviate hardships.
A few years ago, the Estrella del Sur project requested two ovens to equip a kitchen for training community members in pastry and baking techniques. Thanks to these trainings, many community members now have a place to prepare baked goods, which they sell to earn a living.
ChildFund organizes periodic trainings to keep community members involved in constant learning and up to speed on the latest baking and decorating techniques. With these skills, they can compete in the market and offer their products at a higher price.
The Estrella del Sur project community kitchen also has a batter mixer, (another Gifts of Love & Hope request) and several other bakery equipment items and tools purchased specifically to help train the community.
Last year, the project used funds to purchase cake displays and hot dog carts for a group of families interested in working hard to improve their economic conditions. Many families are gaining economic value from the cake displays that were purchased with the support of committed child sponsors. The displays, which provide a pleasing exhibit of the cakes baked by community members, boost sales at Mother’s Day, Fathers Day and national holidays. And 10 families benefit from the hot dog carts used on a daily basis on the streets of Bolivia.
The training and support from ChildFund doesn’t end there, the Estrella del Sur project also delivers entrepreneur and small business workshops for those who wish to take that extra step.
Children, youth and parents are able to take advantage of these workshops, led by consultants who guide them through the process of setting up a small business. Community members gain marketing, sales and financial tools, empowering them to make a better living.
“It’s amazing how members of the community gain self-confidence with our workshops,” says Alvaro Vargas, ChildFund Bolivia coordinator for the Estrella del Sur Project. “Many of the mothers, youth and children who attend our workshops never thought they would be able to approach people and make a sale; they lacked the self-confidence to do so,” she says. “At ChildFund, we not only develop communities, but also the individual.”
As we begin the International Year of Youth, Berta, a 19-year-old Bolivian in her first year at university, describes how she found her way to a better future with support from her community and ChildFund’s after-school programs that focus on math, language, self-expression, reading, writing and computer technology. Because the Bolivian education system lacks many core components, most children miss out on important basic learning and skill-development classes. –Reported by Monica Planas, ChildFund Americas Regional Communications Manager
My name is Berta. I came to the ChildFund Avance Comunitario Community Center near La Paz when I was four. I have siblings who are also enrolled.
I was very shy and quiet, I used to sit in a corner and never participate. Growing up I discovered I wanted more, so I signed up for leadership and self-esteem courses at the ChildFund community center. They’ve helped me out so much that now I’m a totally different person. I’m open-minded. It has contributed to lots of things especially at school. Last year I ran for president of the student council and won.
Many recognized my hard work and I was able to form my own group. Because I’ve been good at what I do, I’m now working at the community center and helping younger children. I like being here because it’s fun. You have the opportunity to participate in workshops. We also receive human rights speeches. You’re able to make new friends.
I’m now studying at university and participating in the university student council as well. I have this capacity because ChildFund and the staff at Avance Comunitario offered me the opportunity to take these trainings.
Everyone at the community center has supported me in one way or another; now it’s my opportunity to guide and help the new generation.
by Monica Planas, Regional Communications Manager, Americas
Who will win? Will it be Netherlands…will it be Spain? We have no crystal ball, but what we can tell you is that ChildFund Bolivia has soccer champions of its own!
For 46 years, the Niño Quirquincho Feliz Project in Bolivia has been helping children age 6 and older develop their soccer skills while also helping them reach their hopes and dreams.
Nationally recognized for preparing outstanding athletes, the Niño Quirquincho Feliz Project has won numerous championships along the years and supported kids with trainings, techniques and team-building activities.
Having a safe place to play and develop skills has become even more critical today. Because many families in Bolivia have extreme difficulty accessing basic necessities, ChildFund Bolivia works to strategically identify areas where deprived, excluded and vulnerable children live. Our goal is to create centers to support children and put them on a healthy pathway.
Older children in Bolivia often face the hard reality of staying at home with their young siblings while both parents go to work. Because this situation poses risks to children, ChildFund Bolivia works hard to identify these youth and enroll them in ChildFund programs so that they may have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and become role models for other children and youth.
ChildFund offers healthy child development monitoring, after-school guidance sessions to support students of all ages with their homework, creative individual and group activities and health/security campaigns.
The Niño Quirquincho Feliz Project helps not only children and youth but also their families. Mothers receive training on early childhood development and nutrition to help guide them through the process of bringing up a healthy child.
Niño Quirquincho Feliz Project has one doctor, a dentist and a small staff of teachers and coaches. Together, they help hundreds of children stay off the streets and away from bad influences. The center has fun spaces to encourage children to develop their creativity, improve their skills and offers soccer lovers the opportunity to practice, practice, practice!
Who knows? The next World Cup champion may be a child helped by your support.
ChildFund Bolivia’s National Director Wendy McFarren offers insights into this South American country where ChildFund has provided services to children in need since 1980. Through her video blog, Wendy describes Bolivia’s indigenous identity and the children who live in crisis situations on a daily basis.
by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office
This is my third time in Bolivia over the past five years working for ChildFund. As I sat in the Santa Cruz airport for five hours awaiting my connecting flight to Cochabamba, I reflected on my previous visits.
I had worked for ChildFund for about six months and was asked to accompany a study tour to Bolivia in the fall of 2005. About 15 sponsors and a few members of the international staff spent about a week and a half visiting programs and exploring the country: La Paz, Cochabamba and a side trip to Lake Titicaca. I was honored to act as a translator for a couple from Tampa on the day they met their current and previously sponsored children.
I returned to Bolivia in spring 2007 as part of a small delegation to assess the program viability of entering a new area of Bolivia called El Alto on the outskirts of La Paz. Assessment involved several community consultations and long meetings about program design, funding flows and sponsorship projections. I learned about the benefits and challenges of opening a new program area.
This year I returned to Bolivia to participate in the annual sponsorship training seminar. Among the many discussions aimed at aligning national operations with our global strategy, one of the priority themes was how to encourage the active voice, participation, creativity and self-expression of children and youth in our sponsorship activities and through letter writing.
It’s often hard for children in a culture that has more emphasis on oral traditions rather than the written word to express themselves in a letter to people they’ve never met. It was exciting to hear the various ideas and commitments from the staff from around Bolivia to improve this process for children.
Though the meetings were productive for analyzing priorities and deliverables, one of the best days included a visit to Proyecto Obispo Anaya, one of ChildFund’s local affiliates near Cochabamba.
I value the opportunity to get out into the communities and meet the children, families and staff. It puts everything else into perspective. During our brief visit, we learned about a recent campaign launched to “vaccinate” parents and community leaders against mistreating children. Great concept!
We met some children who recently participated in the community’s annual talent competition that encourages song, dance, self-expression and sharing of children’s opinions. They invited us to join them in a youth leaders’ drama production about nature.
We saw information booklets, flags and maps created to help children learn about their sponsors’ home countries. Throughout the day, we were reminded vividly of why we do what we do and who we partner with to achieve great things for children in Obispo Anaya, in Cochabamba, in Bolivia and beyond.
In the first week or so of this series, we’ve given you a lot of words about where we work. Today, we’re going to take a visual break. Two years ago, ChildFund’s Documentation Officer Nicole Duciaume visited Bolivia and returned with fabulous photos.
“There is little substitute for seeing an area firsthand and speaking directly with the program participants; personal consultations are what sustain our commitment to the organization, the communities and the children,” Nicole wrote while on that trip.
Enjoy the view!
For more information about Bolivia, a country ChildFund has worked in since 1980, click here.
More on Bolivia
Population: 9.7 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: About 78,000 children and families
Did You Know?: According to National Geographic, Bolivia made the world’s first debt-for-nature swap in 1987. Working with a conservation organization, Bolivia was able to reduce a portion of its foreign debt in exchange for guaranteeing protection of the Beni Biosphere Reserve.
Next in our “31 in 31” series, we get another toy story as we visit Sri Lanka.