Word Made Flesh Bolivia Cares for the Young Ones
My husband and I recently welcomed our first child into the world. Soon after our little girl arrived, we found ourselves at a lively restaurant near Cleveland, Ohio (during a CAVS game!) As we munched appreciatively I happened to glance up at the television above the bar and caught a glimpse of something that I’ll never forget. A small child, entrusted to an adult caregiver, being mistreated. The abuse was caught on video, as is so much injustice in our world today. And as I downed the image of that small child, helpless and vulnerable in mind and body, something new happened to me.
I felt my soul pierced. In a physical sense, it took my breath. This was someone else’s baby, born into the world through pain and sweat and love – as special and treasured as my own daughter who was at home with a caregiver. I felt the weight of indignation descend upon me. I was witnessing a lamentable injustice, and unfortunately a common one both near and far – a child’s true identity lost.
Being a parent is a ubiquitous trait among the ladies who come to the drop-in Center at Word Made Flesh Bolivia (WMFB,) and some are grandmothers. At WMFB, we believe that every one of these children deserves to realize his true identity. That he is precious. That she is loved and cherished. Tenderly cared for. Special and treasured. To be patiently guided along the journey of realizing who she is in Christ. And during this past year, our children’s program has been nourished and pruned. Now blooming fully, the fruit can be seen ripening on the vine.
In 2012 WMFB met Penny,* a withdrawn single mother who had been working in the brothels for several years. She began to attend events at the ministry center with her young teenage daughter, Carly.* Carly and her mother both seemed to distrust everyone around and avoid close encounters.
One afternoon about a year later, Carly was touched by a presentation of the gospel in the afternoon youth program. She encouraged her mother that they should start attending the ministry events more regularly. During the same time, Carly was failing her English class due to a hearing problem, and a volunteer offered to provide private tutoring at home. With the tutoring, Carly improved greatly and was able to raise her grade to her usual excellent standard.
Penny remained closed, however, and would sit in silence, away from the other women during events. Then after another year, Penny shared her story with the staff – how Carly’s sister had died in an accident as a toddler, and how she left her hometown with Carly to escape a violently abusive husband. After arriving in El Alto, eight hours away, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, Penny struggled in her honest, laborious jobs to earn enough even for food and the $6/month rent. She reluctantly began prostituting.
Beginning the afternoon of Carly’s gospel encounter, WMFB staff visited Penny and Carly at home each Wednesday for months. They talked together and read scripture together. Carly continues to be an excellent student and has opened up with Yesmi, and other youth volunteers. Carly is artistically talented and always shines in the drawing competitions. She dreams of being an astronomer someday, studying the stars.
Two new educators joined the team this year, bringing ample experience, as well as the spirit of Montessori. Lucy and Roxana join our program leader Yesmi, who has whole heartedly dedicated herself to these kids. She’s been valiantly loving and serving them at the Center for five years. Even though Lucy and Roxana had each worked previously with high-risk populations in the proximity, they were alarmed by our participating children’s lack of concentration, low self-esteem, poor nutrition and hygiene, and lack of familiarity with structures and schedules, as they come from generally chaotic, unstructured home environments. Some of the kids show early signs of mental illness, and many of the adolescents have taken on age-inappropriate roles and must care for younger siblings and even adult family members. Other challenges facing our kids extend to intestinal parasites – this year staff was able to offer medication to treat the condition.
Three days of programming happen each week at the Center for the 30 kids who regularly attend – two for tutoring and homework help, one for activities and workshops. The educational assistance is a core component of our programming, greatly needed as many of our participants depend upon outside help in order to fulfill assignments, and may not have a member of the household able to offer that help. Additionally, nutritious hot lunches are prepared by a chef/nutritionist twice weekly, with a well-rounded menu each day. Quite important as a lot of the children arrive without having had lunch or even breakfast, and some have diets limited to starches. This is also a great time for developing those customary skills in sharing a meal around the table.
About seven women volunteer their time and love each week, accompanying the staff and youth on the journey to foster creativity, practical life skills and independent decision making. In the presence of these caring staff and volunteers, children and youth have encountered a place where they feel safe and loved. In February, before the year’s programming had even begun, a family arrived at the Center unexpectedly – their little girl’s birthday request was to just be at the House of Hope!
Every child and adolescent at WMFB is honored with a special birthday celebration, our most personalized activity with a specific snack and cake, and a unique gift for each child! And most importantly, a time for the educators and other children to recognize the virtues of the birthday boy or girl. In April, when staff and participants celebrated Ana’s* birthday, knowing this was her final year before graduating the program, she said, “My desire is to support and help with the children as a volunteer next year, just as they have helped me.”
We have this little habit as human beings – once we taste the goodness of our identity in Christ, we want to share it with others!
*names changed for respect and privacy
**written by Laura Straniero, WMFB U.S. Advocate
Although children affected by prostitution are at immense risk, we believe we can empower them to break the cycles of violence in their lives. This Fall 35 children completed the after-school program and passed on to their next grade level! We want to celebrate their hard work and help prepare them for an even more successful upcoming school year.
$360 – 1 laptop for classroom (3 total)
$115 – 1 tablet for classroom (3 total)
$34 – School supplies & new shoes (42 children total)
$7 – Children’s Christmas party (35 children total)