For the past ten weeks, Laura Hagues and Amil Mair have been volunteering on a Tearfund ICS placement in Bolivia. They’re the third ICS team to work alongside Mosoj Yan, carrying on the support of the previous teams…
In Cochabamba (especially in the south) there is a huge problem with children living on the street. There is a long history behind the reasons why this has happened, and now we are seeing a second generation of street children, many of which are addicted to solvents (clefa), getting pregnant young and are subject to abuse.
The aim of the Motivational Centre is to reach out to and care for girls – most of which are between 13-25 years old. Mosoj Yan work together with these girls to change their mind set by working at the centre of the problem.
The staff, led by Freddy (the leader of the centre), go out into the city to visit the places where the girls live, build relationships with them and try to motivate them to come back to the centre. Back at the centre, the staff provide a ‘safe haven’ for the girls, where they can shower, wash their clothes, have a meal and talk about improving their life and the options available.
The staff also provide emotional and spiritual support, through the use of psychologists and one to one mediation. It is usually the love of Jesus that transforms the young girls; this is seen through the teaching as well as through the love shown from the staff. They also spend time with the girls, teaching them skills such as baking and painting, to encourage them and build up their confidence and self-esteem. It’s all about giving them a new outlook on life and a future.
The first couple of weeks we mainly focused on building up relationships with the staff at the centre, which is very important in Bolivian culture. We knew that the work at the centre would be challenging and take us out of our comfort zones, but we were excited to get stuck in.
The language barrier was definitely a problem at first, but we have learnt a lot very quickly and found creative ways to communicate. We would definitely recommend prayer towards progressing in language skills – it works!
After we had settled in we were allowed to go out onto the streets with Freddy. It was an eye opening experience to say the least, and there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing groups of young people literally living in the gutter – sniffing glue, smoking weed and self – harming.
This population of young people are mostly seen as a nuisance by the local people in Cochabamba, and even the authorities try to drive them out of the city. It is therefore understandable that they hide away during the day. Initially they were very wary of us.
On the majority of our street visits we had been successful in bringing girls back to the centre. One girl in particular, Alexandra, really impacted us; we met her early on in our time here. She was living under a bridge, in the North of the city, with a large group of boys.
Alexandra warmed to us quickly, and hugged me as we waited for a taxi back to the centre. Once she had showered she sat with us and shared her background story which was deeply heart breaking. We shared a meal together, talked about her faith, and we told her that the centre was a place where she would be safe. As a group, we discussed the opportunities that the centre could open up to her and the activities planned in the coming future.
We are continuously praying that the work at the centre will further impact her life.
We have met many girls during our time at the centre, all with similar stories. Many have been back to the centre since their first visit: we have read the bible, baked and shared our love of music together.
Fortunately, we can see some improvement in the girls that come, they seem happier and more positive than the time before. We have also spent time at the girl’s houses to help build up a relationship with their families, improve their physical and physcological condition.
Day to day…
The work at the centre can sometimes be challenging as staff, funding, and resources can sometimes be stretched, therefore we don’t always see girls coming to the centre every day. Nevertheless, we have been trying to use the quiet periods to improve the centre itself.
The last group had built a vegetable patch, which was fantastic, but still needed lots of hard work and dedication, so we’ve have spent time working on this – hoping to leave a sustainable garden for future use.
We also realised that although the centre has excellent facilities, there wasn’t actually a space which the girls could call their own and just ‘hang out’. So we have completely refurbished the main room that you enter when you first walk into the building for them to use. We painted it white and blue, cleaned up the furniture and bought plants and bright material to make the space more homely and lighter.
We have also written encouraging bible verses on the pillars of the room. We hope that this will have a long term effect for the girls, as they will be able to take some ownership over the centre, and see it as somewhere that is home – a place that they can be proud of and be comfortable in, surrounded by people who care about them.
The staff at the centre had also highlighted a personal interest in learning some English whilst we were here, so occasionally we have been doing some lessons with them first thing in the morning. These have mainly been quite funny, with all of us speaking ‘Spanglish’, but they are all the same a great way for us all to bond. We hope that this will help future volunteers to build a closer relationship with the staff.
During our time at the centre we have made some wonderful relationships, which we hope will last for life. Hopefully, we have made an impression with the staff and the girls, even if it was just to demonstrate to them love and the care that we have for them. We, however, are very aware that the girls have probably changed our lives much more than we have theirs. We are going to return to our country changed for the better.
Final weeks in Bolivia…
During our last few weeks at the project we have been thinking about how we can work on something more long-term for Mosoj Yan, which perhaps we could work on once we had returned home.
We realised that at the current time there is no easy way for people in the UK to get money that they might have raised at home to give to Mosoj Yan in Bolivia. Therefore we have been meeting with staff at the centre to come up with a way in which we could be representatives for Mosoj Yan in the UK, to set up easier ways to transfer money, organise big fundraising events and communicate amongst previous UK volunteers and Mosoj Yan.
This is an on-going project that will require a lot of work once we return home, but hopefully it will give Mosoj Yan access but much more financial support.
It seems that our time here has gone quickly and there is always more we could do, but we need to remember the words of Mother Theresa :
“What we are doing here feels like a drop in the ocean, but then the ocean is full of drops”