Issue - November 2007



November 2007
Editorial

In this edition Arnold Brower presents a different view of Frisbee, Walter Sanchez teaches us about the Chonta Palms history, Ross Eventon investigates a Ney Way of living, and Ciudadela SEDEGES, always with dedication to orphan children, opens five new homes...read more...

November 2007

Finding a New Way

Ross Eventon
Projects Abroad - Volunteer
Cardiff - United Kingdom

A look at an organisation offering the opportunity of a different life to the vulnerable children of Cochabamba.

One of the largest problems facing Bolivia today is that of children, abandoned or forced from home through violence and abuse, living and working on the streets. Of these children, the young girls are the most vulnerable and often turn to stealing, prostitution and drugs, in particular the insolvent “Clefa.” Mosojyan, “New Way” in Quechua, is an organisation dedicated to helping these young women to rebuild their lives and to preventing those in need from turning to the streets as a solution to the problems they face at home.

Recognising the vulnerability of street girls whilst working for an NGO in Cochabamba, Margaret Anderson started the organisation in 1991 and it has now evolved into a fully capable prevention and rehabilitation centre for young women. After 16 years experience the company has developed a “Phases” system, aimed at helping girls of different levels of severity, the first of which is the centre for Working Girls. These are children as young as 5 years old who are living at home, often from dysfunctional or abusive families and are forced to work, thus being exposed to the dangers of the street whilst forgoing the chance of a formal education.

The centre is concerned with prevention, acting before the girls are forced to live on the streets permanently. Here, they can come on a daily basis and experience a different environment where they are taught life skills such as woodwork, cooking and craft-work, giving them a foundation of skills they can use for the rest of their lives.

This idea of occupational therapy, where the children are immersed in learning new skills, is a theme that runs throughout the centres and is an important factor in helping those from troubled backgrounds to concentrate on something more positive in their lives. The products produced in the workshops are sold in the shop and cafe owned by Mosojyan and the money raised is placed into a fund for each of the girls, which can later be used to finance education or, if needed, purchase vital items. In this way, the working girls centre has been able to fund young women through higher education to study various degrees including nursing, medicine and architecture.

Aside from these manual skills the girls are taught typical school subjects, including health advice particularly relating to the rising problem of HIV, and are also made aware of their rights as women. There are also on-site psychologists dedicated to improving the girls perceptions of themselves and their position in society. It is this sense of empowerment that Psychologist and Executive Director Marisol Nacho sees as vital in “securing these girls futures and removing them from the vicious circle of working and living on the streets.” At various times, the families of the children are invited to the centre to discuss issues at home, and how they can be improved to give the children a chance for a better future. Paulina Rivas, Administrator of the Social and Productive Unit which manages the shop and cafe, explains how “workshops and group discussion sessions can be arranged for specific issues that the children have raised or are having trouble with; these sessions are open and give girls, and their families, not attending Mosojyan an opportunity to see the kind of work being done and how they can be helped.”

Essentially separate from this centre are the phases of Motivation, Renovation and Restoration. These areas focus exclusively on rehabilitating and reintegrating into society girls currently living on the streets. The girls have often suffered mistreatment and abuse at home leading them to the streets where they develop addictions to drugs and alcohol and eventually turn to stealing and prostitution to survive. Living rough, often side by side with animals in squalid conditions and sometimes unknowingly carrying HIV, they are the most desperate of the street children, and as such Mosojyan deploys social workers and psychologists out onto the streets, as part of the aptly named Motivation Phase, to visit these girls, conduct an analysis of their current situation and mental state and offer them the opportunity to enter the Renovation Centre.

If successful, the girls can enter the purpose built rehabilitation centre where they live permanently, sometimes with their children, giving them the opportunity to detox from drugs and alcohol. In this centre they are given a daily schedule which includes time for education in basic subjects (especially health related issues), exercise, training in manual skills, studying the values of Christianity and women’s rights, group therapy sessions and family and friend visitation. Sunday is left free for the women to have time to themselves where they can receive treatments such as manicures, haircuts and pedicures; something Coordinator Felina Albornoz, who has been working with the girls for 14 years, sees as “vital in creating a sense of normalcy in their lives and helping them to feel like women again. This structure and stability in their lives, and the family atmosphere created in the house, is important in helping the girls overcome their addictions and preparing them for reinsertion into society.”

Girls who are fully recovered often leave to pursue studies or work, but many enter the final phase, Restoration, a house where they can live in a supportive and safe family environment with teachers, psychologists, social workers and volunteers, giving them the space to study and research a better life. Co-ordinator Florentino Gorena explains how the centre becomes family for those without one. “The population we work with come from an atmosphere of family abuse, mistreatment and sexual abuse. Also, we have girls who have recently finished alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs such as the Renovation Centre, but we welcome girls from various other institutions aswell.

There is no key, so the desire to stay is an entirely personal commitment. I think the love and affection these projects give the girls is their motivation to stay here.” Many of the girls leave the house during the day to attend college (funded by the sale of goods in the shop and cafe) whilst others are given in house education. The centre is attempting to forge links with private enterprises, technology institutes and universities in an effort to change societies perception of these women. Three times a year, former members of this project return to the house to meet the girls currently living there; last Christmas, 180 former members returned to encourage the girls and act as an example of what they can achieve. Cecilia, 21, has been living in the house for 6 months following abandonment by her family. “I thank God that I am here where there is love and an understanding of my circumstances. I have the opportunity to learn cooking, baking, cleaning and crafts.

In the future I hope to study nursing, but now I am looking for a job and to move on with my life.” Accompanying Mosojyan’s social workers around Cochabamba, we visit a girl who bears the effects of living rough both physically and mentally. Her house is a poorly constructed shack surrounded by the paraphernalia of drug abuse, where she is living with her boyfriend and various other homeless children. Despite being 18 she is convinced she is still 16 and has already spent 8 years on the streets. It is not long before we notice the lacerations extending from her wrist to elbow joint, a sign of achievement amongst “Cleferos”, be it for winning fights, stealing or otherwise. Drowsy and unresponsive, she is suffering the effects of “Clefa” abuse and unable to remember the date or day.

After questions relating to her health and recent events in the house, we learn that her boyfriend is responsible for feeding her, but that they have recently fought because he left for the local “Chichería” to spend the money they had stolen on alcohol. We leave with the offer of help through the Mosojyan Renovation Centre, promising to return the next day to check that she has eaten and that she is not deteriorating. It is girls like this, the most vulnerable and needy members of society, that Mosojyan seeks to save and to give a future that would otherwise be unattainable; something social worker Rossemary Nogales describes as a “long, difficult, but not impossible task.”

Expansion of Orphanage in Cochabamba
Nowadays, SEDEGES is responsible for the maintenance of about 84 orphanages in the entire department of Cochabamba. This includes, feeding, educating and caring for the children that arrive to these facilities because of abuse, protection or abandonment....
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