Issue - March 2008

March 2008

In this edition Eva Biard writes her interesting interview with Teresa Laredo; Charlotte Mayhew tell us a little of Amanecer Foundation; Gaia Pacha speaks with Heather Dieguez about a trip they are organizing with research and adventure; Walter Sanchez tells us more about Incan more...

March 2008

Amanecer Foundation:
Providing shelter and hope for the future…

… By offering the abandoned street children and women of Cochabamba a chance to stand on their own two feet.

Charlotte Mayhew
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Ashford, United Kingdom

Begging, stealing, drugs, prostitution- this is the day to day life for those forced to live on the streets of Cochabamba, aspects of life that we hope our own children should never have to encounter. It is estimated there are around 2500 children currently living on the streets of Cochabamba, La Paz and Santa Cruz, be it through violence or too large a family so there is no food, or they are abandoned. In some cases there are whole families living on the street owing to the collapse of their livelihood within a rural community. There are more than 40 babies living on the streets of Cochabamba and it is estimated around 90% of children use solvents as a way of escapism, or smoking cigarettes laced with cocaine paste in order to fight off hunger and boredom. But what else can these children aspire to?

Founded in 1981 by Sister Stefanie from the Sisters of Charity, Amanecer’s goals are to restore a sense of self worth whilst offering help and re-establishing these children as members of society in the hope they will grow to lead normal lives. Providing the children with an education and also the opportunity to learn a trade it is hoped this will lead towards them becoming economically independent one day.

In the Sacaba Valley, next to the potato market, they had a similar blacksmith production as in the High Valley. In the process of wrought iron, the artisans found a very important way of expression as they began to produce door knockers; iron objects that were placed on the doors andthey had some social significations and even symbolic and ritual meaning.

Hector Fernandez of Amanecer spoke with me regarding the process encouraging children to come to the homes. Firstly, social workers venture out onto the streets two nights a week with hot milk and food in attempts to rescue the children. Next they have to analyze the process of integrating children within the program, especially if drugs are involved in which case those over twelve have to attend a rehabilitation centre in order to quit. Those under twelve are analyzed by a social worker to determine their psychological well being. Motivational speakers come in to try and encourage the children to begin their education, which is not obligatory within the first two levels of the program.

Yaykuna (‘to enter’ in Quechua) is the first of the homes that children can enter the program, it is a day facility for those unwilling to commit to a residential home but still provides counseling, meals, showers, clothes laundry facilities, medical and dental care, recreation and academic tutoring. Sanayricuy (to rise up in Quechua) is the second level where the boys can get involved in workshops, outings, sports and chores, as well as learning habits of work and study. Casa Wiñay, Casa Nazareth and Casa San Martin caters for those 6-15 where education is now compulsory and they are taught to be more responsible for themselves. Casa Ana Maria and Casa Jerusalem provides for young men over fifteen and aims to prepare them for integration within society, focusing mainly on vocational training. Madre de Dios takes in women and young girls, also operating as a day care centre for low income working mothers. Solomon Klein is a home for babies and young children up to the age of six, previously it ran an adoption program but the government was forced to end it after scandals of trafficking. Amanecer also run the St Vincent De Paul Foundation Center to help children adjust to a normal school environment and The Amanecer Trade School which helps the older boys learn skills in metal work, carpentry, baking, agriculture, construction, plumbing and electricity.

I met with Fernandez at Sayaricuy where he told me “Amanecer is always open, children can come and go should they wish. First time they are explained the limits, usually by the third attempt the children stick at it. Usually they are put off by being assigned duties.” Some children are not used to cohabitating, they are not used to eating together or even washing themselves and this, as well as being assigned duties is what can put some children off as they are used to the freedom and fast paced life of living on the streets. The majority of children do come back to the program though as that kind of life is not safe and although some are used to living that way, it is a case of survival of the fittest. Sometimes children are asked to leave, but only when they are a risk to the other children, be it through violence or by continuing drug abuse.

“Currently there are 48 children here who have chosen to stay but could still leave if they wanted. The tall walls are only to avoid being robbed, it doesn’t contain the children or keep them out” Fernandez explains. Currently there are around 450 children within the Amanecer program and around 22 volunteers helping the staff.

I met Dave, one of the volunteers who currently works at Casa Nazareth, who told me “I love hanging out with them all afternoon. We once took the boys to the park to play soccer where they challenged some older boys to a game, the result was 5-0 to the boys of Casa Nazareth, they were so happy, it was great.” He mainly helps them out with chores, plays with them and helps them with their homework (“bribing them with sweets encourages them when it comes to math!”)

Volunteers arrive from such places as Canada, Switzerland and Spain wanting to help with the project and they often return home to arrange donations for the program. Any financial support received is a great help, Amanecer gain donations locally and nationally, as well as some support from the government although there are other foundations that require funds also.

Canadian institutions deals with the sponsoring for children between six to sixteen, be it for living costs or going towards scholarships. In some cases sponsors do keep in contact after children turn 16, which Amanecer encourages, but this depends on what is given and received, some are on a more independent basis. It is encouraged for sponsors to send a card and/or a small gift at Christmas and birthdays as well as writing a letter at least three times a year. The boys will always write thank you letters in return which are translated into English.

Amanecer stress the importance that children should be with their families and will offer psychological and financial support to those who need it. Unfortunately though, there are situations where problems cannot be solved and in some cases Amanecer will care for babies right up until they are independent. But each home has dedicated staff to ensure that each child receives the care and attention they should be, they gain an education and support in order to be able to lead normal lives which wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

Every once in a while an event is arranged for those who have since left the program such as picnics, parties or camping trips. It is hoped the children currently residing in the homes can see what they can aspire to. Also speaking with previous residents of the home means that Amanecer can benefit from opinions and suggestions. Some children even go on to work at some of the homes, so they have both sides of the experience and can understand what the children are going through.

The good work of Amanecer came to be thanks to Sister Stefanie from Philadelphia, who opened the first shelter for 14 boys in April of 1981 but despite Amanecer’s great success, she commented that the situation was getting worse. “They are leaving home at earlier ages,” she said. “When we first started we wouldn’t see a child under 12. Now we are seeing them as young as six.” 1

Unfortunately, Sister Stefanie passed away on the 16th February 2006 and will be sadly missed by staff and children alike. José Arequipa, one of the children Sister Stefanie helped, said at the time of her death “When I was sniffing glue in Coronilla and other places, Sister Stefanie brought me to the home Sarayikuy and therefore I give her many thanks because I did not have a home. It was very good and has helped me to do well.”2 There were great concerns as to what would happen without her help and the aid of her friends as Sister Stefanie had been so supportive, but the staff of Amanecer have managed to continue her good work and will continue to do so whilst there are children who need their help.


A Large Journey for
a Larger Cause

There is no manner of travel that appeals to the romantic quite as much as the road trip. Driving down a windy road, wind rushing in through the open windows, melodies floating in from the radio, the purring of the engine lulling its passengers to sleep, the feeling that, as the numbers on the odometer continue to rise, you are exploring uncharted land, venturing into the unknown with only as much as you could cram into the trunk of your car.

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