December 2015

Tia International Aid

Armando is a 15-year-old boy. He left his family’s home at the age of eight because his stepmother used to beat him. Four years later, he has been rescued from the streets and placed in one of Cochabamba’s orphanage. His addiction to drugs was already very strong; therefore, he needed time to start over with his life.
However, as 80% of the young who have lived in orphanages during their childhoods, he is likely to come back from where he was headed.

By: Claire Leduc
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Le Manf - France

Some of girls that came to Tia
Photo by: Claire Leduc

According to SEDEGES (the Departmental Service of Social Management), about 4,000 children are now living in Cochabamba orphanages. Rescued from the streets or family mistreatment, they remain far from being saved.

Some of boys that came to Tia
Photo by: Claire Leduc

“When teenagers in orphanages turn 18 they have to leave. There is no choice: the government will no longer pay for them to be looked after and most of them are not ready to start with their lives,” states Tessa Henwood-Mitchell. Therefore, she created the Foundation Tia Bolivia, an NGO that aims to support the teenagers in their transition period.

Step one: the workshops

Photo by: Claire Leduc

A year ago, Tia Foundation started to organize workshops in Cochabamba orphanages. It covers many different subjects, such as personal development, cooking, sexuality, habits and skills of study, mass media and social networks, violence, finance, and so on.

However, the purpose of these workshops is not to be another teaching class or psychological help. “I think the difference in what we do is that we don’t go to these orphanages pretending that we know better, it is more about sharing, talking, listening to them and make friends with them. It works because they come to us to talk about things they won’t tell to the people working in the orphanages,” affirms Tessa.

Nevertheless, the challenge seems insuperable. From the beginning of the activity, the teenagers aged from 14 to 17 are all sit with the empty look waiting for it to finish. But the kids’ scepticism gradually vanishes. Armando confesses, “At the beginning, I thought that it would be as boring as other workshops I went to. I was wrong, I really liked it.”

Photo by: Claire Leduc

As time passed by, the young asked for more. So, Tia team had to adapt and is still in permanent change to improve their program. Yet, one thing is the content of the workshops and another is the way you relate with people.

For Tia, the most important is “being very positive to them and try to encourage them to actually believe in themselves.”

Armando can notice the difference in himself from the person he was a year ago: “I changed so much. Before, I felt very insecure, whereas now I can see the difference between good and bad people and make my own choices.”

Step two: the supportive house

Tessa Henwood-Mitchell and Tia staff
Photo by: Claire Leduc

The Tia centre is open for each person who left an orphanage in the last two years. They can come and the team will work with them on anything they need support with. They might need help with their homework, find a job and keep it, or pay their rent.

Whatever it is, the teenagers must know that there is someone they can come to. The name of the association symbolizes what Tessa wanted to be to them, an aunt. “Many of these young people have been told all their lives that they are not worth anything, that they will not achieve anything in their lives, that they are going to go back to the same place they came from, and that this is going to be their lives forever. We are here to say to them that it is not true.”

Step three: the residential program

Obviously, success stories do exist. Some young adults achieve to be perfectly independent or to go back to their families when they leave the orphanage. For the other ones, Tia is still here. Tessa proposes to six young people to live together for about two years, the time for them to become stable and self-sufficient.

During their time with Tia, they must take classes and work at the same time. Besides this requirement, the purpose is to let them organize their everyday life. “They have to do anything by themselves. We will not do anything for them, but we will help them,” reminds Tia team.

Therefore, the workshops are still available for those young ones. But they are more practical. They have to take more and more responsibility. This begins with very simple things. For example, they learn how to catch the public transportation as many of them never left the orphanage on their own.

Then, little by little, the engagement of the young will have to increase. The residential program demands them to give 20% of their wages and to pay for services like water, electricity, and gas. For Tessa, the principle is that “if you give something to someone for free, they will not value it as much as if they have to pay for it” so that these young adults have to acknowledge the price of their work.

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