Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Situation of Street Children

A goal of Kaya Children’s mission is to not only serve the children in our program, but to also reach out to those children still living on the streets. Kaya has a street outreach team that goes out onto the streets and visits with these street children two times a week – Monday night and Saturday morning. The team offers first aid and shares snacks with the children, with the purpose of cultivating a friendship with the children and encouraging them to leave the streets. The goal of the street outreach team is to help street children believe that they have the capacity and the skills for a better life – a life with purpose.

It has become increasingly difficult to live on the streets. The problems that street children face are several and varied. Street children experience the rejection of their own families, as the majority of children living on the streets come from families with a stepfather or stepmother who mistreats the children, resulting in the children’s biological parents rejecting their children as well to be accepted by their new partner. Street children furthermore face discrimination from society as a whole. Authorities do not let them stay in one place for long, will burn the children’s shelters and belongings, and abuse them. There is also a lot of abuse within the street children population, oftentimes with the older children abusing the younger ones. Ironically enough, one of the greatest problems street children face is the extortion of the police who will use violence or intimidation to coerce children into stealing items such as cell phones, which the police will either take or buy from the children. While the conditions of living on the streets have stayed mostly constant since earlier times, the increase in police corruption is evident and a growing problem.

Although it is difficult to completely repair the situation, it is imperative that we make an effort to address this issue. We can do this in three ways: prevention, rescue, and strategic alliances.

Prevention: It is important to work specifically with families at risk in order to prevent children from leaving their homes for the streets before they actually make that transition. This can be done through therapy, training, and counsel for the children’s parents and the enrollment of children into our day program or an equivalent to ensure structure during children’s free hours, when they are more susceptible to wandering the streets.

Rescue: The street outreach team deals specifically with this issue. We want to provide the opportunity for a better life to the children who are already living on the streets. Our goal is to build friendships with these children while they are still on the streets and encourage them to enter our residential program, with the purpose of helping them reintegrate into society. This is supplemented through working with the children’s families to equip them with the tools to support the smooth transition of the children off the streets, into our program, and eventually to their own independence.

Strategic Alliances: It is important to also build relationships and work in conjunction with other institutions and organizations that contribute different services, such as with local universities that offer trained students who intern as tutors with us, so that we can utilize these services and provide the children in our program with high quality care and services.

Undoubtedly, the street children’s situations is enormous and the work is arduous; however, it is not impossible to work to help these children. At Kaya Children, we believe that each child is important and that we need to serve those in need – those who are without a family, without love, and without hope – so that we give them another opportunity to have a more purposeful life and dream of a better future.

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Partnership with Boston College Research Team

We are pleased to announce a new partnership with Dr. Belle Liang, PhD., an Associate Professor at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. Dr. Liang, along with her research team – Sophia, Helen, Rachel, Nicole, and Miao – will be collaborating with Kaya Children on a study of school experiences with street-involved youth, helping us analyze data collected over the summer by a team of medical students from the University of Rochester. The purpose of this study is to develop a deeper understanding of the relationships of street-involved youth in La Paz, Bolivia and the local school system, particularly addressing factors associated with student drop-out.

School drop-out is a major factor leading children to full time life on the streets in Bolivia. According to Executive Director Kristin Huang’s dissertation research, despite the fact that school is an incredible opportunity to intervene and promote youth resilience, many street children rarely view school as a positive alternative to home life. However, while street children dislike school, they do highly value education. This suggests that because street children assign so much value to being able to graduate from high school and “become somebody,” a positive school experience would help them in other aspects of their lives.

One of Kaya Children’s goals is to “conduct, disseminate and encourage research that informs best practice with street-involved children.” To this end, we partner with universities to facilitate research that allows us to understand what is most effective in intervention and work to translate these findings to practical plans of action for practitioners in the field. Our partnership with the Boston College research team especially demonstrates this value in action, to which many of the team members attest. Helen, agrees that “this willingness for partnership proves significant in that a symbiotic relationship of intervention with research would increase efficiency and reduce duplications in service, raise global awareness, and translate successful qualities of Kaya’s intervention to diverse organizations in the world.” Sophie explains that “as a team dedicated to advancing social justice through every aspect of our work, we are particularly excited to partner with Kaya in seeking to give voice to disempowered youth around the world, and working with larger systems to bring about meaningful social change.”

Through this partnership we will be able to have high quality research analysis done, while engaging with local universities to raise awareness of the situation in Bolivia with street children. This research will not only inform scholars of the needs of street-involved youth, but will also provide practitioners with meaningful and accessible material so that they can develop effective programs to help reinforce children’s transition processes off the streets and to strategically intervene before children establish full lives on the streets. “The large number of children living on the streets in Bolivia has been a significant social issue. Withdrawing from the school system, these children are facing the risk of losing their opportunity for education, and make the process of reaching out of poverty much more difficult, which produces a vicious circle. [This partnership] is a great opportunity to adjust the organizational system, and work toward the promotion of social justice work,” says Miao.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lessons from Former Street Children

Stephanie Kuei volunteered with Kaya in Bolivia for two months this past summer. She is now continuing to support Kaya as a Communications Intern at the US office.

How do I even begin to put words to everything I experienced this summer working with Kaya Children in Bolivia? I honestly had no idea what an abundant experience was in store for me. Since I have been participating in volunteer trips abroad every summer since the seventh grade, I thought I could predict what I would be doing in Bolivia, what I would feel, what I would learn. I prepared myself for the poverty I expected to witness and for living conditions that would not be as comfortable as living at home. I left California -- reassuring my mom that I would be safe -- with minimal knowledge of Bolivia or the plight of street children, and equipped only with a smattering of high school Spanish.

When I arrived in Bolivia, any preconceived notions I had of what my trip was going to be like were shaken and eventually shattered. Whether it was seeing the boys in their school uniforms (especially the four who will be graduating from high school this year and going off to college), playing cards with them, or cheering them on as they kicked a soccer ball around, I loved being able to see them just be kids. It was wonderful knowing that, because of the opportunities given to them through Kaya, they were reclaiming their childhood and daring to dream of the future. The two times I had the opportunity to work on the streets placed a burden on my heart for the street children of Bolivia and further emphasized the positive transformation I witnessed in the boys at the center – they take pride in their appearance, in their work, and, most importantly, in each other. As one of the teachers said, “these boys are not escaping from their problems, but rather they are facing reality and growing from it.”

Whenever I go to volunteer somewhere, I bring with me this lofty idea of the inspiring person I am going to be, of all the new things I will be able to teach the people I work with, and of the positive change I will be able to make in someone’s life. However, this summer it was definitely the boys of Kaya who were my inspiration, who taught me so many more things than I could ever have possibly taught them, and who changed my life. I learned so much from each of them – from playing new (and sometimes ridiculous) games, to having my Spanish corrected over and over again, and to being shown what true affection really is. It was such a blessing to have been able to get to know each and every one of the boys during the two months I spent in Bolivia, and it was a joy to see each of them grow individually. I am so thankful that I got to experience the tremendous love that they have in their beautiful hearts. I now have a family in Bolivia as well, and it delights me to know that my departure was not a definitive goodbye, but only the beginning of a wonderful relationship with Kaya Children.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Board Member's First Trip to Bolivia

Kent Forkner is a Board Member for Kaya Children International and an elder at South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, MA. In early July, he made his first trip to Bolivia to see the work Kaya is doing.

My trip to Bolivia was a valuable opportunity for me to get a personal view of the various operations of Kaya Children International. I had known of the organization and its dedication to street kids for about a decade and I’ve been directly involved for the past 2 ½ years by serving on its Board of Directors. However, I had not yet visited our operations in Bolivia despite being involved in making decisions that help shape Kaya. So, in God’s sovereign way, he provided unemployment earlier this year, which gave me the time to make the trip happen.

In the afternoon on my arrival day, I was able to tour the Kaya Center and see the location from which we are now providing schooling and counseling services to 35 former street kids and current “at-risk” kids. While school wasn’t in session that week, I enjoyed meeting many of the staff members and learning about what goes on during a typical day at the center. It’s a new challenge for the organization to have a few “day students”, that are sent back to their families, and in some cases to situations that are less than desirable, after each school day. These at-risk kids obviously have different needs than those kids who are in our three homes and under our care 24/7. This is a new challenge for our staff and at the end of each day it’s often the case that all they can do is to pray for these kids as they leave our premises.

The next morning, I headed out with our Chairman and Founder, Dr. Chi Huang on a several-hour tour of La Paz. Chi took me to Plaza San Francisco and spent time showing me the various sites where he originally developed the relationships with street kids starting 12 years ago. It brought to life the many stories of deep physical and spiritual need that I’ve heard about from Chi over the years and that led to the formation of Kaya. The organization has grown in so many ways since those early days but at the same time I could still see the same passion in Chi’s eyes as deeply cares for each child on the streets.

Over the next couple of days I was able to visit all three of our houses and meet many of the 30 boys in our full-care program. I was given a tour of each house (Hogar Bernebe, Hogar Betania, and Hogar Renacer) by some of the residents. Each home is nice, yet simple, with the most comfortable room being the family room where each morning the boys gather to start their day and to study the Bible. That room also serves as a place for the boys to just hangout with other members of the house which helps them to gain valuable social skills. Each bedroom has two beds and was very neatly kept as the boys have regular chores and responsibilities around the homes as instituted by Kaya’s “house uncles and aunts”. It was rewarding for me to meet many of these former street boys and amazing to realize that some of the older boys have been living in Kaya’s care since our first home opened in 2001.

One of my favorite memories from the trip occurred when I was teaching a resident of Hogar Betania how to throw an American football -- within minutes he was throwing spirals and I told him (with Chi as my translator) that he now could throw almost as well as one of America’s best, Tom Brady! It was great to see the smile of satisfaction of learning something new that he would likely later share with his housemates.

One of my evenings in Bolivia was spent out on the streets of El Alto with some members from of our volunteer Street Outreach Team - Andy, Michael, Emma, Leslie, Karen, and Deborah. This is a twice-weekly operation of Kaya volunteers. We gathered in El Alto with our jug of hot chocolate and then purchased some bread to hand out to the street kids. We started near the park which has historically provided a sleeping area to many kids each night but is now fenced and heavily patrolled by the police – so no sign of kids at that location on this night. A while later, by the arcade we started to find the usual kids who are known by our outreach volunteers and provided them with food and hot chocolate and a little medical care for those with bumps and bruises. Several members of the outreach team on that night were medical students from the US and UK. Interestingly, this is similar to the services Chi provided as a medical student in the early days of his street ministry.

Later that evening in another of the most memorable experiences for me, we were on a hillside overlooking La Paz, an area where street kids often sleep for the night. They like this area as others tend to not bother them as it’s an inconvenient climb and not the cleanest of areas and despite the fact they sleep on the dirt in 20-degree temperatures. We overlooked the hill for a few minutes and couldn’t see or hear any kids. Then Andy yelled “hot chocolate” in Spanish and suddenly a couple of heads popped up from under rocks and shrubs – AMAZING! They were so glad to see us and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and the laughs with these two boys over the next twenty minutes. The rest of the evening we saw plenty of others in need and spent time with them as best we could.

Another opportunity that gave me a deeper understanding of how Kaya is actually fulfilling its mission was to have lunch with the Bolivian-based leadership staff. Our leadership in Bolivia consists of Pato, our Residential Director, Giovanna, our Head Teacher, and Guisella, our Head Psychologist. Kristin (Kaya’s Executive Director) and Chi Huang hosted a lunch for us which was an excellent opportunity for me to hear first-hand what’s going on at the Kaya Center and in the homes. I was impressed with the depth of the local leadership staff and their desire to care for the children and their ability to carry out the daily work of making a difference in the lives of so many Bolivians.

On my final day in Bolivia, I rode with Kaya staff member, Chi Chi, and eighteen boys in the back of a van on the floor to watch them play in a soccer match against another school at a coliseo (coliseum). Kaya’s boys played their hearts out with great teamwork despite the wide spread in age of our team. What a privilege it was for me to see them play so well together. Not long after starting, many locals stopped to watch the game from the side of a hill. Our team lost but there was no head-hanging on the trip home as they had enjoyed the simple pleasure of being out playing soccer for a few hours.

It was an amazing journey and has given me a new perspective on the deep physical and spiritual needs of street and at-risk kids in Bolivia. Additionally, it emphasized to me that we will never meet all of the needs in the world but what I saw being done in helping meet the many needs of these specific kids is truly exceptional. Frankly, the grace extended by Kaya’s many staff and volunteers to these kids reminds me of Christ’s sacrifice for us – it’s not earned at all but thankfully it’s a gift and a reality.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fun Day with All the Boys

John Eggen, Board Member and Missions Pastor at Sheridan Lutheran Church in Lincoln, NE, is currently leading a missions trip of folks from his church. John and his wife Michelle have been a part of the Kaya family for years and served as staff members in Bolivia for a time. Below is an entry from Sheridan's Missions blog that John wrote a few days ago. To read more from the Sheridan team please visit

Today was special because we spent the entire day with the kids from all three homes. After lunch the group came back to the hotel to pickup our gifts for the kids and I went to a fast food place here called “Pollos Copacabana” to buy food for everyone. Pollos Copacabana is really the only fast food chain in Bolivia that is actually Bolivian. Bolivians are really proud of this and they actually have really good broaster chicken. I went there and had the privilege of ordering 40 combo meals. That took a couple of confirmations for the lady behind the register. Then I also ordered two “family” packs that came with 16 pieces of chicken so the boys (aka black holes for food) could have extra. The total for the group was about $120. Not too bad for feeding 30 teenage boys and 10 adults. We loaded up the minivan with our pile of boxes of combo meals, picked up a 10 liters of soda and headed to the homes. After saying grace the kids attacked the chicken and the staff actually had to tell them to slow down. Needless to say, they enjoyed it.

After we had lunch we took a break to get our ducks in a row. We brought all the shoes that had been donated from Bethany and Sheridan with us to hand out to the boys. So we went into a room and sorted through them and put them into piles according to which home they were in. Once we were ready we gathered the boys together. We started by sharing with them that we are here as representatives of two churches and that we keep them in our prayers and members from our congregations had bought these shoes for them. We (the team) purchased three really nice soccer balls and three basketballs for the homes and we presented these, one set, to each of the homes. Then we started to had the shoes out to each child… it was like Christmas in July.

After we were finished a number of the boys wanted to thank us. They thanked God for giving us and those who purchased the shoes such generous hearts. They said there are few people in the world that will give so much and ask for nothing in return. The boys were very sweet and sincere as they shared their thanks. A few tears were shed.

After the gift giving we headed outside to test our cardiovascular systems by playing some more sports at 13,000 ft. Fortunately for us the game for the day was volleyball. We didn’t do very well at first, but as time went on they put in the younger kids. When it was six of us vs 6 9 year olds we did pretty well! After our first set of volleyball games they wanted to play basketball. We played full court basketball for about 15 minutes and then we all thought we might die, so we took a break and they played a couple of games of soccer. Afterwards we played a few more games of volleyball and actually won! We had lots of fun playing and the kids really got into cheering everyone on at the end.

Tomorrow we spend the day in the Kaya Center as the kids return to school. Hopefully it will be an easier day. I think we have all been ready for bed by 5:00 every evening. Tomorrow night we start street ministry at 8:30 PM, so we will all be up way past our bedtime! Please keep our group in your prayers tomorrow night, most especially for stamina for the day and safety at night.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Fair to Build Kaya's Library

When Lexington Christian Academy Junior Kjell Pu was faced with his school’s junior year service project requirement he immediately approached Kaya Children’s Executive Director, Kristin Huang, and Founder, Chi Huang about ways he can help out. Kjell’s parents are friends with the Huangs and attend the same church. Through this relationship, Kjell had often heard of the work that Kaya Children is doing among marginalized children on the streets in Bolivia. He thought he might be able to make a difference for these children through his project. “They told me of the recently founded school program and the need for books in Spanish for the library they hoped to open,” said Kjell, “so I met with Kristin Huang and planned to host a book drive at my school.”

The school program is Kaya’s new day center and full service school housed at the Kaya Center in La Paz, Bolivia. It provides services to both children in Kaya’s residential programs and many other children who live on the streets most of the day but have a home to go to at night. Setting up a strong library is a vital part of establishing the school program and making it more effective. "In Bolivia, books are a luxury,” said Kristin Huang. “Most people don't own books and there are no libraries where people can borrow books to read for pleasure. Through the Kaya Center, we're trying to change that by giving kids access to high quality books.”

Initially Kjell hoped that he could set up an online book registry that could be available for students at his school. However, after contacting Barnes and Nobles he discovered that the company has an established book fair program available for schools. “I met with Ms. Dee Mandolese--the Community Relations Manager for the Barnes and Noble store in Burlington, MA--and she offered to host a book fair to support Kaya,” reported Kjell. “We agreed upon June 5th and 6th for the days of the fair and Dr. Chi Huang agreed to give a talk about his spiritual journey and the history of the organization.” To prepare for the event Barnes and Nobles provided Kjell with fliers and posters and set aside space in the store for the event. Kjell worked with Kristin Huang to prepare a list of books in Spanish that would be appropriate for the Kaya Center library. These books include recognized and diverse international classics such as the Narnia series, Les Misérables, Charlotte’s Web, Green Eggs and Ham, Macbeth, Peter Pan, The Giving Tree, Little Red Riding Hood, Pride and Prejudice, Huckleberry Finn, and Where the Wild Things Are.

In the end the fair garnered 160+ books totaling $1,300. In addition, Kjell raised $1,000+ in donations from people unable to attend the actual fair. “I originally planned to bring the books personally to Bolivia this summer,” said Kjell, “but we have too many--a problem, but a good one to have.” In order to transport all of the books to Bolivia, Kaya has enlisted the help of all the US volunteers traveling to La Paz this summer. Kjell said he couldn’t have arranged this project without help from the Huangs, Dee Mandolese and his parents. His friend, Steven Waterhouse, also helped him raise money and advertise for the event.

Kjell’s project has significantly improved Kaya Children’s ability to provide high quality education to children enrolled at the Kaya Center. “We're so grateful to have the support of Lexington Christian Academy and students like Kjell in this endeavor,” said Kristin Huang. “The books they have collected for us will more than double the size of our current library." Through his hard work and creativity Kjell effectively achieved the goal of his service project and made a real difference for others in need.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Volunteer's Experience on the Streets

Eunice is a volunteer working with Kaya in Bolivia. Here, she reflects on her first night out with the street outreach team.

My First Night Walking the Streets of El Alto

After a stressful trip into the city because of a protest (all the streets were closed and I almost didn’t make it), I ended up meeting the rest of the street outreach team in El Alto around 9pm and walked the streets with hot chocolate and bread, looking for children begging, walking around, sleeping, whatever… until about 12am. It is the beginning of winter here, and especially in El Alto, with its high altitude, it’s a very cold night. The following are some snapshots of what I saw / experienced (names changed for confidentiality):

* Julio, the first child I meet, a small boy kneeling between two vendors, with a small bag of “bonbon” chocolates to sell. No smile, but looks at us with huge eyes and responds with slight nods. One of the regular teammates thinks that he is being physically abused at home, for he responds very “poorly” to touch. First one to break my heart.

* Outside the arcade, a bunch of children come out for hot chocolate and bread. These children aren’t picky – they don’t have choices. It is such an incredibly SIMPLE meal, but they treasure every moment of it. Juan sits on the sidewalk; he’s a little older with wild hair. I ask him what he does during the day, “trabajo en el minibus.” (“I work on the minibus” – basically is on a “mini” bus all day, yelling the stops so that people will get on). Oh. That’s why his voice is so hoarse that I can barely understand him. He must lose his voice everyday after yelling all day long to earn perhaps a little over a dollar. But all these children are so responsive to all the questions I ask them. They’re simply children.

* Omar & brother: Omar… 8 years old, his brother 11. Sitting against a wall along a pathway, begging. Beautiful eyes and cute, squeezable cheeks. Hands SO COLD, I simply held them in my hands to warm them up a little. One of them, he is clenching on for dear life to what I think are a couple of coins. But he lets me warm his other hand. So quiet, so obedient, so engrossed in watching what’s going on around him. Broke my heart again.

* 3 boys, running around streets with CRAZY cars (we first found them along the same pathway, begging for money, but they got excited that we were there) – this should not be a child’s playground. NO! One boy, carrying a black bag wherever he goes, shoves his hand into a pocket then shows his friends all the coins he has. Later, I see him shining shoes… “Ah. That’s why he had so much money, and that’s why his hands were SO BLACK.” Later, I talk to a teammate, “they seemed so happy, so carefree”. He answers, “No. It’s but a mirage of what their childhood should have been like. They get glimpses of it when we are there. But it’s all a lie.” A lie.

* Two homeless men sleeping literally on top of each other in a tiny hole under a bridge reeking of human waste. Half their bodies stick out (waist down), and they look precariously close to falling out. We wake them up and give them food – they cry as they tell their stories – when is the last time anyone touched them and listened to their stories? Now I understand why the homeless in America are said to be RICH.

* We squeeze through an opening in a gate in the middle of a highway under a bridge. Here we find a row of cardboard boxes with a few rags lying around. But no children yet, it’s a little early. This is where some of them live. On cardboard boxes in the middle of a noise / gas infested highway. It’s getting really cold. There’s not a single blanket.

* We find Daniel sleeping alone in a grassy area surrounding a statue. We wake him up and he hungrily eats the bread. Only afterwards, does he look up and ask for my name. He’s 20. During the day, he walks around the city. But he’s just a child. He’s afraid of pain so he won’t even let us treat the infected wounds on his knees. “Gracias, hermano. Gracias, hermana,” he says to each person there.

* We pray before we call it a night. I pray, “God, love them. Make your love real to them. I don’t know how, but envelope them with your warmth. Let them not feel the cold surrounding them tonight. LOVE them. GOD. Please. Let them know Your love.”

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” 2 Corinthians 4:1


Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Un cuento, una vida"

Over the last couple of weeks, the kids in the Kaya Center have been working on a special school project called “Un cuento, una vida” – “A story, a life”. The project involved having the kids become authors and write and illustrate their own stories. While they were given the freedom to choose which kind of story to write, the majority chose to tell their own stories and write about their past experiences.

The staff observed that the kids were particularly enthusiastic about this activity. It prompted many conversations between the kids, in which they shared about their pasts and were able to see the striking difference between their lives on the streets and their lives now. We’ve found that projects like this help the kids practice important academic skills, while offering the additional benefit of helping them process and reinforce their decision to come off the streets and work toward a healthier, more positive future.

The project culminated in a special celebration during which each student had the chance to present his or her completed book. All of the books are now on display in the Kaya Center library for visitors to enjoy. At the end of the exhibition, one of the books will be selected to be made into a film, with the winner getting to be the director.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Birthday Dedication for Street Children

On the face of it, the scene at the Legacy Park Community Center pool in Lee’s Summit, Missouri this past January looked like a normal birthday party. A handful of parents accompanied 65 rowdy 7 year-olds enjoying swimming, games and plenty of cake to go around. But there was something very special about this particular party. The stars of the party, twin sisters Morgan and Madison Goeser, decided to forgo all gifts and instead have attendees make donations to former street children in Bolivia and to a nearby school in inner-city Kansas City.

Their mother Julee got the idea for the party from a friend who raised books for an inner-city school during her 7 year-old's birthday party. Morgan and Madison liked the concept, but along with their younger sister Olivia, they decided they would take it a step further and help out street children in Bolivia as well. The girls had been very concerned about the plight of children living on the streets in Bolivia ever since Julee told them stories from what she had read in the book When Invisible Children Sing written by Kaya founder Dr. Chi Huang. "They have so little," said the girls, "no toys, house, bed or food and we have all of these things."

Overall the party was a great success. In addition to raising money for Kaya Children, the girls also collected 270 books, which they donated to a nearby inner-city school. "Everybody loved it," they said. "We got lots of cards and checks and cool books." While all the children clearly had a good time, many of the parents really liked the idea of a donation party. "I think it is wonderful the girls gave up their gifts to benefit others," said Chandra Fender, one of the parents in attendance. "I am going to take the example for my daughter's birthday this year, too!"

Morgan, Madison, Olivia and Julee discovered a great way to support Kaya's work, but they also did something much more meaningful. Children coming off the streets into Kaya's programs typically have never celebrated their birthday before. For this reason, the Kaya staff does everything possible to make birthdays special for these children as a way to show them they are loved and that their lives are important. When Morgan and Madison decided to dedicate their birthday to help former street children, they also sent a message of love that means far more than any financial gift. As they put it, "It makes us happy because we made other kids happy."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dia Del Niño

April 12th was National Children’s Day, or Dia del Niño, in Bolivia. Typically, this is a day when children are celebrated and when they are reminded of both their rights and obligations as members of society. To mark the occasion, the children in the Kaya Center participated in a full day of fun and celebratory activities.

To start the day, children engaged in a special ceremony where they were matched with buddies. Older adolescents became big buddies to their younger counterparts in an effort to foster positive relationships among the kids and emphasize the importance of taking care of others. The pairs were matched by the teaching and clinical staff, taking into consideration each child’s strengths, weaknesses and interests. Buddy pairs had an opportunity to get to know each other better through a time of sharing, and little buddies got to ask their big buddies about their experiences in the Kaya program.

The day continued with buddy pairs participating in a variety of games together. The 3-legged race, balloon volleyball, and marble bowling were just a few of the many games played. The kids enjoyed winning prizes like stickers and fancy pencils, and the day ended with a special meal that was selected by the kids themselves. Guisela Mustafa, our Clinical Program Coordinator, said, “The kids were really happy and had a great time. I think they learned a bit more about the need to be cared for and to care for others, an important aspect of healthy emotional development.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hasta Junio

It's been a busy week here in La Paz, but thoroughly exciting watching the new Kaya Center in action. Early tomorrow morning I head back to the States and back to our US office far away from our kids. Though I'll be back here for the summer and I'm in constant contact with everyone via phone and email here while I'm stateside, it's always a bit sad leaving. Here there is daily inspiration and more hugs than I can count, and just enough chaos to keep things interesting.

One of the highlights of the week was meeting the father of one of the kids in our residential program. His son, I., is in the process of transitioning back home, a process which will take some time. This past weekend was his first full weekend visit with his family and by all accounts it went well. The father was checking in with our clinical staff to give them an update of how things went. He was so proud of his son and he told me he saw a marked difference in him since he entered our program. His son spent the weekend talking about school and his goals for the future. Quite a difference, his father noted, from the kid who used to inhale paint thinner and hang out on the streets all day, avoiding school. For his part, the father has been working hard to control his drinking and has secured a good job. He admitted that he's definitely not ready for I. to come home yet, but little by little he is getting there. When the time comes, I. will continue to attend our full day program so that we can continue to support him and his dad as they adjust to being a family once again.

Another highlight was hanging out with some of our newest students, two 12 year old girls. Both are attending our day program while living at home with their families, and neither has ever been to school before. Our clinical staff has been working quite a bit with the girls to help them recognize the dangers of street life and begin pulling away from various street activities. Two days ago, one of the girls announced that for the past 2 weeks, she has not gone out on the streets in the middle of the night - something she was doing regularly. "I made a decision," she said, "I'm not going to do that anymore. I want to focus on school now." While we took this announcement with a grain of salt, having seen many kids make statements like this and then go back on their promises, we nevertheless were extremely proud of this accomplishment and celebrated her decision.

Baby steps. That's what it's all about down here. Each step forward feels like a miracle and is infinitely rewarding.

Now onto the miracle of getting myself out the door and onto the airport at 4am!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kaya Center Opens in La Paz

This past February marked the opening of the Kaya Center. Through the Kaya Center we offer a full-day therapeutic school program for 3 main categories of children: children living in our residential program, children who have come through our residential program and have been able to return home to their families, and children who have been out of school and on the streets, but who can remain with their families with intensive support.

The full-day program was designed around the unique needs of children who have been heavily involved in street life. Most of these children are years behind academically or have never been to school at all, despite being school-age. And most have suffered multiple forms of abuse and come from severely dysfunctional families. As a result, they are unable to succeed in traditional school environments. In the Kaya Center, children have the opportunity to receive intensive, individualized academic support to help them catch up to grade level, and they work with clinical staff members to address various psychological and emotional issues. Since such issues often surface within the classroom and impede learning, our teachers and clinicians work closely together.

To illustrate, I’ll share an incident that happened just this week. During her language arts class, one of our teachers started to introduce a lesson on word families. Think of the Spanish equivalent of “at, cat, sat, bat, mat…” Hearing the word “family,” one of her students, Miguel*, jumped out of his seat and began screaming. “No!” he yelled, “I don’t want to talk about my family!” He started to cry and refused to participate in the lesson. The situation was resolved fairly easily, since the teacher has a small class and enjoys a close relationship with her students. She was able to assure Miguel that the lesson was about word groups, not families, and he was able to calm down for a few minutes in the therapy room with the psychologist before rejoining the class. The psychologist made a note of the incident and is now meeting with Miguel to help him process his feelings about his family. She also alerted Miguel’s house parents in the residential program about what happened so that they could provide extra support and attention in the evening. This is just one example of the ways in which the Kaya Center provides integrated care to children.

By offering a full-day therapeutic school program, we are now able to better meet the needs of the children in our homes. We are also able to partner with families to reduce the need for residential care. Most children on the streets do have families, but their families are ill-equipped to provide adequate care and supervision for them. They have multiple problems and struggle to survive in extreme poverty. A typical solution is for families to relinquish full responsibility for their children and have them cared for entirely in a residential program, or watch them become fully absorbed into street life and delinquency. Many of these families, however, can provide basic levels of care. One of the primary goals of the Kaya Center, therefore, is to enable families to play an active, positive role in the lives of their children and to work together with them to make sure their children don’t wind up back in the streets. Our hope is that, through the Kaya Center, we can help more children transition back home and back into mainstream schools.

-- Kristin Huang, Executive Director

*Name changed to protect privacy

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Welcome to the Kaya Children Blog!

Thanks for visiting our blog! We will be posting regular updates that highlight how Kaya Children International is making a difference in the lives of children living on the streets. As an organization we are committed to making the voices of children living on the streets heard. Come here to learn more about the children in our programs and the staff and volunteers who work with them.

Next week, Kaya's Executive Director, Kristin Huang, will share more about the brand new Kaya Center -- a day center and school -- that opened last month in La Paz. Kristin will be reporting from Bolivia with fresh insight on how this new program will reach more children in new and important ways. Stay tuned!