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

1 comment:

Charlotte Chung said...

The story of Miguel reminds me of a time I innocently showed the film Dumbo to a group of similarly abused children in a classroom during lunch in a Los Angeles elementary school. They stood up, yelled and started throwing their tater-tots at the TV/VCR, irrate at the treatment Dumbo's mom Mrs. Jumbo was receiving and deeply disturbed by her imprisonment!