Written by Katherine Chiu, a volunteer with Kaya in Bolivia.
As Kaya house parents, Franz and Griselda have the unique experience of seeing the children in the residential program grow day by day. They live and work in Kaya’s Renacer home, where they take care of 10 boys ranging from seven to 12 years old. The boys call them tio and tia, or “aunt and uncle.” Here the couple shares their experiences working with the Renacer boys—their challenges, their proud moments, and their hopes for the boys’ futures.
Have you both always worked with children?
Franz: Yes, we have. We actually met each other because we were working with different children’s programs associated with the same church.
Griselda: Ten days after we got married, we moved to Sucre [a city in central Bolivia] to begin working together at a children's home. We each were in charge of 50 to 60 children.
With that background, how did it compare to when you first started working with the Renacer boys?
Griselda: It was challenging. Despite the fact that we are working with fewer children now than we have in the past, these boys come from extreme poverty and from very troubled families.
Franz: A few would be aggressive towards us. You see it most in the boys who have experienced abuse.
How did you approach working with them?
Franz: We knew we had to build trust with them, which we have been able to start doing over time. They began to see that we don’t use violence when we need to discipline them; we talk with them and explain what is the difference between right and wrong behavior. We read passages from the Bible with them, and we try to show them movies with values rather than movies with violence. Don Bosco [a movie about an Italian who dedicated his life to working with street children] is a good one. They all really liked that since they could relate to the children in it.
Do you two have similar parenting styles in the Renacer house?
Franz: I am more tranquilo [calm], and Griselda is more estricto [strict]. It’s a good balance.
Griselda: It’s a partnership, as it is between any two parents. I see when two boys are fighting, for example, and will tell them not to fight. Franz is good at talking to them afterwards, he will sit with them and tell them why one shouldn’t fight.
Since your work happens at home, what are your hours like?
Griselda: We are up at 6 a.m. for a house wake-up call. Usually we are in bed around 10 p.m. after we have put all the boys to bed. In the past if one of the boys has had unfinished homework, we would stay up late with them until they finished, sometimes until midnight or 1 in the morning. We never go to bed without them finishing their homework.
Franz: We don’t always sleep through the night. A few of the boys are afraid of the dark and have trouble sleeping at night. You see it in the boys who had violent fathers. When this happens we stay up with them and pray with them. We tell them that they don’t need to be afraid because God is with them.
What accomplishments are you most proud of, in your time with Kaya?
Franz: The changes we’ve seen in the boys.
Griselda: Some of the chiquititos [little ones] weren’t reading or writing when we first came, and now some of them are starting to read and write. The older boys finish their homework every day now. The boys have also become more stable, responsible and respectful towards each other and us. Beymar, for example. We were both standing in the kitchen the other day, and we both said to each other, Beymar has changed.
Franz: He used to challenge everything we said. He would say, “Why should I?” when we told him to do his homework. He was little, but he would hold his fists up and challenge me to fight. Now we joke about this and shadowbox with each other. Every day he runs to show us that he’s finished his homework before he goes outside to play.
Griselda: Sometimes you don’t see it, because we are with them 24/7. But when we step back and think about what changes we’ve seen, we can really see them in each of the boys.
We also recently started teaching the older boys in Kaya's Renacer house how to cook.
Really! Are they good at it?
Griselda: Yes, they can make a few dishes all by themselves—I stay in the kitchen with them and give them guidance, but that’s it!
Do they have a specialty?
Griselda: Chorrellana. [A traditional Bolivian recipe; see here]
That is an accomplishment to be proud of. And what is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Griselda: We can’t just tell them how to behave; we have to set the example. We can't just tell them, “don't lie,” “don't fight.” We have to set the example, in how we treat each other and how we treat them.
Franz: Building trust with the boys is still the main challenge. It's an ongoing process. It doesn’t all happen in one day, but we are making progress, poco a poco.
What kind of progress do you hope to make with the boys during your second year with them?
Griselda: Some of them hopefully will be able to reunite with their families, and we want to prepare them to be ready to adjust. Others, it looks like because of their family circumstances, they will be staying with us permanently. For them, we hope they can become more and more stable and adjusted to their new home at Kaya.
Franz: We want to continue to help them improve their relationships with God. We also will continue to help them focus on their studies. I always tell them they need to have higher goals. Graduating from high school is good, but maybe one would like to be an engineer, another a doctor. We encourage them to make these goals, and we help them think about what they will need to do to get there.
As you know, Kaya Children has many supporters in the United States. They support your work from afar, but most have not had the chance to visit Kaya in Bolivia in person. What would you like to tell them?
Griselda: That the job is difficult, but it's worth it. Knowing that I can change even just one life gives me the passion for this work.
Franz: There is a verse from the bible, “Know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” This is a phrase we keep close to our hearts, and that we remind of the boys of as well, whenever we run into challenges that may feel overwhelming….Are there Christians in the United States?
Franz: Please ask them to pray for us, for all the children and staff at Kaya, and to keep us in their thoughts. We pray for them and keep them in our thoughts too.