UNICEF estimates that the total number of street children in the world runs into the tens of millions. A study by Toybox, a Christian charity committed to helping street children in Latin America, found that in Bolivia there are over 2,500 children living on the streets in major cities such as La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz; that 20 percent of them had left home because there wasn’t enough food, 20 percent were abandoned, and 60 percent had been abused; that most street children are illiterate because they left school; and that 90 percent use solvents as a form of escapism.
Meanwhile, these children have legal rights that are supported by the Bolivian constitution, but which are not realized in the real world. This injustice is the reason for the existence of Kaya Children International.
Kaya is a small, grassroots, non-profit institution located in La Paz. It was originally called the Bolivian Street Children Project, and was founded in 1997 by Dr. Chi Huang, who at the time was training to be a doctor in Boston, U.S.A. with sponsorship from the Park Street Church of Boston. The organization seeks to promote the development and protection of, and to restore the fundamental rights of, children and adolescents who live on the street, are in high-risk situations, or are the victims of violence or abandonment. The first home opened in 2001 as an initiative of the Park Street Church; over the next years the project grew and became an independent non-profit organization. The leaders realized that the next stage of growth was not to just build more homes, but to engage in preventative interventions to enable families to raise their own children in a better way. In 2008, to mark this stage of development, the organization was renamed to Kaya Children International.
Kaya Children International tries to provide as many youngsters as possible with a roof over their heads, food, protection, health facilities, education, and a family. The organization works with young people between 6 and 22 years old, and is formed of an interdisciplinary group with systematic focuses and two programs. One program focuses on community centers which provide comprehensive services, school support, and alternative education; the second program focuses on providing attention and rehabilitation within a model family environment that is sustainable and replicable.
In the residential program there are two families where younger children live: the Casa Renacer and the Casa Betania. There is also a house whereadolescents—who are in the process of training, finding work, or working—live more independently. The comprehensive service program provides services during the day and after school, including art workshops, and cultural and sports activities.
Protecting children and adolescents who live on the street, or who are at risk of doing so, and ensuring they are aware of their rights, is vital to ensuring their future, as well as the future of a compassionate and fair society. Bolivia needs more institutions like Kaya Children International to care for all the children and youngsters who—because of alcoholism, family maltreatment, abandonment, illiteracy, economic problems—cannot access their rights. And organizations like Kaya are a worthwhile cause for all to support.
Lucia Cuno is a teacher at the Kaya Center in La Paz.
More information about Kaya Children International is available from their website. To support them, you can sponsor a child, make a donation, volunteer within their organization, or use your professional experience and apply to be a Board member.
For your reference:
Consortium for Street Children, Street Children Statistics. <http://www.streetchildren.org.uk/_uploads/resources/Street_Children_Stats_FINAL.pdf>
Toybox, Street Children in Bolivia.