Friday, August 24, 2007

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer

Oruro, Bolivia
It is a three hour drive southeast of La Paz to Oruro, the once prominent mining town and capital of the district. It is known for its Carnival, folkloric dances and deeply rooted indigenous customs. With Mount Illimani (Aymara for “golden eagle”) disappearing in the rear view mirror reminding us of our departure from La Paz, the drive to Oruro passes through the Altiplano, a desolate area scattered with small clay houses, grazing lands and wind storms. At this time of year, it was surprisingly agreeable, though perhaps we had finally acclimated to the altitude and temperatures. The major highway from La Paz, crowded with large trucks, is flanked by both water and gas pipes and is actually a smooth ride with occasional views of some of the most spectacular mountainous skylines.

Upon arriving in the city we went straight to a CCF sponsored cultural center that serves as an after-school (or in some cases, a before-school) center for children of all ages. The activities ranged form art, music, computer training and gymnastics to library access, educational videos and early childhood development. We also were informed about CCF Bolivia’s participation in a state-run nutrition program. We met with a small group of guide mothers who are part of a pilot program involving individual home visits for children under 2 years of age to assess development and nutritional development. They train parents to encourage early stimulation and growth by using a scale developed and promoted by CCF which charts height/weight, age/height and age/weight along with developmental stages. They also refer families to local health posts for specialty care. We had an informal lunch with them, they were able to share their own individual stories. The ones with whom I spoke to each had children of their own but felt that the program was a very valuable tool for the community and was a complete success.

We went to a specific project where CCF works through a school that not only focuses on the academic achievements of the children but also in their artistic cultivation as well as social development and child protection. The school also offers programs for parents to learn valuable skills such as weaving, confectionary skills (primarily focusing on baking/decorating/marketing cakes and pastries) and tailoring so that after completing the course, they will be able to hopefully have better access to the formal economy. Each of these programs charges a nominal enlistment fee that lasts for approximately six months and concludes with the presentation of a certificate of completion. For so many of these classes the skills learned goes beyond the mechanics of the craft and focuses on creativity. Parents are welcome to take as many classes as they like while their children are attending school on the same campus. It is CCF’s hope and expectation that these income generating activities will have a positive impact on the lives of their children. A block or two away is a newly constructed multi-sport complex for youth. The complex offers youth opportunities to join various teams such as basketball, volley and indoor soccer. The goal of the complex is to channel youth energy away from destructive behaviors such as drugs, violence, early pregnancies etc. This complex is also used for community assemblies and meetings.

Meandering through the crowded streets, avoiding the rogue dog, passing over a garbage-strewn stream and eventually leaving the paved roads behind, we head to the fringes of the town. We first stopped at a school that uses sports for the children to come and train for soccer but also receive classes, art lessons and additional tutoring as needed. There we also spoke with some parents who expressed their overwhelming thanks for what CCF has done in the community, but also brought to us their concerns such as expanding potable water sources out to the fringes of the various communities. They spoke of the needs for their children, themselves and for the community as a whole. They asked for additional help and expressed their desire to continue working with us, the local government and the community organizations as well.

After speaking with the parents, we went out to the area where these children live. The homes, no more than 8 feet by 10 feet, were mostly constructed of a combination of brick, mud and straw. There were hundreds of them packed together without a tree in sight. Families, some as many as five, lived together in these one-room abodes, though most cooking and sanitation activities were attended to outside of the house. Some houses doubled as classrooms during the day since there were no formal schools in this newly constructed area. The children, with smiles from ear to ear, asked for us to share with them and jumped in front of every picture. They giggled and squealed when I turned the camera to display to them their own reflections.

We concluded our visit to Oruro by visiting a nearby project that was also helping parents and older youth acquire marketable skills including silk screening and bead work. One room, with 4 sewing machines, was paid for in full by contributions from the Gifts of Love and Hope catalogue. The parents and staff talked to us about the importance of giving the parents a way to make an honest income to not only provide for the children but also to set a good example as well.

Next to the parents’ training room was the early childhood center with more photo opportunities than I could resist.

Here it is common to hear people say “paso-a-paso” (step-by-step), and though we wish there were quick fixes, the reality is that these programs take time, resources and technical skills to implement. CCF is committed to these communities, parents and children and is investing in the area and its people. We left Oruro on the same road we entered, Illimani this time appearing on our right as we reached La Paz. We had seen a sampling of the support CCF has provided and we also had a better understanding of how much more there is to be done.

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