According to UNICEF, 100 million children globally live and grow up on the street. There, they struggle not only to meet their physical needs, but their emotional and spiritual needs as well. As a Church this is where we hear the desire of our Lord's heart, “Let the children come to me” (Mt. 19:14), and as a Church we respond by bringing these children to the Lord.
In Cochabamba, Bolivia the call of the Lord to let the children come to him is being heard and acted upon by the Daughters of Charity organization AMANECER. It is with AMANECER at their Casa Nazareth home for 5 – 12 year olds where I have been volunteering for the past six weeks in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Casa Nazareth focuses on forming the total person in Christ, especially their emotional recuperation. As one can imagine, having lived out on the streets leaves children with many wounds and an arrested emotional development.
Here at Casa I spend my afternoon with the children, after their day at school, helping them with their homework, group activities, reading to them or, preferably, they read to me especially stories from Sacred Scripture, and of course playing sports with them. My habit gets really dirty really fast, but the extra washing has been worth it to experience their reaction, love to a positive male influence in their life. I am constantly hearing, “hermano mire,” so that I will focus solely on them and give them the attention they have been deprived of in life.
When working in a ministry site such as this, one cannot help but ask the question, why are these kids on the street to begin with? Well it seems, like anything else, the answer is layered with several facets. Some of them are actual orphans with no place else to go, but these cases are few and far between at Casa Nazareth. Some of them are victims of such poverty where the family literally cannot take care of them, so they find solace on the streets. Most, however, are victims of households with severe drug abuse and alcoholism in which either the family is so addicted they haven`t the capacity to take care of the children, or the abuse is so bad in the house they are forced to flee to live on the streets. It was from there that these children encounter the staff at AMANECER walking the streets almost every night, and with them encounter Christ.
Now while it is true that these kids live in a stable and good environment, getting all of their human needs met, especially a great religious formation exceeding that of the average Bolivian household, which is saying something in a culture were Catholicism is as important as eating, the goal of AMANECER is to get these kids back to living with family. The rights of children state that children have a right to live with family over institutional living. This is what AMANECER tries to do, but it can prove difficult when dealing with substance abuse environments, so seven times out of ten these children stay in the system until they have learned a trade to live on their own or enter postsecondary school.
AMANECER is always in need of financial support, volunteers, and especially your prayers. If you would like to help AMANECER in any way please contact Melissa Lewis (in English or Spanish) at firstname.lastname@example.org or to find out more go to http://www.amanecer-bolivia.org that together with our help and prayers the Lord`s desire may be met that the children continue to come to him.