Back in Bolivia! A word from our Director

Well, here I am again, for the sixth time in my beloved Bolivia. Flying in to Cochabamba, it again strikes me how beautiful this place is. The looming snow-capped mountains, the sprawling houses, the giant Christ statue on the top of the hill watching over the city and it’s people.

Cochabamba

Cochabamba

It’s with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I feel as I’m arriving. This trip is an important one, where every minute is going to count. I’m only staying for 6 weeks this time, which is the second shortest time I’ve spent in Cochabamba since founding TIA. Things have a tendency of taking longer than you’d expect in Bolivia. People often say ‘mañana mañana’ which means tomorrow tomorrow, but it could mean in two days, or next week, or in a few weeks…or never. A prime example of this is that we have been waiting for TIA to be granted legal entity status in Bolivia, meaning that we can officially operate as a Bolivian organisation. This application, which takes a couple of weeks to be processed and finalised in Australia, has taken…wait for it…TWO YEARS. After having to change from applying to be an Association to a Foundation, and then having to change the name of the Foundation so that it didn’t contain any English words, we have finally had our paperwork signed, sealed and delivered. I can, with great relief and excitement, finally say that TIA Bolivia now exists.

Proof of TIA Bolivia

Proof of TIA Bolivia


So only having six weeks here, as can be seen, is not really very much at all. There is a lot to work on in the next few weeks. The main focus of my visit is to develop the Valentia Transition Program that we are creating at TIA. This program aims to support the young people who have spent most of their short lives in institutional care homes such as orphanages and children’s homes, and who are turning 18 and having to leave these homes and start out on their own for the first time. The first stage of the Valentia Transition Program that we are developing at TIA are workshops that we run with these young people in their final two years of being in the state care system. These workshops consist of focussing on developing self-esteem, understanding themselves and their values, understanding healthy relationships, career guidance, health and sexuality, study techniques, and communication methods. We’ve been successfully running these workshops with an orphanage run by Spanish nuns here in Cochabamba for the last 18 months, and have had some wonderful results and outcomes from these workshops. We are now working on forming partnerships with a number of different private and state-run orphanages around the city.

The second stage of this program is the Valentia (‘courage’ in Spanish) Transition Centre ‘Centro de Transicion Valentia’. We will provide spaces for 8 young people (starting with girls first) to be live-in participants of the program, where they will receive accommodation and one-on-one support with a case worker to help them develop their ‘plan de vida’, or their life plan. This plan will determine what support we provide them, if they want to study at university, or if they want to learn a trade, or if they want to start work straight away. The plan will also consist of the areas of development they would like to focus on. We will provide support in the following areas: career guidance, life skills, work skills, health education, mentoring, and general support. As well as the live-in program we will offer support to external participants i.e. young people who have left the state care system at 18 and have access to accommodation, for example with family members or friends.

The main focus of this program is to provide these young people with the necessary support and guidance that they need to start their lives as independent young adults. The long term aim of this kind of program, is to break the cycle of dependence on the state care system and reduce the instance of these young people who have grown up in the state care system of ending up involved in crime, consuming drugs and alcohol, or living on the streets. Another anticipated outcome is preventing these young people from having unplanned pregnancies that result in even more children in orphanages and state care centres.

It’s been interesting that a lot of the conversations I’ve been having with people since I arrived are about the lack of education and the ignorance of the Bolivian people. These conversations have a mixed affect on me. In some ways they sadden and frustrate me, as I feel as though there’s such an overwhelmingly negative opinion of Bolivian people from their own brothers and sisters. It upsets me that people can talk so negatively about their fellow countrymen and women. These conversations have also, however, given me the opportunity to reflect on how our work here can impact on this issue. I have found myself bringing the conversations I’ve had out of a negative and critical place and into ‘what can we do about it, how can we change this?’. No, I’m not Bolivian, and I haven’t grown up here, so I will never pretend that I know better than Bolivian people about themselves, their people, or their culture. I will, however, challenge them into seeing the positives within themselves and within their society. I will challenge them to acknowledge the opportunities available to them to change and the ability within their communities to make this change happen. I will also acknowledge the lack of access to these opportunities, and do my very best to work with the Bolivia community to provide access to opportunities. Education is vital. With education people become empowered to make informed choices about their lives. This can be changed. With the Valentia Transition Program, the future for these young people is going to be very different. And as has been seen throughout history, young people are the ones who can change the future of the world. It starts with them. At TIA we truly believe in investing in children and young people in Bolivia to empower them to reach their full potential. Through this, they will then go on to change their communities and break the vicious cycles of poverty and disadvantage that they find themselves in through no fault of their own, changing not only their own future but the future for all Bolivian children and young people.

Smiles

Smiles

-Tessa Henwood-Mitchell, TIA Founder and Director

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