New Ideas Growing Up

Now, let us update you all on Michel, the little girl who had the foot surgery that we funded last year. It unfortunately is not such a good update. When I arrived, Jimena informed me that things have not gone so well with Michel and her mother Ines. Ines has not been taking very good care of Michel, and her foot had become infected. Jimena had visited the doctor with them and then found out that instead of having just the one prior operation like Ines had told us, Michel had actually had 5 operations previously, and they had all not worked and it became infected because she had not taken proper care of Michel after each operation. After hearing this I felt so frustrated and helpless. We had tried to help and had probably made things worse in the end. It was really hard to hear and I was at a loss of what to do. Ines grew up in the state-care system at a place called Maria Cristina. She has no family and no support networks, and when she left Maria Cristina there was no formal support or preparation for her to start her life as an adult. She is now a single mother of two daughters, she has a basic job at a little shop, and she barely makes enough money to support her daughters. She has never received the kind of support needed to know how to handle a situation like the one with Michel and her foot. So it was not Ines I was angry at, although it was hard not to be, but it was the system that I was angry at, and the fact that all the children who grow up in state care here have no support once they turn 18, and they are expected to leave the centres they’ve grown up in and fend for themselves. They are not adequately prepared for finding work or finding a place to live, they are not taught the basic things about how to live independently, and whats more, most of them don’t have family to go to, or the family they do have are very poor and can’t offer them any support or guidance.

Michel and Ines in their house a few months after the surgery

This situation got me thinking about an idea. Last year when I was here I was thinking about this problem, and I was thinking about what the kids from Ciudadela SEDEGES were going to do when they reached 18 and had to leave and start living independently. I wrote up a basic project outline for a transition centre for the teenagers who leave state care when they’re 18, somewhere for them to get assistance in finding a job, finding a place to live, studying, learning to cook, learning to manage their finances etc. But last year I put this project idea to the side because I thought that it didn’t really fit in with what TIA was doing at the time. This year though, after the Ines and Michel situation, and after talking to a lot of people here in Bolivia who mentioned this lack of support for these teenagers and their likelihood to end up on drugs and on the streets, I pulled the project out again and took another look. Although what TIA does, or has been doing, is partnering up with already existing centres and organisations to help them improve and do better work, it is becoming clear that for one thing, this work has been encouraging the ‘hand-out mentality’ that unfortunately is quite prevalent in Bolivian society, and the other thing is that we were doing this work with the mindset that all the needs were being covered with already existing centres, and that there was no need to be creating something new. As we are now realising, the lack of support for the young people who leave children’s homes is quite a strong need that isn’t currently being filled, and as TIA’s slogan states, we are meant to be ‘helping disadvantaged children reach their full potential’. What better way to help them reach their full potential than to provide the support they need to become positive, active and capable members of society?

Some of the oldest girls from Ciudadela SEDEGES who will be left to fend for themselves in a year or two

So, as of 4 weeks ago, we have formed an investigation team to research the viability and necessity of this project, and to see whether it will be possible. We have set February the 15th as the date when we decide if the project is one we will go ahead with or not. So until then, we are open to any suggestions, ideas, comments, criticisms, and feedback related to this project. This does not mean we will be withdrawing our support from the centre’s we are partnered with currently, but we will be focussing on ways of making these current projects self-sustainable.

The first meeting of the Project Investigation Team! L-R: Maribel, Fernando, Daniela, Mathias, Ana Silvia, Kelly, (my seat - i'm taking the photo), and Jimena

So that is the latest TIA news over here in Bolivia! Apologies once again for the delay, as you can all see it’s been a busy month so it’s been hard to find the time to sit down and write this! I’ll write another update soon!

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