Street Children in Bolivia’s Largest City Get a Second Chance

07 Oct 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md.–In Bolivia, where nearly 40 percent of the population is 14 years old or younger, a shelter and educational center for street children managed by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is assisting homeless children in the city of Santa Cruz by giving them an alternative to street life.

Although many children in Bolivia have left their homes to escape domestic abuse, they quickly find themselves living on the streets. To survive, they often turn to destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse, theft, violence, and prostitution.

“The psychological and social damages that these behaviors create are immense,” said Johnny Velasquez, country director for ADRA Bolivia.

To prevent the development of these behaviors among young children, a center for street children called CERENID-which means Casa Escuela de Renovacion Integral y Desarrollo, or School House for Complete Renewal and Development�was created. This institution, which has been in operation for nearly 13 years, provides children with an alternative to street life, and helps them to reintegrate into society as confident, productive, well-adjusted individuals.

To achieve this goal, the project provides children with school supplies, shelter, and clothing, in addition to an education. CERENID also gives them access to medical and dental care, and teaches them the importance of personal hygiene, good health habits, proper diet, and physical activity.

Since many children at CERENID come from abusive or dysfunctional homes, the program also works with them to develop the social skills that they need to have healthy relationships. Upon acceptance into the program, each child is placed into a new family, with a married couple taking on the role of parents for each child. Often, a couple will host between seven and eight additional children.

“This more intimate structure offers the children an opportunity to adapt to a family environment, which is a unique component compared to similar programs in Bolivia, which often have one dean overseeing between 19 or 20 children at a time,” said Velasquez. “This strategy offers students a stable and uniform environment.”

CERENID also locates children’s biological families, providing them with counseling, and teaching them vocational training activities that will improve their finances. In cases where children are unable or unwilling to reunite with their families, the training they receive is designed to help them acquire valuable life skills they will need later on as adults.

“When I arrived [at CERENID] at first, all I really wanted to do was leave,” said 14-year old Justino Choque Buendia. “Now, I like CERENID, because I can learn here and finish secondary school. And with time, one can do better than living on the street or being in jail.”

Over the years, the project has proved to be very successful, with an estimated 80 percent of beneficiaries rehabilitated and re-integrated back into their families, or into society, according to Velasquez. The rehabilitation period varies for each child, but usually takes between three to five years.

The project is located in a quiet, mountainous area, just outside of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city, and has been active since 1996. Over the years, financing for the project has come from a variety of sources, including the Prefecture de Santa Cruz Department, who is a major supporter of the project, covering the cost of food, and other essential items. Other donors include ADRA Canada, ADRA Espana, ADRA International, CHER Canada, Reach International, A Better World Canada, and Andrews University.

According to a 2005 report released by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), there were more than 2,500 children living on the streets in major cities of Bolivia. It is also estimated that worldwide approximately 100 million children live on the streets, reports the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

For more than 15 years, ADRA Bolivia has been active in the departments of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, Chuquisaca, La Paz, Cochabamba, and Potosi. ADRA Bolivia has also trained volunteers to provide immediate support in Chima, Millocato, Potosi, Viacha, Beni, Santa Cruz, and others.

ADRA is a non-governmental organization present in 125 countries providing sustainable community development and disaster relief without regard to political or religious association, age, gender, race or ethnicity.

For more information about ADRA, visit

Source: Reuters

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