Restoring hope in Bolivia

Carmen Alvarez, Viva’s Director for Latin America, explains how partner networks in Bolivia are bringing about a better life for abused children and their families – like that of a girl called Brenda.

In Bolivia, many people are very poor and children are at risk. Viva’s partner networks are working with the churches to ensure they are relevant for the community and are involved with the children at risk.

I think that one of the most important challenges that we have in Bolivia is domestic abuse. This happens at home within families – the place where children are supposed to be safe.

A girl called Brenda, who is now 12 years old, was sexually abused at home by her father from the age of five years old. Her father was also abused too when he was a child and when Brenda was born he put all the anger he had onto her.

He started with physical abuse, when she was born and then, when she was five, he started to sexually abuse her. When our partner network Red Viva Cochabamba interviewed Brenda’s mother and asked why she hadn’t said anything, she said she was unaware.

She started to share her situation, with tears in her eyes, with network staff who were giving support, saying she didn’t know anything until her son told her what was happening to Brenda.

Immediately she went to the legal office, reported her husband and started the legal process. However, the mother couldn’t read or write, so the network taught her this and she stated that she wanted to win the process with her daughter. In six months, she learned to read and write to support Brenda’s needs.

It was very impressive how the whole family changed when the mother decided to help Brenda. Hope was restored and they started to be a family again.

Now Brenda is in a shelter in Cochabamba with many other girls and boys who have suffered sexual abuse. Brenda’s mother is now a specialist in supporting these children. The network is changing lives: not just for Brenda, but for all the family.

They are giving spiritual support and job opportunities. For example, Brenda’s mum didn’t have a job, but now she is part of a network programme team that is helping families. She has an income to provide the basics for her children.

This is amazing because this story started with a sad situation and has now progressed to hope and a new life.

In Bolivia it is not easy to manage these cases because families stay private. Also, very often the families don’t have good social or communication skills.

Also, the government doesn’t have a fast-track system to help people. When claims are made within the legal office, sometimes the wait is six months to one year to start the process.

They need translation because many people speak dialects that not all the professionals know. Another reason is that they have a lot of claims and not enough staff.

In Bolivia there are national committees that are working to protect children and our partner networks are a part of that work. If they can help change the law and influence the government, more children will benefit.

I think that the networks are doing well because they are partnering with families, communities, the church and government too.

We are facing many challenges with children. We need to encourage the team on a daily basis in passion and with hope.

This article is an abridged version of a talk by Carmen at All Souls Church, Twickenham in January. Click here to hear the interview in full.