Local doctor helps ‘street children’ find new home

<a title="Photo by Courtesy
Dr. Chi Huang hugs one of the children who now lives in a home built by his Bolivian Street Children Project.” href=”http://www.wickedlocal.com/lincoln/archive/x833719877/g258258dcbbb0f1b7c2128af60c267985a86eee073f005f.jpg”&gt;Huang4

By Courtesy
Dr. Chi Huang hugs one of the children who now lives in a home built by his Bolivian Street Children Project.

Local doctor helps ‘street children’ find new home

By Mira Vale/Correspondent

Thu Jun 26, 2008, 08:36 AM EDT

Eleven years ago, Dr. Chi Huang could have gone anywhere. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Huang had completed residencies in both pediatrics and internal medicine at some of Boston’s top teaching hospitals. But instead of continuing on to a traditional, and lucrative, medical career as many of his colleagues did, Huang took the path less traveled, opting to work with a humanitarian aid organization.

After writing to hundreds of such organizations, Huang, a Lincoln resident, chose to take part in a program that sent him to South America to La Paz, Bolivia, where he would work with the city’s many homeless and abandoned children.

“Part of it was my own personal rediscovery of why I went into medicine,” Huang said. “The main reason I went to Bolivia was actually for myself, to get off the ‘train track’ and away from fame or wealth. I wanted to make a difference.”

Huang spent four months in a domestic program to prepare himself for the journey and then flew down to Bolivia for the remainder of the year. Huang described his first month in La Paz as “incredibly frustrating,” because although he was working in a local orphanage, he was not afforded the opportunity to work with the children he most desired to help — the children living on the street.

Huang finally got his wish when he met a boy who had once lived on the streets of La Paz. The boy took him around the city at night so he could meet the children.

“[Meeting and helping the street children] was challenging and disturbing.” Huang said. “On the street, there were kids sleeping in their own fecal matter, in their own urine, in sewers, getting beaten by police and other kids.”

Sadly, poor living conditions are only a fraction of the hardships these Bolivian street children face, Huang said. 

He was able to meet the children only in the middle of the night because most of them must stay awake until sunrise, sniffing paint thinner to keep warm.

In his nights on the streets of La Paz, Huang began to form relationships with the children he met. As he treated their various illnesses and injuries, he also tried to help the children cope emotionally and spiritually. Some nights, Huang and the children would simply play soccer together.

“I tried to bring a little bit of childhood back into their lives,” he said.

At the end of Huang’s time in Bolivia, he asked one of the children what she wanted of him.

“She asked me three things,” Huang recalled. “First, that I remain present in their lives; second, that the street children be given a home; and third, that I share the story of these children.”

These humble requests became the basis of Huang’s continued mission in Bolivia as he founded the Bolivian Street Children Project, a nonprofit organization committed to saving and improving the lives of the children on the streets of La Paz. Now director of Boston Medical Center’s Pediatric Global Health Initiative, Huang spends part of each year in Bolivia in a continued effort to rehabilitate the children he meets. 

The organization has funded the construction and maintenance of three homes to transfer the children off the streets. Huang described the philosophy of the homes as a “holistic approach to the health and welfare of these kids.”

“We try to allow the kids to reach their full potential,” he said.

Each home has a psychologist and a youth pastor, who help the children cope with their histories of abuse and neglect. In addition, the homes host workshops and mentorship programs to help the children gain the skills they will need to continue their education or to find a job. Recently, the organization received a donation that allowed them to purchase computers for the homes.

“We hope this will help the kids become tech-savvy and increase their future job opportunities,” Huang said.

Despite the success of the Bolivian Street Children Project, Huang stressed that the process of rehabilitation is difficult for each and every child.

“The kids usually run away two or three times before they become a more permanent fixture in the homes,” Huang said. “It takes them anywhere from six to twelve months to get totally integrated.”

In the future, Huang said he hopes to add another three homes in order to better serve the children. Huang said he is also working to raise awareness of these children and their plight, most notably through the publication of his 2006 book, “When Invisible Children Sing,” which is available in bookstores and at the Lexington and Concord public libraries.

In the epilogue to his book, Huang wrote, “Our lives are short and fleeting. What is the legacy we leave behind? Maybe my legacy is a few square blocks of La Paz, Bolivia, where all the children have homes.”

Visit www.BolivianStreetChildren.org for further information on the project’s history and goals, as well as opportunities for donations and volunteer work.


BOLIVIA: Dying, to Help Others Live

BOLIVIA:  Dying, to Help Others Live
By Franz Chávez

LA PAZ, Jan 31 (IPS) – Italian aid worker Morris Bertozzi drowned in Bolivia trying to help a local woman cross a flooded river, just as he had worked for the last 11 years helping street children in the grip of alcohol, drugs and crime cross the bridge to a new life.

Bertozzi was one more victim of the furious rivers rushing through the city of La Paz as a result of an unusually heavy rainy season attributed to the La Niña weather phenomenon.

Since the seasonal rains began two months ago, some 45 people have been killed, and crops, roads and homes have been destroyed throughout the country.

A government emergency operations centre run by the military is offering help to families left isolated by the floods.

Last Friday evening, the 36-year-old Bertozzi was swept away by a flash flood as he was trying to help a woman cross a smaller river near the Sant’Aquilina drug rehabilitation centre where he worked in the highlands district of Lipari, 25 km south of La Paz. His car was also carried off by the flood.

The next day, local residents searched for Bertozzi’s body, believing it would be in the wreck of the car, which had been carried several hundred metres downstream. But his corpse was found five km further down.

"He died helping," faithful to his principles, his wife Alejandra Costas told IPS.

Bertozzi was sent to La Paz in 1996 at the age of 25 by the Comunidad Papa Juan XXIII, a Roman Catholic organisation that helps street children, drug addicts and prostitutes in 27 countries of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

He came to Bolivia for an eight-month stint working as a volunteer in one of the group’s substance abuse rehabilitation centres.

But two children changed the direction of his life when they described to him, crying, what it was like to sleep under bridges, sift through garbage for food, and be ignored by society.

The young Italian volunteer saw the distressing stories of these two children as the call of two angels who set him on a path to help restore human dignity among street children and others without hope, said Costas.

"He started out helping, with a small bucket in his hand and a few loaves of bread," Verónica Hernaiz, administrator of the Sant’Aquilina Hogar, told IPS. The rehabilitation centre, which also offers social and labour reinsertion programmes, was built on Bertozzi’s initiative in the country’s impoverished highlands, near the river that ended up taking his life.

A deep love for Bolivia prompted Bertozzi to spearhead the founding of the Luz del Niño rehabilitation centre in the poor La Paz neighbourhood of Munaypata in 1997, and a year later the Sant’Aquilina Hogar opened its doors.

After undergoing rehabilitation, the teenage residents of the homes have the opportunity to learn how to cook Italian dishes like pizza, spaghetti and lasagne, which are served in a restaurant run by the organisation.

"Don’t forget, the poor are the children of God," was a phrase frequently repeated by Bertozzi, who was "a faithful servant of Jesus," said Hernaiz.

On the grounds of the Sant’Aquilina Hogar, lit up by bright sunlight, a rare treat after so many days of rain, the teenage residents continue their work in the stables, the pigsties and the kitchen. But there is a palpable sense of loss.

Yovana and Óscar, two adolescents who were brought in off the street, remember when the young Italian man would push through the brush surrounding the spot where they slept under a bridge in a La Paz neighbourhood, ignoring their hostility while offering hot milk and bread.

The two youngsters admitted that they at first treated the kind young blond man with distrust, but said they eventually accepted his invitation to abandon the violent world of drugs and alcohol that they inhabited.

Their time on the streets left them with scars on their arms from the self-harm they used to engage in, an increasingly common behaviour among troubled youngsters, who cut themselves, according to experts, to seek a kind of relief from unbearable psychological or emotional situations.

Óscar openly described to IPS his past on the streets, when he panhandled and robbed to survive. He said he had "several specialties" when it came to stealing.

But with a newborn baby in their arms, the young couple now envision a better future for themselves. Yovana remembers Bertozzi’s advice: "Change for the sake of your little son; the doors of this home will always be open for your recovery."

"He was a father to the poor and to the children on the streets," said Hernaiz.

Tees councillor seeks help for Bolivian street children

Tees councillor seeks help for Bolivian street children

Councillor Joe Michna with the £500 donation to help the children in the Bolivian capital of La Paz

A TEESSIDE councillor is hoping to spark local interest in helping a project which looks after street children in the Bolivian capital of La Paz.

Joe Michna, a Middlesbrough councillor, recently visited the capital as part of his “Clipboard Travels” when he compares other cities in the world with Middlesbrough.

He had read about the Bolivian Street Children Project on the internet before going to South America. And he and his partner Janet Noble decided to visit it when they were in La Paz.

On their visit they handed over a £500 donation and a suitcase full of gifts such as socks, footballs, hats and pens.

Cllr Michna and Janet now want to raise more cash for the project. It works with other bodies to help the 3,000 children living on La Paz’s streets.

The children, aged six to 15 years, spend their days shining shoes or begging for money.

At night, they find what shelter they can. Many have small houses made of corrugated steel or cardboard.

For those children choosing to remain on the streets the project offers help with medical care, food, clothing, social support and education.

For the children who agree to come off the streets the project runs residential units.

Cllr Michna said: “We were hugely impressed by the project’s work and the staff’s enthusiasm and dedication in supporting the children.

“We are hoping our contribution may inspire others to also consider making a small donation. It has a very informative website – http://www.bolivianstreetchildren.org&rdquo;

Cllr Michna said he and Janet could provide more information. Any donations could also be sent to them.

Cllr Michna can be contacted at 24 Benson Street, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough TS5 6JQ and by telephone on 01642 812640.

Toybox: Saving Street Children in Latin America


Toybox: Saving Street Children in Latin America

The Christian charity Toybox is working hard in Latin America to bring hope to street children in Bolivia and Guatemala.

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2007, 14:22 (BST)

Toybox has launched a new project called Guardian Angels to bring hope to street children in Oruro, Bolivia, where there is currently no one working to help these children.

The Christian charity is committed to bringing hope to some of the world’s most disadvantaged children and building a world where there are no more street children. It works principally in Latin America where the needs are great and the challenge is huge.

"There is no protection or help for children on the streets in Oruro," says Claudia from Toy Box’s partner Red Viva team in Cochabamba. Red Viva is the Latin American branch of the Oxford-based Viva Network, a Christian charity committed to providing care for vulnerable and neglected children.

It’s a hard life for street children in Bolivia. They lack adequate shelter, are exposed to drugs, and face hunger and ill-health daily. Most have been abused, physically, sexually or both.

"The local government and people have asked Toybox and Red Viva to be part of a new city wide work with street children,” says Claudia.

“This is a great plan and there is an opportunity to make a difference immediately. The people there are praying and waiting to see if Toybox will help."

Silvia, leader of El Castillo, Toybox’s partner in Guatemala, says, "We are more shocked and afraid for the children than ever. There is an urgent need to protect them as the level of danger they face is increasing every day."

Toybox estimates that it will cost around £116 towards each child saved from the streets through Guardian Angels projects in Oruro and Guatemala this year.

Andy Stockbridge, Toybox Chief Executive, has just returned from visiting the team in Oruro. He comments, "Oruro is a poor city with significant need. But the local people together, church, projects, local authorities have a real heart and a genuine plan to work with children who find themselves on the street or working on the street."


Street children make new lives with the Bolivian Street Children Project

Street children make new lives with the Bolivian Street Children Project

The Bolivian Street Children Project is a Christian social welfare organization that addresses the unique needs of street children in Bolivia and around the world. We work to uncover the potential of these children and make a lasting difference in their lives, one small child at a time. This video provides a general overview of the work we do with street children on the streets and in our homes in La Paz, Bolivia.

Please visit our website at www.bolivianstreetchildren.org for additional information.


Street children make new lives with the Bolivian Street Children Project

Street children make new lives with the Bolivian Street Children Project
The Bolivian Street Children Project is a Christian social welfare organization that addresses the unique needs of street children in Bolivia and around the world. We work to uncover the potential of these children and make a lasting difference in their lives, one small child at a time. This video provides a general overview of the work we do with street children on the streets and in our homes in La Paz, Bolivia.

Please visit our website at www.bolivianstreetchildren.org for additional information.


Brianna: “Jhonatan”

Brianna: “Jhonatan”

(Blog entry)

I want to take you to a place, come with me. I want you to meet my friend Jhonatan, come meet him. I want you to Xperience, come be open. I want you Xamine, come learn. I want you to love, come with Christ. On July 11, 2006 in Cochabamba, Bolivia the Xtreme team visited a ministry. This ministry was begun by Mickey, the man who does the baby washing in the plaza we later visited. It is now run by a lay pastor named Thomas. The name of this ministry is Jireh. This place is a safe house for street children. Here they are feed, educated, taught about Christ, and watched over in their health. They are also taught to work. Without this work they would most likely be on the street hungry and sniffing glue. This work, this source of providing, comes in the form of shining shoes; shining strangers shoes for 1 Boliviano, 12 cents. This day Nico, the Bolivian seminary student I spent a week with, and I joined the work of Jhonatan. Jhonatan is ten years old and shines shoes for a living. He is short, has brown hair, brown eyes, brown skin, and a beautiful smile.

We walked to the center plaza of Cochabamba and it began. As Jhonatan headed out I stood back and watched. I was hesitant. I didn’t want the people to stare at me, ignore me, or treat me as a dog as they did Jhonatan. I quickly felt guilty of wanting to be anywhere but there. I was uncomfortable. I was getting angry and then weary. I watched the people ion the benches and the business men and women reject Jhonatan, ignore Jhonatan, and treat Jhonatan like a dog and I saw myself. If I was in the states and a small, dirty boy came up to me in the park or walked into my office and asked to shine my shoes I would have reacted the same way I was now seeing these people act. But this time was different, it had to be different. I was now trying to be in Jhonatan’s shoes not my own middle class white woman shoes. With each step that Jhonatan took, he pulled my heart closer and closer to him until I was sitting right next to him. I began to learn. I watched his strokes, I watched the order of brushes and rags, and I watched his pace.

We entered a court yard of one of the business buildings and I looked down and noticed something, Jhonatan’s shoes were dirty. My first thought was, ‘a shoe shiner can’t have dirty shoes’. But this brought on the question ‘well, who is going to do anything about Jhonatan’s shoes, let alone care about them?’ Then came the question, ‘what am I going to do now?’ I looked around to make sure I would not interfere with any possible business and tapped Jhonatan on the shoulder. Through sign language I asked him if I could shine his shoes ‘por favor’ (please). This immediately brought a shake of the head and I let it go fast, almost embarrassed for asking, and then I almost felt grateful. No more than five feet later he stopped, looked back up at me, and said (not in English), ‘ya, ok’.

I found a bench and had him hop on up. He handed me the box and my turn to work began. I took out his tiny bench and sat down to take out the tools and position his foot on the box. He was now the rich business man and I was the one he had the choice to treat like a dog at his feet. I looked up at him and saw him much differently than before. He was tall and had dignity.

After I had finished my job of polishing, I went to stand up and was stopped by a business man asking me to stay seated on my little bench and polish his shoes. I went on to explain in my broken Spanish that Jhonatan is ‘me professor’ (my teacher) and would do a much better job than I. As Jhonatan and I switched places for Jhonatan to shine that man’s shoes, his and my status changed once again. I was not just a fellow shoe shiner to him, we were now one step further, I was even ‘lower’, I was his student. He had even more reason to be dignified and was now at a higher ‘status’ than I.

It is now weeks later and I am still frustrated, struggling, and doing some major Xamining. I weep for Jhonatan because of the way people treated him and chose to see him. I weep for him because he is ten years old and is working. Working so hard for so little. I weep for him because he cannot go out and play. I weep for him because he does not have parents who will provide for him. I weep at the people on the benches and the intense injustice I see sitting there. I weep at my inadequacies and helplessness. I lament for Jhonatan. I lament for all the Jhonatans of the world. I Xamine my priorities, values, and commitments, and I Xercise my faith to find God.



(Christina Swan) 

 (Blog entry)

So much has happened since the last time I wrote, that I don’t quite know where to begin…

South America’s famous four-day carnival celebrations started last Saturday. (I asked someone why they celebrate carnival here, and they were amusingly shocked to realise that they didn’t know, and stunned to hear that we didn’t have carnival in Norway. At long last I got an answer that carnival had something to do with Ash Wednesday and the coming 40 day fast, so people use up all their grease – not by eating it, as we do in Norway – but by throwing it on each other (car oil, ink, paint, etc) in massive city-wide celebrations!)

The carnival in Santa Cruz is more like the Rio de Janeiro carnival in Brazil, than celebrations in the rest of the country. People have a four-day holiday, and the streets fill with cheery people from morning till night till morning again. On Saturday, with our hair braided in lots of mini braids by the Alalay children, Elisabeth and I headed for the town with two Norwegians and the new Australian volunteer who lives with us. A week earlier Elisabeth and I were on Santa Cruzan TV, saying “Have a good carnival!” in Norwegian, so wanting to see for ourselves what having a good carnival entailed, we dressed in our ugliest clothes, equipped ourselves with weapons – foam and artificial snow boxes – and took our first carnival steps outside.

We saw the big parade in town, with lots of traditional, folkloric dances, and stayed until the carnival queen, Viviana, the prettiest winner candidate of them all, passed by, waving happily from a platform on a fancy car. The atmosphere was awesome; thousands of people were outside, playing, watching the parade, spraying foam on each other and throwing water balloons on each other. Although we had been warned of the “dirtiness” that we might encounter, with people throwing paint and shoe polish and ink and foam on each other, we did as locals advised and went out the first night of carnival, when the whole town is more sober. The sight of many children, pregnant women and handicapped people in the streets assured us that the night wasn’t going to be so bad. When we came home at about midnight, our clothes were WET – full of water and dried foam -, Ingrid’s face was smeared with ink, and the blue plastic protective glasses we had bought covered stinging, foam-sprayed eyes.

During the next few days of celebrations, we grew to become more and more paranoid as we hid in our houses and went from place to place in taxi to avoid the wrath of many carnival dressed, paint throwing children. As an “outsider” to the whole thing, carnival seems to me to above all be the pretext for throwing things on each other.

Elisabeth and I got back to Alalay on Tuesday, the last day of carnival. The children at Alalay loved carnival; they were all outside, having water fights, smearing paint and car oil in each other’s faces and clothes, washing each other in the mud caused by the rain. I hid in my room and in my cabaña for most of the day while Elisabeth played with foam and water with her boys. She even equipped them with more foam boxes and water balloons. To me, this seemed like giving ammunition to the enemy. As I am of the opposite “camp”, the girls’ cabaña, I felt like the boys weren’t going to spare me from whatever “carnival” could allow them to do, and so I kept a low profile the whole day. When needing to move outside, I picked up one of the smallest children, carried her in my arms in front of myself, as a human shield…. hehe. This worked, as very few people dare to bombard the smallest children, lest they start to cry hysterically.

RELIEF on my part when carnival was over on Wednesday. Nevertheless, this weekend too promises a “carnivalito” – a little carnival, when little children invade the streets again with liquid to throw on people. I wish there was snow here, it would have been a little cleaner if thrown all over you.

In the aftermath of carnival, the rain has mercifully continued to fall. I have contracted a double eye infection (on both eyes), and hence literally felt a little “under the weather” this week. Through blood-sprained eyes, I have started writing down the stories the children tell me of their life in the street (for my next Hald assignment). These are depressing. The children tell me their stories of narrowly escaping death, rape and prostitution. One girl, known as rebellious and a bit of a problem type by the staff, told me that she’d never told any of the staff her story before, but because she felt she could trust me, she decided to tell me her story.

We did streetwork on Thursday. Another depressing reality that confronts my problem-free Western life. One of the girls we talked to is continually raped by her father. We tried to get her and her siblings to come to Alalay with us, but the mother is still thinking it over. We looked for a 14-year old boy, Juan Carlos, declared missing by his mother. Apparently he’s escaped to the streets and taken to sniffing glue. His mother is devastated. We didn’t find him, and so had to take his photo and information back to Alalay with us.

We saw a well-dressed mother with her well-dressed daughter, talking to a dirty boy (her son) who had decided to go live on the streets and be a “gang leader”. We met the two boys of 12 and 13 that had come to Alalay last week, who for the fourth time had decided they preferred the street to Alalay. Their friends live on the street, and they are so used to the life of total freedom, without responsibilities, and so they went back to the street.

We sat down with a group of street children and street parents in an alleyway. I talked to a woman of 27 who had three children of 7, 6 and 2. I asked if she’d had her first child at 20. She said no, she’d had her first one at 15, but the child had died. As we continued talking, a police car came and stopped next to the street children. The first thing the street children did when they saw the car come, was hide every box of glue they had. If the police see them sniffing glue, they take it from them, and beat them hard. The police came out looking up to no good, with anger in their eyes and their wooden bats ready to beat the children. According to Miguel, the social worker, what they often do is spray the street children’s eyes with gas, and then beat them senseless. But because there were a few white people there, the police restrained themselves and just told the street children to leave, as there had been complaints by the neighbours. Anxious neighbours stood on every street corner and waited for the street children to leave – they are afraid of being robbed or the like. So the street children move to another street, where the same thing repeats itself a few hours later – anxious neighbours phone in, police come, and the children have to move.

Yesterday there was apparently a “raid” by the police in the whole town. They raid the town for street children and take them with them to different homes or institutions, to “clean” the streets from street children. Though this might help for a few days, children escape from institutions and can, a few days later, be found on the streets again.

When will Bolivia&rsqu
o;s street kid problem be solved? This week has been eye opening for me in more than one way, but depressingly so. Perhaps the people of Santa Cruz, and especially the street children, really need carnival… it’s a great opportunity to escape from it all and celebrate, without having much to celebrate except the fact that they are still alive, and that God will – eventually – show mercy on them.

Street girls in Bolivia break the poverty cycle

Street girls in Bolivia break the poverty cycle:

Mosoj Yan (Quechua meaning ‘New Way’) is a 7-year-old Evangelical ministry that works with about 100 adolescent street children in Cochabamba, Bolivia. These are girls with broken family ties, who live and sleep on the street, who will prostitute themselves and who regularly rob to survive and support their addiction to drugs.

There are three programs, two rehabilitative and one preventative. The latter is all about empowering girls so that they will not end up living on the street. It is a day center, open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with three training workshops: one for card making, one for making pastry and confectionery and the other for paper recycling. The principle aims of these workshops are training, income generation and occupational therapy. Here the girls learn a skill while producing things that they can sell. This enables them to take care of themselves and provide for their children. This type of empowerment breaks the poverty cycle."