NCV Monthly Reflections
Every month, our international director shares a reflection from Bolivia. Sometimes they are simple stories of what is happening, other times they attempt to go deeper into some of thoughts that are challenging us at the moment. We originally only shared these with our church partners, yet feel that in posting them here it can help anyone interested in NCV better understand the heart and the soul of our ministry.
March 2021: Together is Better
For nearly a year now on social media, Niños con Valor has been focusing on the theme “Together is Better”. It began as a focus on how, in the midst of increased restrictions due to the pandemic, the relationships in our lives are all the more important. As we kept posting photos that went along with this theme – pictures of our children in small groups sharing in activities and full of laughter – we recognized that the theme means so much more that a hashtag on coping with isolation. For our children, all of whom have been separated from their families due to abuse, neglect or the loss of parents, it is a fundamental part of creating a space they can call “home.”
Our NCV “Theory of Change”, why we can hope that our ultimate outcome of life transformation will occur, follows this basic structure:
Outcome: Independence, Engagement, Influence
Stage 4: Hope, Confidence, Transformation
Stage 3: Physical, Emotional, Spiritual Healing
Stage 2: Security, Stability, Integration
Foundation: Faith, Family, Community
We serve based on the premise that before we can even think about integration, healing and transformation, we need to have a solid foundation of community.
Ramiro and Tomas, in many ways, couldn’t be more different. Ramiro joined our family when he was 1-year-old from La Paz, abandoned in hospital after growing up on the streets. Tomas came from a large residential home where he had been abandoned, likely after suffering abuse as an infant. Ramiro is 6, Tomas is 9. Ramiro has a chronic lung condition, but otherwise has hit every major developmental milestone, loves to talk, can be pensive and is extremely emotionally intelligent. Tomas is medically healthy, yet he has hemiparesis on his left side, is developmentally delayed, hyperactive and struggles with his speech. And yet – they are two peas in a pod! They both joined the NCV family in 2015 and have been inseparable ever since. Both have other friends in the home, yet their support for one another is unmatched. And without any doubt, their individual progress would not have reached the point it had without one another.
Togetherness like this, community that heals, is not something that can be manufactured, yet we can create spaces in which our natural need to connect, the love and be loved, can thrive.
Between March 22nd and April 12th, we are going to be focusing on this theme even more as we approach “Children’s Day” in Bolivia. Please consider following our daily posts during this time on Facebook and Instagram as we celebrate how #togetherisbetter.
January 2021: Lessons from the Birds
For the past several weeks, Bolivia has been confronting not only a forceful second wave of COVID-19 cases, but also a series of heavy rains and flash floods across the country that have resulted in numerous fatalities and extensive damage. Looking beyond our borders, a simple scan of international headlines of natural and unnatural (i.e. human) conflicts and disasters, it would be simple and understandable to slip into a mental space of resignation, desperation, ignoration, isolation, or any number of similar -tions.
Over the past weekend, the rains fell without relent here in Cochabamba. As I sat watching local news of a nearby accident (a vehicle was swept into a canal just a handful of blocks from our home) my focus was stolen by an extremely loud chirping in our garage. A small yellow finch had sought refuge from the deluge and wanted the world to know it. When the skies broke for a moment, our winged companion departed and our yard suddenly exploded with chorus.
It is a fair question: What have birds to do with floods? or pandemics for that matter?
Here is an attempt at an answer that hasn’t a thing to do with deterministic chaos. For whatever reason, our yard is a magnet to friends of the feathered variety. Each morning, they welcome the end of night. Following a storm, they welcome the end of the rain. It is constant and it is resilient.
Jesus, in his contrasting heavenly and earthly treasure, said to the crowd: look at the birds of the sky, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather crops into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Is there more we can learn from these most fragile of creatures?
Look at the birds of the sky, how they patiently endure the storm, and when it breaks they sing with gratitude.
Look at the birds of the sky, how following the dark night, they greet the morning with a song of celebration.
Each January, the staff of Niños con Valor comes together to deepen our relationships and plan for the upcoming year. For the first time, like so many other families, organizations, and businesses, we are doing this in the midst of uncertainty and mourning. It is stormy and it is dark. Yet, as we consider how to best bring peace and healing and light and love into the lives of the precious children we have been entrusted with, we are going to try to take a lesson from the birds’ playbook.
This year will, undoubtedly, bring more difficulties – but as each storm passes, we will celebrate.
It isn’t just the birds that teach us this. Each of the 42 children, teens and young adults in our care have experienced conflict and loss that we can barely comprehend. Yet every single one of them has also moved forward to experience hope and joy.
So, we are going to move forward into 2021 with some more optimistic -tions: anticipation, determination, motivation, expectation.
December 2020: The Christmas Story
Christmas. We know the story well.
Newlyweds Mary and Joseph, traveling due to a Roman census, expecting at any moment the birth of their firstborn, finding only the humble surroundings of a stable for the imminent arrival of the Messiah.
It is a situation full of uncertainty and anticipation. And yet… there is something about the anticipation that somehow makes the uncertainty bearable.
What if there wasn’t anything to anticipate? What if you were a child born into a precarious situation, with no one to herald your arrival, and not even the comfort of a manger to rest your head?
What if, following your birth into a space of insecurity, your situation did not change. That year after year, you find yourself on a journey with an unknown end. Unstable. Homeless. There is no star overhead to beckon others to your side. There is no family to raise you as their longed-for gift from God.
The thing is, I love Christmas. I love the story, but I also like the decorations, the lights, the songs, the joy. I like the giving and seeing the smiles on children’s faces at the magic of it all.
Yet, like so many things in the world, this magic isn’t universal. For many, the arrival of the Christ seems to have little impact on their daily lives, struggles, suffering. For most, Christmas is something sitting pretty in a window display, a hope and the joy as out of reach as a warm meal.
Juana joined the Niños con Valor family in October of this year. She is a sweet, inquisitive, intelligent 8-year-old girl who has lived her entire life in a state of uncertainty. She has never known a stable home, nor has she experienced unconditional love. In 2018, she was diagnosed with leukemia. However, despite her own will to fight she found herself with no one to support her in this battle, often missing her treatments because those who should have cared for her, didn’t. She has siblings, and what we have learned suggests that their experience has been no less traumatic. Currently, actions are being taken to remove them from what is a dangerous home environment and bring them to join their sister in our home. We are still learning about Juana and her siblings’ background, but as is the case with most of our children, her parent’s neglect is likely just a spoke in a cycle of generational neglect.
We are full of gratitude that this week Jimena will be joining the rest of the Niños con Valor family to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps, for her and eventually for her siblings, finding safety and a home with NCV will release them from their state of uncertainty and free them to anticipate the arrival of Jesus, that the hope and joy and magic of Christmas will no longer be outside of their grasp.
As we gather this year, may we be thankful for our freedom to anticipate and celebrate the gift of Christ, may we recognize that this gift is for each and all – and may we understand that it is upon those of us who have received it to, share it. Otherwise, we must consider whether or not we do, in fact, truly know the Christmas story at all.
November 2020: Mountains and Moments and the Death of a Child
Elections, pandemics, wars (and rumors of), climate change, the refugee crises, space travel, quantum computers, “hyperloop” pods – our world is full of mountains great and terrifying. Some of these we encounter and work to summit. Some we build through avarice, pride, prejudice and only notice them when they halt our forward trek.
Less formidable upon the horizon, in the valleys and hillocks, along the rivers and deep in the woods, there is life. It is the digging and sowing and pruning and harvesting life. It is the birthing and growing and wedding and dying life.
It is no secret that the majority of humanity’s “wealth” is invested in building or breaking mountains. Collectively, there is an insatiable hunger to go further and higher – more knowledge, more power, more influence. And this collective mind trickles downward into the valleys, planting dreams of “more” as our children (and adults!) long to wash the earth from their hands, to cast aside toil for travel forwards and upwards. The word “settle” has become bitter to the palate, exchanged for the sweetness of wanderlust and upward-mobility-lust.
The tragic consequence of holding a constant upward and forward gaze is that we look down and around less. We begin to live through, yet not experience, the moments of life. We are there, but not fully present.
There is danger here, which is the whole point of this reflection. Our values, which are evidenced not through what we say they are, but rather through the actions and priorities (fruits) of our daily lives, are influenced by the direction of our gaze. When we spend more time deepening our relationship with God, when we spend more time sharing in the joy and sorrow with family and friends, when we spend more time climbing “mountains”, when we spend more time showing who we want to be than living who we are – we are nurtured by the soil we are planted in.
Throughout this past year, Niños con Valor, like many ministries, has been consumed by our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, by our need to not only recuperate lost revenue but grow so as to have a bigger impact. We have talked countless hours about the Bolivian elections and the potential impact upon our organization. We have met to discuss strategy for expanding our ministry – onward and upward.
And then a child became sick. And then that child died. *Linda, who was a light in our midst, who defied doctors’ expectations and learned to walk, to talk, to laugh with her “brothers” and “sisters”, became suddenly ill two weeks ago, and in less than 24 hours had passed on to be with her Lord. In that moment, everything became still. Our eyes fixed upon this precious life, with us only 33 months, and yet impacting each of us in ways that will continue until we meet her again in Glory.
Why is it, that when these moments occur – births, deaths, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, etc. – the mountains seem to fade? What might life be like, if we invested ourselves fully in the moments, and spent less time, energy and resources in scaling or building mountains? Would there be more or less happiness? More or less peace? More or less justice?
Linda’s 33 months with us were short. She did not have the opportunity to grow up and experience a lot of life’s offerings. Yet the time she had was spent from moment to moment, moments filled with love and joy, moments that in a short time combined to create a true and lasting summit. She had a happy life. She was loved and knew it. And we are all the better because of it.
August 2020: Recognizing NCV Staff
At our core, Niños con Valor is a family. This is what we aim for at least. Of course, it is one thing to talk about being a family, with all that such a relationship entails. It is entirely another to live it out in times of crisis.
If you can believe it – all of our caregivers spend half of their lives living with and caring for our children! The other half is spent at home with their own families and friends. Already, their commitment to our children is incredible. Then, COVID-19 arrived.
At first, we simply adjusted shifts. All agreed that the fewer shift changes, the fewer opportunities for the virus to pass through our doors. So, our caregivers started to work 72 hours on, 72 hours off. Then, we had our first staff and children test positive.
Based on models around the world, the greatest success in residential care settings was evidenced in homes that went into full lockdown. So, we discussed this with our caregivers, and 100% of those whose health allowed them to do so, moved in with our children for 28 days – no in, no out.
We are so proud of our staff!
If you ask any one of them why she or he is working with NCV, the answer will invariably be: for the children. This vocation has never been more evident than in times of crisis. In the past, when we have had to lockdown due to sociopolitical turmoil for a few days, our staff have always volunteered to adjust their hours and stay for extended periods to ensure the safety of our children. Now, for our children’s health, they are demonstrating once again that they truly are “family” to the 46 boys, girls, teens and young adults in our care.
We lift up our staff, praising God for how they are truly committed to providing a family to children and teens who have none, and for doing so as Christ – through times of joy and times of mourning, time of peace and times of crisis, always without thought for their own needs.
September 2020: Transforming Storm
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
The world and all of us in it are experiencing a moment of adversity. While this adversity may take different shape in each of our lives, and the extent of its impact may vary, it is unlikely that any of us will be come out of 2020 unchanged.
Adversity acts on us, irrespective of our plans or desires. It either breaks us down or builds us up – but it rarely leaves us alone.
Like so many examples throughout the Scriptures, history and modern times, adversity not only brings difficulties, but also opportunities. When we are pressed from all sides, we can give up or we can turn our eyes to heaven with a faith that moves mountains. When we feel crushed by the weight of physical, emotional and financial burdens, we can succumb or dig deep and find a strength we didn’t know we had within us.
The ministry of Niños con Valor in Bolivia hasn’t been exempt from the tempest that is 2020. Staff have gotten sick, lost loved ones, and had friends and family experience financial crisis. Our children haven’t left the house since March, haven’t seen their friends or received in-person visits from their relatives, and have had to adapt to a whole new world of remote learning since the 2nd month of the academic year.
Yet we have grown closer together as a family. Whereas before hours were spent rushing from here-to-there for classes and extracurricular activities, for the past 6 months we have been planning and sharing in so many creative activities that we actually have time for. In sharing our fears and uncertainties throughout the pandemic, we have gotten to know each other at a deeper, more personal level. With our children, as our schedule has slowed down and our routine relaxed, we have had more family time and become better listeners.
So, despite the hardships, we are grateful for how as individuals and as a ministry we are growing and changing. We see and hear each other more clearly, appreciate more what matters most, and are constantly brought back to a place of humility and faith as we seek out God’s guidance and comfort through the storm.
July 2020: Where Hope Grows
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.
The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, II, 6.
Bolivia is experiencing an exponential increase in both cases and deaths due to the global coronavirus pandemic. In just the first 2 weeks of July, our cases have increased by 50% and our deaths by 60% from where they were at the end of June. Hospitals and cemeteries are overwhelmed. There are not enough tests, respirators or medications. People are dying in their homes and on the streets.
For a long time, Niños con Valor remained relatively untouched by the pandemic. Like everyone, our routines changed, classes went virtual, and we all became suddenly interested in styles of face masks. From the start, we’ve been a bit extreme in the precautions we’ve taken to limit the exposure of our children and staff, both because we’re family and because a good number of our family are living with complicated medical situations. We felt, as far as one can in times of COVID, relatively safe.
Then, last month, one of our drivers tested positive for the virus. Thankfully, the driver recovered fully, and due to the safety protocols we have in place none of our staff were infected. Over the past month, all three of our national directors and our Sendero de Esperanza guide have had family members test positive, including one who passed away.
Everything still seemed at arm’s length, until today when our first caregiver and our transition program guide both tested positive for COVID-19. While both have been taking vacation time for the past 2 weeks, which is when they believe they contracted the virus, we are beginning the difficult process of obtaining tests for all of our staff to make sure our programs remain unaffected.
The fact is, with so many of our children living with very serious health conditions, it’s a bit scary!
In Bolivia, and in many places around the world, hope is now mingled with desperation and despair – and yet, as the Tolkien quote suggests, perhaps hope grows despite and because of this very mingling. The stars themselves are not brighter away from the lights of the city, yet darkness permits us to appreciate their splendor.
For us, this encroaching desperation, while seemingly at odds with hope, has served to fan to flame a greater hope – not in protocols and masks – but in God who is the very reason for our ministry in the first place. Of course, protocols will be followed and masks worn – yet the experience we are living through, though dark, brings to greater light the hope Paul writes of to the Romans:
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
So, today we live in hope more than yesterday.
For all of our NCV friends and family we pray that, no matter the situation you currently find yourselves in, be it of joy or sorrow, you are filled with hope in Jesus Christ, over whom neither disease nor death can prevail.
June 2020: No Bystanders Among Us
Humanity is experiencing an important moment in our history. We are being challenged in ways that go to the very root of our value systems, that expose our fears and egoisms, that uncover the strength of the relationships between our words and actions.
On the one hand, we continue to face a pandemic that persists in ravaging the world, increasingly impacting our most vulnerable communities. We are concerned for our own and our families’ physical and economic wellbeing, and simultaneously face the simple choice of showing solidarity in helping those who have the same concerns yet lack the means to sufficiently protect themselves and their families.
At the same time, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder we must respond to centuries of systemic and institutional racial oppression that have been passively accepted not only in the US, but around the world in countries like Bolivia, where being indigenous means you are more likely than your non-indigenous fellow citizens to grow up in poverty and to struggle to obtain an education and advance professionally. And our response is one of two – being a part of the problem or a part of the solution.
There are no bystanders among us.
Over the past several weeks, Niños con Valor has wrestled with our own response. What we can do above and beyond the direct support we are providing to the children, teens and young adults in our programs? How can we ensure the healthy and safety of our children, many of whom have complicated medical conditions, yet not neglect our capacity to contribute beyond the walls of our homes? What can we do to raise our children to be part of a generation that rejects the very injustice that the prophets and Jesus’ cried out against?
For now, we have come up with two actions.
First, our staff and children have started an outreach to support three groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are providing individuals and families in need with food, cleaning supplies, and face masks to help them take care of themselves and limit the need to expose themselves to possible contagion. This includes the relatives of the children in our care, the families of children who have returned home, young adults who grew up in our residential program, and neighbors of our staff who are in desperate situations. We are providing durable, washable facemasks to the police who are supervising the mitigation efforts and who have been hard hit by the pandemic. And, we are partnering with a local initiative called “Sponsor a Hero” to provide much needed PPE to the front-line health care workers in the three COVID-19 reference hospitals in Cochabamba. All that we are able to provide is accompanied by handwritten notes of encouragement from our children.
Second, we are developing a learning plan to use with our children, to help them understand the history and context of racism in Bolivia and throughout the world, as a way to encourage individual and group reflection. As systemic racism is passed down through generations, often indirectly, it is important that the children of today, those who will be the leaders of tomorrow, are aware of the dark antecedents that have allowed the institutionalization of this racism, and how they can (and should) be a part of breaking the cycle.
Each and every day history is being written. We want our children to understand that our actions (or inaction) in response to the challenges we face today, will form the foundation for how our world is tomorrow. We are thankful for God’s forgiveness for the part we have played in permitting the injustices and inequalities in the world to flourish, and for the grace of being able to work towards a future that better reflects God’s Kingdom on earth.
April 2020: Easter Reflection
This past weekend, the children of Niños con Valor along with Christians around the world celebrated Easter remotely. For many, against the backdrop of the overwhelming tragedy that continues to accompany the COVID-19 pandemic, these celebrations offered a respite of hope; even in the face of death, Christ is victorious!
However, the context in which we celebrate cannot be ignored. At the same time our children were singing hymns and hunting for chocolate eggs, billions of people around the world whose daily bread is gained on a daily basis continued to war against hunger and desperation.
In Luke 16, we read a story that Jesus shared about an unnamed rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. When the rich man, having passed away, realized how his lack of action in the face of Lazarus’ poverty and sickness resulted in his eternal torment, he begged that Lazarus might be sent to warn his loved ones against repeating the error of his ways:
He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Easter is the celebration of Christ rising from the dead – is his resurrection enough to convince us to repent and change our ways?
We are presently being confronted with a viral pandemic, yet we have lived and continue to live in the midst of a pandemic of injustice and inequality. As we consider the future, we need to ask ourselves – do we truly want to return to “normal”?
Apart from very concrete steps that people in positions of influence should take in order to better prepare nations for future healthcare crises, we need to respond to the injustice that has been laid bare throughout this pandemic. Our vulnerability and, more specifically, the unequal measure that this vulnerability is experienced by the poor and marginalized, has being exposed. What comes next should not be more of the same, but a concerted effort to rebuild our communities upon a foundation of compassion, justice and equality.
Here in Bolivia, these are the things we are reflecting on as Niños con Valor.
We have been in touch regularly with UNICEF and other residential programs, and while we are blessed to have such an incredible, supportive family around the world who have ensured the safety and wellbeing of our children throughout this crisis, we are devastated to hear about the desperation faced by so many other children in residential care.
And while we are grateful that our staff and their families are being provided for amidst widespread economic uncertainty, through our Fondo+ program, we are heartbroken by the overwhelming number of impoverished families living with HIV, unable to work due to the quarantine, who are seeking funds just to put food on their tables for a couple of weeks.
Perhaps this is more of a reflection than a story, yet as we struggle with what our role as a ministry is and should be moving forward, it is a discussion we want to have with all of our partners. God is doing incredible things through our partnership! Your efforts are truly having a transformative impact in the lives of some of Bolivia’s most marginalized children. The question is, as we move through and eventually out of the current COVID-19 pandemic – how should we evolve? What more can we do to bring God’s transformational love and confront the even greater pandemic of inequality and injustice?
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
March 2020: Difficult Decisions
This past week, we were presented with a difficult decision. We were asked to accept the transfer of a teen girl from another residential home.
Jhanet (not her real name) has complicated health needs, moderate developmental delays and a tragic history of abuse and rebellion. The home in which she has been living has done a poor job at caring for her. Despite being only 14 years old, she has been living in a room on her own with minimal supervision and insufficient support for her serious health condition and no psychological support at all. She has freely come and gone from the home, spending time on the streets, drinking, using drugs, is sexually active and is suspected to have fallen into prostitution in order to earn money.
As a rule, we tend to avoid cases like Jhanet’s. It sounds harsh, but she is older with some very hard life experience, and the implications of integrating her with the rest of the children in our care are serious. What sort of influence could she have in the rest of our children? Could she realistically adjust to a family-style home and its rules? After a life of feeling the need to fend for herself in the face of a society that has rejected her – can she open herself up to the love and therapy that she would find with Niños con Valor?
We have what we call a “technical team” that oversees the decision-making process in cases like this. Made up of psychologists, social workers, and our leadership team, this group has spent days considering how to respond to the transfer request. Initially, our doubts (and fear?) had us leaning towards rejecting the transfer. How could we possibly consider bringing someone with so much “street knowledge” into our NCV family where we have so many impressionable children and teens? Wouldn’t that be irresponsible?
Last month, Neflix launched a documentary series called “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez”. Without going into the gruesome details, it recounts the case of Gabriel Fernandez, an 8-year-old boy from California who was tortured and murdered by his mother and her boyfriend. What stands out most painfully about Gabriel’s story, is how society failed him during the 8 months leading up to his death. Law enforcement and the Department of Child and Family Services and had been called to the home on several occasions, but ultimately did nothing to rescue him from a situation that could only end up as it ultimately did. The purpose of the series is not simply to create awareness about child abuse. It is, as documentarian Brian Knappenberger puts it, to ask ourselves regarding our response to society’s most vulnerable members: “How do we protect them? And what does that say about us?”
As our conversation as a technical team advanced, we began to ask these same questions. As a result of the neglect she has experienced, Jhanet’s illness advanced in the past year to such a degree that her life was at risk. Niños con Valor was asked to receive her, because (with no pride intended) we are the only organization capable of responding to her profound physical, emotional, spiritual and behavioral needs. Knowing this, and knowing the inevitable end to her current trajectory, what would it say about us if we did nothing? What would it say about our faith in a God who longs for justice and who loves Jhanet with the same incredible love with which he loves each of us?
Ultimately, we made the decision to agree to the transfer and to press social services to investigate the home she is currently living in. We don’t know how things will play out. It is possible the other center, in order to avoid further scrutiny, will withdraw the request. It is possible that social services will not intervene in order to avoid the potential fallout of investing an organization that cares for dozens of families and children. It is possible that Jhanet will join our family and we will go through some very challenging times.
All that we can do, is to do all that we can do.
February 2020: Update on Natalia*
Being abandoned is traumatic. Emotionally, it can leave a person with feelings of anxiety and/or depression; it can lead to relational difficulties like emotional detachment, codependency, and issues of trust. What is often not considered is the physical implications of abandonment.
Children who are abandoned have often grown up homes with emotionally unavailable parents. This frequently includes an accompanying lack of attention to a child’s physical needs. A child’s dietary needs are ignored, and medical attention is not given with a sense of urgency. In Bolivia, children arriving in residential homes often do so having already experienced a long list of unattended ailments, many of which can have lasting effects.
Natalia joined the NCV family in August 2014 when she was 11 years old. Before this, her life was the definition of unstable. Just shy of 2 years old, Natalia entered into a residential home in La Paz due to the high-risk situation she was growing up in. A year later, the courts sent her back home with her parents, where she spent the next three years in conditions of neglect, and during which time her health rapidly declined. She was discovered to have a chronic immunological condition, and the lack of required medical attention was putting her life at risk. In 2008, when she was 5 years old, she entered into a new residential home where she would remain until 2011. At this point, she was transferred to yet another home due to her age and medical situation. This home provided integral care, yet as a temporary shelter it lacked the individualized attention and care a growing child needs and deserves. Three years later, Natalia was transferred to our residential program in Cochabamba along with her younger brother, where they could receive the medical and emotional attention they had been lacking for most of their lives.
Upon arrival, Niños con Valor arranged a series of medical exams, which uncovered a condition called chronic otitis media, as well as skin conditions that had been left untreated for years. Sadly, both of these conditions are related to the neglect Natalia experienced growing up. Infections were left untreated for long periods of time, both in her home and later in the residential homes she lived in. Ultimately, the chronic otitis media led to a more serious condition called mastoiditis.
In 2016, after delays in obtaining the required paperwork for her formal transfer from La Paz to Cochabamba, we were able to arrange Natalia’s first surgical intervention. It was partially successful, detaining the progress of the deterioration she was experiencing and cleared up all lingering infection. At the time the surgeon noted that in 3-4 years, additional operations would likely be required on both ears to repair the damage that had been done. The first of these surgeries took place last week, and all signs point to a success.
The ministry of Niños con Valor is very focused and limited in its scope. We can’t talk about countless children being impacted by our work, nor can we suggest that we are going to transform the entire Bolivian childcare system. What we can say, is that in the same profound way Christ works in the heart, mind and spirit of each one of us, by God’s grace we are working in lives of children like Natalia. Children who have been rescued from violent or neglectful home situations, or who have been abandoned by their biological families, carry the burden of often extensive emotional and physical trauma. We praise God that we have a Lord who can heal it all!
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for you are my praise.
January 2020: Home
“The ache for home lives in all of us.
The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
― Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
Home is one of those ideas that we have all contemplated. It is the people who surround us in a supportive way. It is the physical space where we find rest and recharge. For some, it might be family, for others, friends; for many – a bit of both. Some might find refuge in a house, others in nature, and for the adventurous on the road.
Home is physical and emotional security; it is where we belong.
Since opening our first residential home in 2006, our children have lived in a total of 9 different houses. Some of the moves have been due to our landlords, and some have been decisions made to respond to growth. Our latest moves took place in December, just days before Christmas. Our boys’ and girls’ residential homes both moved into a single large space, and our young women moved into the house previously used for our girls’ residential home.
Without a doubt, changing spaces can be difficult for anyone. For most of our children, their first move was the day they were taken from their biological families, and major changes can bring with them anxiety and insecurity.
To help with the transition, we involved our kids at each stage of the move. They helped us go through all their things and pack up boxes. They spent days in the new house before the move cleaning up the different spaces, putting together their beds in their new rooms. And most importantly, they did all this alongside the “tias” (we refer to our caregivers as “aunts”) and their peers. It was their move, not just ours, and it was the sharing in the process together as a family that provided them with the assurance that a move to a new physical space did not signify a change in the emotional space they need to feel safe and accepted.
We’ve been in the new house for just a few weeks now, and it has been an incredible experience. Siblings are now living together; the older kids have helped out the younger with the adjustment. Despite now having 34 children all under a single roof, the house feels more like a “home” than anywhere we’ve lived in the past.
It is unjust that there are children in the world who for their safety need to be removed from their houses. This isn’t a Bolivia thing, this is a human condition thing. Yet, we praise God that having to leave a house doesn’t mean that one is homeless, and that we (NCV and YOU!) have been blessed with the incredible opportunity to provide this “home” to a group of incredible children.
December 2019: Christmas Miracles
Linda joined the Niños con Valor family when she was just 14 months old. Born with hydrocephalus, and raised on and off the streets, her first year of life was anything but simple. Upon her arrival in January 2018, it was clear she wasn’t well. She was malnourished, suffered regular seizures, and couldn’t sit up. Since then, she has undergone 4 major surgeries, and from day one has had to fight for every small step forward.
Doctors have been cautious about her prognosis. Due to the extensive damage suffered during the period in which her condition was not treated and the multiple and invasive interventions, they have expressed concerns about mobility, cognition and speech, and encouraged us to be realistic in our expectations.
The thing about expectations is that they are very closely linked with hope and faith. They also, more often than not, require more of us than passive observation – I mean, an unspecified NFL team can’t expect to win another Super Bowl without a lot of hard work and training.
This is why, since her arrival, along with a great deal of prayer we have been investing a lot of time, effort and money into Linda’s recovery. In addition to her four operations, she receives daily physiotherapy, regular checkups with her neurologist and neurosurgeon, and a ton of stimulation from the caregivers and other girls in the home.
Two weeks ago, when Linda arrived walking and talking to her check up with the neurosurgeon overseeing her case, he exclaimed that her case “is a miracle”.
Over the past 14 years of ministering to children like Linda – boys and girls who have been orphaned, abandoned or rescued from high-risk situations, an increasing percentage of whom are living with special medical needs – we’ve learned a couple of important lessons.
First, there is no simple fix to the physical and emotional trauma a child has suffered. The past cannot be altered, and the damage done through neglect and/or aggression can’t simply be erased. It is part of the human condition, and the results of sin endure.
Second, hope always prevails. With active hope and faith, the scars that result from suffering will fade, and sorrow gives way to joy.
This Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who in anticipation of his ascension gave us this promise – a promise that we have witnessed in the life of Linda, and in the lives of the other children in the NCV family time and again:
You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy (John 16:20)
November 2019: Bolivia in the News
The Scriptures teach us to submit to our governing authorities – but what happens when those authorities are questionable in their legitimacy and we find ourselves in a nation divided along hardened lines regarding who, in fact, has legal right to the claim of “governing authority”?
And what, beneath the fog of such ideological battles, does any of this matter when you are a child who has suffered abuse and abandonment, whose voice has already been silenced twice over by family and society alike?
Bolivia tends to be missed in the news. And yet right now the streets are blockaded, racist violence has taken 4 lives in the past week, transportation is severely restricted, basic necessities are threatened, and in the midst of all this clamor, the more persistent, generational injustice of poverty and domestic violence fade into silence. Our president has resigned as a result of pressure from social movements, yet has done so with an undertone of bitterness that suggests things are far from over.
This is the current situation, and the questions being asked, by the 41 children, teens and young adults, and the 23 staff, of BelPres partner, Niños con Valor. Bolivia is in the midst of the worst civil unrest in decades, and the issues at the center of this unrest are not to be ignored, yet our kids are unable to attend school, can’t attend extra-curricular classes, and suddenly find in their internal uncertainty merging with an external uncertainty. So, how do we react?
In the end, we find ourselves coming back to the core of our ministry. Governments and leaders change, ideologies shift, public support for the marginalized ebbs and flows. What doesn’t change, however, is God’s love. So, in the midst the current political climate and unrest, we focus on family. On keeping each other safe, our spirits raised, and faith strong. Because we know that God’s call to serve and bring justice to those who are suffering, that Christ’s example of compassionate accompaniment of those society rejects, are not dependent on our surroundings.
We encourage our extended NCV family to catch up on Bolivian news, and pray for our children, for our nation and its leaders, and most of all – for peace.
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