MCC partners with children’s home to care for children, educate parents, By Rachel Bergen
When Rosinda Picon goes to work, she trusts the staff at Stansberry Children’s Home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to care for her children.
The children’s home, which is an Mennonite Central Committee partner, is about three miles outside of downtown Santa Cruz, a short walk for Picon in a rapidly growing city of almost 2 million people.
The home serves as a refuge for abandoned children or those seized by the state. It also runs a day care program, providing the children education and security they need while allowing their caregivers the opportunity to go to work.
Bolivia is a country of great economic disparity with large portions of the population struggling to survive on a daily basis. Many people have come from rural areas with hopes of finding work, including Picon, according to Steve Plenert, MCC representative for Bolivia.
“Bolivia has made some real strides in terms of reducing extreme poverty,” says Plenert, “however, there are still many people who are in difficult circumstances. Some of these people move to Santa Cruz where they may be quite vulnerable, particularly women.”
Picon has very few supports as she lives far away from family.
“I’ve lived in Santa Cruz for 10 years now. I was born and grew up in Sucre (several hundred miles away), but I moved here when I was 12,” she explains. “My parents still live in Sucre but they can’t support me much. I’m pretty much on my own with the three kids.”
Bolivian schools run for half days, leaving many children vulnerable while their parents are at work.
The day care provides snacks, play time and counseling to about 100 children from the children’s home and surrounding neighborhood during this time. Picon is grateful because the staff go above and beyond to assist her.
“It’s a really good place. The kids are happy here,” Picon says. Her older son, Miguel Angel, 6, attended Stansberry but is now in school. Her daughter Maria Fernanda, 4, currently attends, while baby Leonel Justin goes to work with her.
“When I had the baby, Lucy (one of the Stansberry staff members) came and visited me in the hospital. She brought me food. She’s really awesome,” Picon says, as Maria runs off to play and a staff member scoops Leonel up into a warm hug.
“We don’t have an easy life. I pay the monthly amount for them to be here, but it’s hard to make the money go far enough each month,” Picon says. “Sometimes we run out of oil and rice. I don’t really have enough money to pay for everything, but the school understands and they try to be helpful.”
Miguel, Maria and Leonel live with Picon off-site, but many children live at Stansberry.
These children often arrive after several years in other temporary children’s shelters. Stansberry is a permanent home, where children can stay until they finish school, Plenert says. The organization owns four casitas (small houses), where 10 to 14 children live, including foster parents. They eat, clean and go to church together and learn how healthy families function.
Stability is paramount in this situation. Sibling groups stay together and there is a low turnover, so children can better bond with their caregivers.
On top of their programming for children, Stansberry offers workshops for parents which focus on improving life in the home and educational opportunities for those with little formal education.
“It’s a very good organization and MCC believes in the mission of providing good care for vulnerable children. It’s a safe, loving and caring environment where the needs of the children are met. The proof is that many of them go on to live healthy and structured lives after they age out of the system,” Plenert says.
Mennonite Central Committee is an inter-Mennonite agency that provides relief development and promotes peace in the name of Christ.
Photo: Maria Fernanda Picon plays on the swings while her mother, Rosinda, holds the baby, Leonel Justin. Maria goes to Stansberry Children’s Home while Rosinda goes to work with Leonel. MCC photo/Steve Plenert
Photo: Students in the prekindergarten class attend their last week of classes at Guarderia Moisés, a day care program of MCC partner Stansberry Children’s Home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Stansberry photo/Juliane Kozel