Whilst in Bolivia I spent some time photographing with Kaya Children International, a charity dedicated to rescuing and protecting the street children of La Paz. The charity also supports parents struggling to cope with the demand of providing for their families.
On my first visit I spent the day at their main centre in Zona Sur, the southern end of the city. Children in La Paz usually attend school for half of the day, either the morning from 8.30 until 12.30 or the afternoon from around 2.30 until 6.30. Often this schedule is due to the limited capacity of the city’s schools. When the Kaya Children aren’t in school they are at the charity’s main centre. Here they complete homework set by their school teachers or are given extra exercises by the Kaya teachers.
At lunch time, the two groups collide and the Kaya kitchen is busy serving the food they have been preparing all morning. After a 2 course meal, a game of football and catch up with friends, the morning children head off to school whilst the afternoon group settle down in the Kaya classrooms to do their homework.
After being given the grand tour of the centre by long term volunteer Katie, I was free to roam from class to class and work as I wished. In every classroom I entered I was greeted by a sea of grinning faces, all eager to show me their exercise books and be photographed with friends.
The camera was a definite hit and was passed around the class for close inspection. The most confident and curious children threw questions at me ‘Whats your name? Where are you from? Whats this button do?’. I tried my best to answer in hopelessly broken Spanish but soon found myself reverting back to what seemed to be my catchphrase during my first month in Bolivia: ‘Yo no hablo espanol’. One young girl looked at me, tilted her head and signalled for me to hang on. She began rummaging in a draw and pulled out Spanish vocabulary cards. She took me through each, not stopping until I had them mastered. A future Kaya teacher in the making perhaps?
On the surface this may seem like any other homework club, but dig a little deeper and it’s clear to see that this is more than a hot meal and a few extra classes a day. Many of these innocent children have faced tremendous challenges and obstacles already in their short lives. To give you an very basic idea of what a Kaya child may have experienced, I have taken a few statistics from the charity’s website:
- 90% of Kaya Children have experienced abuse in the past.
- 89% have used drugs on the streets.
- 8 years old is the average age that a child begins living on the streets.
- An average Kaya family live on less than £1.80 a day ($3)
These vulnerable children are given the opportunity to flourish, grow and mature in a safe, caring and loving environment with Kaya International. Spending a day in the centre was an eye opening experience. Throughout the day I met many children whose formative years have been shaped by life on the streets, poverty and abuse. Children who have faced challenges, dangers and struggles I will most likely never experience. Perhaps most significantly of all though, I met dignified, intelligent and truly mischievous children who, despite an often difficult start to life, are playful and cheeky. Just as you’d expect any child to be.
Kaya’s constant support and unwavering dedication means that these resilient children are offered stability and hope for a better future.
Following this introductory post I will be delving deeper into Kaya’s work, looking at their residential programme, family reunification work and social service home support visits, I urge you to take a look at their website, read about their objectives and perhaps make a small donation. For now, here are a few portraits taken in the Kaya Centre.