SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – An urgent and desperate need for affordable child care in a low-income Santa Cruz community prompted eight Mennonite church congregations to open a day care.
“Now I can start my day with happiness and joy because I know my children are in a safe place,” said Yasara Yucra, who works in a restaurant and has two children in “Guarderia Samuelito” (Samuelito Day Care).
“If this day care wasn’t here, my children would be at home alone when I’m at work, or they would be on the street,” said Yucra. “It has been such a great help for me because my children are in a safe place.”
The day care, a ministry of the Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana (Bolivian Mennonite Church Conference), is supported by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) through the Global Family education sponsorship program; Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program; and MCC Bolivia.
“This day care is growing and growing and growing,” said day care director Yuneth Vargas. The day care has evolved from a dream to a church ministry that provides loving and nurturing care to 74 children from 56 families, she said. The day care also provides employment for nine people and meaningful volunteer opportunities.
The Samuelito Day Care opened in August 2006 in the Esmirna Mennonite Church with nine children. In March 2010 the day care moved into a new building that provides children and staff with a spacious kitchen, three large classrooms, offices and washrooms complete with showers.
The new building is situated on a large parcel of land the churches purchased with the long-term goal of expanding educational services to older children, said Vargas. In a few years the fruit trees planted on the large yard will provide shade and nutritious fruit for the children.
“You don’t know how happy I am – I love this place,” said Vargas. “We believe we are making a difference in the lives of many families. Some of the changes are very small, but we know that we are planting seeds of love into the hearts of children. That is the base of our work.”
These “seeds of love,” she said, include a structured program of educational and recreational activities, as well as Bible lessons, health and hygiene programs and a nutritional meal plan.
“We try to instil a love for learning,” she said, adding that she is optimistic their efforts will lessen the risks of dropping out of school.
The “seeds of love” also include support for parents. All the children, she said, live in homes where families are experiencing economic difficulties and about 65 percent are being raised by their mothers in single-parent homes.
“Every morning before the mothers drop off their children, we pray for them so that they can feel the presence of God through us,” said Vargas. “We listen a lot because all of the mothers have a lot of heaviness in their hearts.”
Women from rural areas in Bolivia, she explained, move to Santa Cruz and other larger cities to escape troubled and abusive relationships, the shame of pregnancy outside marriage and arranged, forced marriages.
When they move to cities, they live with their children in overcrowded conditions and try to provide the basic necessities through casual work such as washing clothes, cooking and housekeeping.
Individual counselling and group workshops on topics such as parenting and nutrition are made available to parents. The day care staff and volunteers also visit homes. Some of the mothers participate in women’s activities organized by the Esmirna Mennonite Church.
Yucra, a day care parent, works in a restaurant and lives with her two young children, Juan, 5, and Thiago, 3, in a room that she rents within walking distance from the day care.
She said the loving care her children receive at Samuelito influences their behavior and attitudes in the home. “I really like it because the children are learning a lot about respect and manners. They are learning to be responsible, to put away their things and listen better. They have also learned to pray before they eat.”
Another positive change is that their home is filled with love and laughter. “The children are happy, and they give me a spirit of happiness,” she said.
To learn more about MCC’s Global Family education sponsorship program and to become a sponsor, visit globalfamily.mcc.org.
Gladys Terichow is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.