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Bolivian day care turns tears to laughter


Ely Masabi with children at the Guarderia Samuelito day care center in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

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November 30, 2007
- by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Through Samuelito Day Care Center, love and laughter touch the lives of many children born into desperate circumstances in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city. This ministry of Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana (Bolivian Evangelical Mennonite Church), finds much to celebrate in the midst of daily struggles to survive.

On August 31, a grand fiesta marked Samuelito’s first anniversary.

The president of the Bolivian Mennonite Church, Léonidas Saucedo, shared a message of how God uses what the world considers insignificant to create lasting change. Day care personnel and children led worship and performed traditional dances to honour a year of ministry among some of the most vulnerable citizens of Barrio La Moliendita, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Santa Cruz.

Mennonite Church Canada Witness partners with Mennonite Mission Network to support Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana – and through it, the ministry of the Samuelito Day Care Center.

Three-year old Darling and her baby brother, Hector, arrived at Samuelito in March. Because their 19-year-old mother was inexperienced, single and had little income, the children were in “a terrible state,” said Yuneth Vargas de Moreno, director of the day care center. “The baby was malnourished and the little girl was very thin. She didn’t talk at all.”

The mother had separated from the children’s father, a drug addict who was physically abusive.

Day care services permitted the mother to resume afternoon classes to complete her education. Mornings, she cleans the school she attends to provide for her family.

On this day after five months at Samuelito, Darling hugged a toy phone to her ear as she smiled and conversed brightly with an imaginary friend. Hector’s dark eyes that solemnly study his world with scientific intelligence contrast with baby cheeks so chubby they invite kisses.

Samuelito personnel are working with the Darling and Hector’s parents to help them make lifestyle changes.

“We hope our Lord will touch their hearts and that they will be able to understand the great blessing it is to have a child and the responsibility that this implies,” Vargas de Moreno said.

More than 90 percent of the children attending Samuelito live with single mothers. Even if a father plays a parental role, there is often no one at home during the day to care for children while both parents work.

The day care staff rejoices when their prayers, patience and pedagogy transform lethargic newcomers into children energetic enough to pick fights with others, demonstrating that they are discovering a self with rights worth expressing. 

Five educators and a cook – aided by volunteers – make up Vargas de Moreno’s team. The day care facility, housed in the Esmirna Mennonite Church building, and its staff are stretched to maximum capacity by the 41 children that they currently welcome five days a week.

Every Friday a wooden classroom divider must be removed and tables, cabinets, materials and mattresses stowed away to make room for Sunday’s worship. Then, early Monday morning, the lifting and carrying of furniture drains the energies of the Saumuelito teachers even before the children arrive.

The church dreams of buying land and building a more adequate structure to house Samuelito’s children.

The Bolivian government supplements staff salaries and contributes dry staples, such as, flour, sugar, rice and noodles for the children’s meals. Mennonite Central Committee’s Global Family program also helps to fund the day care centre. The children’s families pay one boliviano a day – about 13 cents.