Jireh is a program that focuses on the social, physical, spiritual and emotional needs of street children and teens in the populous city of Cochabamba. The program is run by CBM’s partner in Bolivia, the Bolivian Baptist Union (UBB). Together we are working to address the challenges vulnerable youth face each day.
About half of the nearly 11 million people living in Bolivia are children and adolescents. Most live in poverty, are vulnerable, suffer abuse, and have very few rights. It is thought that about 850,000 children and adolescents work to augment their family income. They typically work as mason assistants, shine shoes, assist with tire repair, washing cars or clothes, work in bakeries, or as street vendors. A controversial law was recently passed allowing children as young as 10 years of age to work legally (according to international labour conventions the minimum age is 14 for developing nations). Children are often exploited in their work environment and they lose out on their childhood. Less than 40% of working children continue their education, some never go to school. It is estimated that thousands of adolescents live on the streets, particularly in the major cities of Bolivia. They are susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, addiction to inhalants (glue), and prostitution.
They reach out to teens that are in the work force, struggling through school and living in extreme poverty with the help of a local church (Sinai Baptist Church). Some of these kids are orphans or come from single parent families. They might have multiple siblings. The church ministers in the Cerdado Department (a suburb of Cochabamba) that has a population of nearly 2 million. This area lacks basic services such as drinking water, gas, sewage and health services. The families who live there are very poor.
How the Project Works
Staff members work within the community to identify vulnerable youth and invite them and their families to join the Jireh program. They currently provide approximately 45 youth with better nutrition, health and dental checkups, tutoring, school uniforms and learning materials, education regarding proper hygiene as well as hygiene kits, while teaching them about the Bible and offering social support as part of the program. Older youth also receive skills training to help equip them for work.
The parents of these young people are struggling to make ends meet. They often have several children to feed and it can be difficult for them to see beyond their immediate needs. Through this program they receive counselling to help them understand the value of education for their children, especially as it relates to helping them escape the cycle of poverty.
With the help of the program children and adolescents are given opportunities to just be kids. They are included in the sustainable community development activities and given a chance to improve their self-esteem while learning how much God loves and values each one of them.