Taxis are the way that we get around here in La Paz. I have spent most of my taxi rides with my brothers and sisters from the church in North Carolina who are now here working with HOPE (an International project started by the church) and who are helping spread the news of Jesus to the people here in multiple ways. These ways include working directly with the church and its disciples here in La Paz, with leading Bible studies/marriage classes, with working with the orphans and children who live on the streets, and...by taking taxi rides. I've gotten to know Raul, Bernandino, Gabrielo, and many other drivers during my short time here thanks to my friends who initiate conversations with these men. During many rides, we just chat about the city or how our Spanish is not great. Others involve more personal conversations about family and God. Many of the men have thanked us at the end of the ride, and even asked more about our faith. The point is to love like Jesus did so that they may come to know Him.
Orphans and street children have been supported here in La Paz by Foundation Arco Iris (Rainbow Foundation) which was founded in 1994 by a priest from Germany named Padre Jose. The main goal of the foundation is to help the children in La Paz, many of whom are homeless and who have no caregivers, left to live on the streets. Arco Iris therefore started many social projects (an orphanage for girls and boys, homes for teen mothers and their children, "pass through" houses for teens who abuse drugs and children on the streets) as well as a hospital (Hospital Arco Iris). The objectives of the hospital were first to be the "sanitary prevention and rehabilitation"
of all of these children, as well as "basic
health training" according to their website. Currenly I'm working in this hospital. It continues to serve children from the city and has traveling clinics for prisons where children must live with their parents if the parents are put into jail. There's no such thing as foster homes here (I've asked), just adoption, which occurs rarely.
The first time I went to the orphanage (called Ninas de Obrajes or Girls of the neighborhood Obrajes), I rode in - you guessed it - a taxi with other ladies from the church. We brought with us 2 big bags full of games, cards, and suckers for the girls. As we pulled up the stony, steep hill, I wondered what this orphanage would be like. We were allowed in through the gate and were met by group after group of excited girls running towards the lady from my church and her daughter who have been here for 7 months and have become like a mother and sister to these girls. They were so excited to have our time and attention. The girls range in age from 5 to 18. After 15 years of age, Arco Iris helps find jobs for the girls so that, when 18 years old, they can transition out to a job and find a place of their own. Children here go to school either in the morning OR in the afternoon with a lunch break. The older teen girls will attend school in the morning, for instance, and work in the evenings. I've made friends with 4 of the teen girls who now think I'm crazy...in a good way I think! We talk about music and food - they make jokes with me about funny Spanish words, and we all laugh together.
I've only gotten to go to Ninas (the orphanage) a couple of times so far, but these times have made a huge impact on me. I've spent much of my time with one girl who I'll call Valerie. On my first visit, she wouldn't speak, but played games with me and showed me how to make bracelets. She is new to the orphanage and says very little to anyone. She's 12 years old. The next day I returned and spent most of my time with her again. She opened up about her life, how her parents died when she was young, and she has a grandmother and aunts and uncles that she hasn't seen in over 1 year. She's unsure where they live now. She has no other family, and has been moved to this orphanage recently. I remember her face when she said, "They didn't want me".
HOPE's goal and our goal as a group of Christians here is to love kids like Valerie. We are doing our best to also love the teens who are abusing drugs, the moms who are attempting to get out of their lives of prostitution, the children of these moms, and the staff and workers who work so hard to keep these organizations running. We love them by providing their needs (food, clothes, health), by helping them find ways out of their situation by giving eduation and providing job opportunities, by being their friends and family they never had, and by telling them the truth about why this is important - because Jesus did it. They, just like everyone, need to know.
My apologies for finally sharing with you all the important things about this trip.