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A New Family for Hector

When 5-year-old Hector first arrived at Mano Amiga (“Helping Hand”) -- a Salesian-run home for orphaned, abandoned, and runaway youth in Santa Cruz, Bolivia -- he was truly alone.

“He had no apparent relatives, no records of his past, nothing,” says Ms. Lenny Perez, Mano Amiga coordinator. “And he was so traumatized by his experiences living on the streets, and in and out of shelters, that he was unwilling or unable to talk. We weren’t sure we would ever get through to him.”

Working closely with other local social service agencies, Mano Amiga offers shelter for up to 80 children at a time, ages 5-16. In addition to nutritious meals, warm clothes, and a safe place to sleep, the program provides psychological assistance, medical attention, and the love and patience children need to develop trust and confidence.

And -- as Hector proves -- this love and patience pays off.

“It took more than a year, but Hector eventually began to talk, and open up to us and the other children in the shelter,” Ms. Perez says. “He began to see us as the family he never had.”

Once children have adequately recovered from their emotional traumas, staff at Mano Amiga steer them into a regular routine that includes going to school and participating in sports and other activities, often at another Salesian-run program in the greater Santa Cruz area. Granja Moglia -- a working farm located 50 kilometers outside the city -- is one such program. Here, 30 children under the age of 16 live and learn in a real-world, therapeutic setting intended to offer respite from the stresses of city life. After completing a year-long stay at the farm, participants return to Mano Amiga -- where staff work to find them permanent, loving homes.

Now ten years old and still quite shy, Hector has begun his year at Granja Moglia. He goes to school; loves working with the cows, chickens, and other animals; shares meals with newfound friends; and particularly enjoys reading books before bedtime.

And -- as a visitor recently observed -- Hector prays for kids still living on the streets, so that they may also experience the loving and caring home he is now so blessed with.

“I Want a New Life”

Fernando had been living on the streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia for so long that he couldn’t recall the first night he spent there.

At just 16 years old, he has experienced countless long, cold nights sleeping on top of cardboard boxes on the sidewalk -- and countess long, “ugly” days washing the windshields of cars alongside other homeless youth.

“We needed the money to eat,” he says. “And it was hard, because most people don’t appreciate us.”

Like many of his friends, Fernando comes from poverty. Abandoned by his mother as a baby, and having little contact with his father, he initially sought the streets as relief from the challenging conditions in which his aunt tried hard to raise him. Over time, he learned to relish the independence such a life offered -- but that independence came with a price: alcohol, drugs, gang violence, and worse. In fact, it’s the experiences he’s unwilling to share -- events so traumatic that he won’t even talk about them -- that motivated Fernando to seek help at Techo Pinardi.

“I want to have a new life,” he says. “I would like to be able to get a job and improve my chances for a better future.”

Techo Pinardi (“The Roof”) is a Salesian shelter that accommodates as many as 70 homeless girls and boys each night. Children are allowed to enter once the doors open at 6:00pm and, after surrendering their personal effects for safekeeping, they receive a warm meal and a bed to sleep in. They can also wash their clothes, take a shower, and participate in soccer, games, and other social activities. In the morning, if they so choose, they are free to return to the streets.

“There is a reason for this,” says Father Octavio, a Salesian missionary who has been involved with the shelter for 25 years. “We do not force youth to enter a full-time program; they must be ready and willing to make their own choice. And by allowing them this freedom, we foster trust and self-motivation.”

Now that Fernando has made his own choice, he hopes to follow in the footsteps of a former Techo Pinardi participant named Freddy. After many years on and off the streets,
Freddy -- with the help of staff and educators at the shelter -- returned to school and successfully entered a local public university, where he is completing his third year. He also holds a full-time job at the Salesian-run Barrio Juvenil (“Youth District”), teaching other homeless youth the skills they need to build a brighter future.

“I want to be successful like that,” says Fernando. “That is my dream.”

Thanks to the support of our many generous friends, Fernando now has a very real chance of fulfilling it.

News & Updates

A New Family for Hector

When 5-year-old Hector first arrived at Mano Amiga (“Helping Hand”), he was truly alone.

Read More »

“I Want a New Life”

Fernando had been living on the streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia for so long that he couldn’t recall the first night he spent there.

Read More »

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Every day in Bolivia, thousands of children are struggling to survive on the streets. They have no homes to speak of—no one to love them, feed them, or protect for them. But thanks to the Salesians, they do have hope.

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Every day in #Bolivia children struggle to survive on the streets. But thanks to the #Salesians, there is hope