Though Cochabamba is known as one of Bolivia’s most economically and socially progressive cities, it is in stark contrast to the communities on the outskirts who live in extreme poverty. The real danger here is for the children, who once they drop out of school in order to work begin a process of “streetification” where they face a huge number of risks. Typically these children between the ages of 10-16 encounter abuse, exploitation and violence all of which is numbed by sniffing glue. In the last few years over 90 of these children have died in Cochabamba alone.
Over the past five years, the Christian Brothers have been working with the street children in Cochabamba. The main challenge is to guide these children away from a life of crime, drug abuse and prostitution. Br. Eddie McArdle, who coordinates the project, leads a team of qualified teachers, psychologists, social workers and various volunteers from the community from their hub at the Centro Hermano Manolo in Cochabamba where there is also a drop-in centre for the kids open throughout the day. The Christian Brothers’ commitment to advocacy and social justice in the region has been a key factor in developing relationships based on trust and confidence with the children.
Most recently the Brothers have begun a support group for a collection of “shoeshine boys” who all work in the neighbourhood of La Cancha – an immense and somewhat precarious shopping centre with hundreds of stalls. The aim here, as with the other programmes around the city, is to lend support where they can: whether it be in the form of an organised soccer match, a hot meal, or even, a reunion with family or a return to education.