I would like to introduce my very good friend Fernando Barbosa. He co-founded an NGO in Cochabamba, Bolivia called “Educating the Streets”, which engages and educates Bolivia’s many street children. Fernando and I met at a conference last year that was a gathering of young activists working to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals and we talked about the problem of street children, which I am familiar with because I volunteered at the Peruvian police-founded NGO in Cusco called Colobri. I am so glad that Fer is working actively on this issue in his home country, and I hope that his guest post will inspire all of you today to think about volunteering in this field. Even if you do not want to volunteer for a long time, his words about reaching out and talking to people who are obviously in difficult situations deeply resonates with me. I’ve also found that most people just want someone to take note of them. They have been rendered incompetent and insignificant by society, but they are worthy of your attention and conversation. Because they can teach you so much more than you can imagine.
Fernando’s contact information is at the bottom of this post, and I highly encourage you all to reach out to him or me with questions about or interest in Educating the Streets.
Thank you Fernando!
“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” – J.K.R.
As I am writing and as you are reading these lines, there are 800 000 children working and living in the streets…. only in Bolivia…
“You see this tree over here? I found my friend hanged from it. Those trees over there up the hill… I found my two friends… they hanged themselves as well, and over here… my buddy got stabbed to death.” I will never forget the night that a really good friend of mine shared those stories with me. After we talked, I said bye and gave him a hug. He went under the bridge where he would spend the night and I started walking down the street… I think he did not see the tears that escaped my eyes while I was walking alone that night. Life can be incredibly unfair… Why should the place, family and environment where we are born have to determine our life and future? I do not know, but I know it should not be this way. If you are born poor, you should not die poor; you should have all the opportunities to achieve your goals and dreams. Unfortunately reality is not like this… in Bolivia and in many developing countries (and in some places of “developed” countries) if you are born poor, you will have a hard life, and you will start working in the streets since you are 5 years old, maybe at a younger age. You will be exposed to many risks from drugs to violence, and in the most extreme cases, you will end up like my friend’s friends. What made those children end their lives at such a young age? I can`t tell you for sure… maybe they got tired of sleeping under a bridge every night, not having food to eat, water to drink. Maybe they got tired from the daily rejection they received from society, maybe they got tired from people calling them “drug addicts” and thieves. As I am saying, I don’t know. The only thing that I know is that those kids were the same as you and me. They had feelings, they got cold, they got hungry, they got thirsty and sleepy, probably they had dreams and goals in life to achieve… but maybe they gave up on them.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “volunteering”? Giving away some food? Going to a center to spend some time with children you do not know? Building a house? All of the above? The word volunteering can be much more powerful than we realize. For me, it means giving up our own time to spend time with others who may need just a little hand to achieve their goals and dreams. It means as JKR said it, “putting ourselves in the shoes of others, having the capacity to imagine our life as the life of others”. When we truly volunteer and go beyond the word, we have the capacity to transform realities other than ours. And do not think, I repeat, do not think that when you volunteer, you are going to be the one who will go teach something to someone, or help someone in need… when you volunteer, you will see that you are going to be the one who is learning the most, and in some cases… you will be the one who is receiving some aid. The learnings and aid I am talking about can come in different shapes. They can help you realize what are your true values and priorities in life.
Sometimes we want to volunteer and help others, but we do not know how or where to start. There are some ways: you can go to the internet and do a little research on organizations who do volunteer work. But I suggest that when you do this, do good research, since in my experience working as a volunteer and founder of an NGO, I have met many organizations that although they don’t have bad intentions, but their work is causing some harm instead of doing good.
If you live in a developing country like Bolivia, or even in some parts of “developed” countries, you must, if you still have not done it, go outside on the streets and start walking. You will find many children working and spending time on the streets. Approach some of them as a friend, and just start talking to them. You will see how nice and open they are to share their experiences and learn from yours.
Some time ago I did this; I just approached some children who were working on the street: “Hi, how are you? How is your day and work going?” After sometime the day we met, they showed me the place where their friends hanged themselves… it was up in those trees on the hill.
Volunteering plus friendship can be really powerful. Friendship itself can be really powerful. It can literally save lives.
My name is Fernando Barbosa. I am a regular 23 year old from Cochabamba, Bolivia. I co-founded “Educating the Streets – Building Society” a program that seeks to involve the entire society: students, authorities, private and non-profit sector, and especially working children. Everyone can learn from each other and we all can help each other to develop our skills and potentials as human beings, so that we become independent and are able to achieve our goals. I am just like you, like your friends and like my friends who live on the streets. Maybe one thing that differs between them and me is the place, family, and environment where I was born. I was blessed in many ways; I was born in a family that gave me love, an education, access to a good health system and the opportunity to achieve my goals and dreams… lucky no? But my friends did not get the same lottery ticket. They were born in much more difficult situations. I know they are just like me, have feelings, they get hungry, they get thirsty, they get sleepy, they have goals and dreams in life but for many of them will be very hard to achieve them. I have the capacity to think and imagine myself not only in their situation, but in the situation of many people who live in much harder conditions. Now… the question is… what should I do next? Should I just imagine myself in their situation? Should I imagine myself in their situation and pray to God they have a better life? Should I just look at children living on the streets, think how come God can be so cruel and allow for this to happen? Should I blame their parents who did not give them everything my parents gave me? Should I blame my government? Or… should I do something? Should I not only talk, but act? Should I go out there, spend time with them, offer them my friendship, talk about their problems, their likes, what they want to do in life and see if I am able to do something so I can help them achieve such goals and dreams?
I think that is up to me, up to you and up to us. You have just read this. You know that right now there are people, children and adults living on the streets who are literally dying slowly, living in poverty and desperate to get out of it. Now the question is… what should YOU do next?
Co-Founder of “Educating the Streets – Building Society”
Facebook: Fernando Barbosa PS