From silence to expression…
Among the poor in Bolivia, there are no appropriate structures for early childhood… Of course there are kindergartens, but they are mainly reserved for a wealthy segment of the population.
When the children arrive from the mines or from the most remote countryside of this country, they are practically mute… Perched on their mother’s back, the little ones accompany her up the steep slopes of the mine to look for the precious metal, silver or tin. The life expectancy of these mothers is 44 years and for the men only 35 years.
The daily challenge is to be able to eat. The great hope is that one day they will be able to study. Often, these children have neither birth nor baptismal certificates… so they have no identity, no name. They are called “wawa” (baby in Quechua) and it is only at the first haircut ceremony, when they are one or two years old, that they receive a name.
Generally these children are silent, reserved, shy, introverted and fearful… not surprising when you know that 83% of children in Bolivia are victims of abuse. When a hand is extended for a caress, the child withdraws its head for fear of being hit.
The main objective of Voix Libres is to fight against child labour, and it is not uncommon for us to have drawn children under the age of 6 from the worst working conditions in the mines. Little Tanita was only three years old when she gave her hand to her brothers to go down the mine and not stay alone in their burrow on the mountain. In this room, seven of them slept on the same piece of rock. In one corner of the room, the alcoholic father was paralysed after a mine accident and silicosis gave him a black and livid complexion.
authors and directors of their kindergartens
In all our education projects, we are careful to set up a kindergarten for the overall development of the youngest children and to train the mothers in real pedagogy. The main task is to make the mothers aware of the education of the youngest children and to ensure that they themselves are the creators of the structure. For example, in Cochabamba, we have a day care centre with about twenty children and two managers, as well as a psychologist (who has himself lived through poverty and is doing a thesis on resilience), but it is the mothers, organised on a rota basis, who look after the children, as well as the daily meals with the support of a nutritionist.
The task is enormous when we know that girls and women have experienced even more violence than boys. Often sexual abuse has blocked the love of young women. Our examples of warm communication and group meetings to express all their overwhelming emotions of humiliation and injustice are very important to be able to establish a new relationship with their baby and also with their inner child.
What a stupefaction we had at the beginning of this pilot kindergarten… imagine that out of the thirty women in our quinoa, muesli, energy bars, sewing and weaving businesses, none of them wanted to take care of the children, so much this world of early childhood brings back too many bad memories…
After a lifetime of violence, our pedagogy of love consists of opening discussion groups between women with training in non-violent communication and self-defence. This is an essential phase for building trust and avoiding repeating the vicious circle of violence.
Thanks to all the therapies we provide, the women relive their childhood and can open up and gradually express themselves.
Women who have worked in the mines, in the rubbish and on the streets are traumatized to the highest degree. There is no need to think about training them before helping them to get rid of the panic fears they have experienced. Often they have almost lost the ability to speak, to reach out to others. Artistic expression is the first essential step to rehabilitate the most suffering families.
Freeing oneself from past traumas prepares the space to be gradually available to receive teaching, training and recover one’s true cultural roots.
Singing workshop: each Voix Libres project begins with traditional music and singing workshops to free one’s voice… to express one’s deepest identity, to develop one’s creative potential and to leave despair behind and joyfully connect with all
Making traditional instruments (pan flutes and drums)
Folklore group of traditional music and dance
Painting workshop. Ten years ago, most of the children who worked in the mines of Cerro Rico drew everything in black. Today, thanks to free painting and mandalas, colours fill their sheets.
Water therapy or Watsu: the children’s bodies are stiff and tetanised with fear. We take them to thermal pools to practice watsu. It is a work of movement and abandonment in the water to leave the bad memories at the bottom of the pool…
Alternative education and therapies adapted to their traumas… everything to reach the autonomy of the child by respecting the differences of nature and character of each one to allow him to become aware of his talents and those of the others.
Early childhood education for children and their mothers
Allow the child and mother to discover their infinite possibilities through artistic expression (painting, singing, music, traditional dance, etc.).
To put into practice the values of the heart (compassion, intuition, globality, vision)… an integral education that prepares true leaders whose primary charisma is the solidarity generated by adversity.
To develop a bilingual education in Spanish and Quechua that ensures the transmission of traditional indigenous sacred values, while preparing children to be open to the abundance of a modern economy of solidarity.
The example of Alberto :
Alberto suffered in the mines of Potosi. He was born in the rocks, with a mother who died in childbirth and a father who was himself injured in the mines.
When Alberto was taken out of the mine, his father came to the clinic with him. His half prosthetic leg was removed, a stench was emitted and his stump was half rotten.
Alberto got away with it through humour. His mischievous side developed and he would talk about the worst and make us laugh. One day, we were doing singing exercises to throw their overflow of suffering into the universe. He then proclaimed: “My mummy is dead!”, and the others did the same, all expurgating their pain together…
Today, he is a leader in our orphanage and is very active in our traditional musical instrument band. He plays the guitar well and his dream is to go to agricultural school to look after the Walipinas, a semi-subterranean greenhouse at an altitude of 4,000 metres, which produces four harvests a year with 80% water savings.
José lived in the rubbish with his family. His father died of alcoholism in a cardboard shack. He and his brothers and sisters were subjected to all kinds of violence. It has to be said that rubbish recyclers are born in rubbish and feed on rubbish. Two of his little brothers died. The first was contaminated by his mother’s milk, which was green. The second fell on his head from a rock above the rubbish.
Recently, I asked José to explain to all the orphans in the Potosi refectory all that he had learned:
– “I learned agriculture, I grew quinoa in the Salar de Uyuni. There I learned to drive a tractor and then I came to Potosi to work as an educator for orphans. I slept with them, I was like a little father.
I trained as a carpenter to help out. And now I know how to polish and varnish tables and chairs for the educational reform. Today, with Edwin and a dozen young people, I am responsible for the bakery, where we make 5,000 loaves of bread a day. I am proud to have made 1,000 pies with all the Voix Libres scholarship holders on Father’s Day… I don’t have any more.”
– When I asked him: “How long did it take you to learn all this?”
– He replied: “In two years”.
Like our own children…
If you only knew how much these two children were loved, cradled, listened to and accepted as our own children.
One evening we lost Vidal, a beaten child who lived very happily for several years in our hostel. His favourite thing to do was to make little toys, dinettes and frying pans in the wrought iron workshop. One day he disappeared. He was back on the street. At two o’clock in the morning, I was looking for him near the cemetery with Alberto, the general coordinator, and we asked all the children on the street if they had seen Vidal. One kid said to him:
– “Is that your son Vidal?” And he answered:
– “No, but he’s a child I look after and I love him very much.”
– And then he stopped the car and said: “But he’s my son!
And he’s mine too, he’s ours!”
The great misery digs into this universal kinship, sometimes even stronger than blood ties. This is how thousands of children have become resilient over the past fifteen years at Voix libres. They have felt loved in their beauty as well as in their relapses and accepted in their entirety.
It all comes together after six years
It is weak to say that these children are originally in a state of deep depression. It would be more accurate to speak of acute trauma for those who were contaminated in the rubbish, who risked freezing to death in the streets and who, in fear, went down to the bottom of the mines to work in inhuman conditions. Like last-stage victims, in a state of despair and complete fatalism, they no longer even complain. They are no longer able to imagine a different life…
Our modern culture has taught us that everything happens before the age of six… for all these abused children, we might tend to think that they are damaged for life, in order to consolidate our idea that our little beings are fragile, impressionable, and that they must be protected from any suffering… and that if they are victims of misfortune, they must absolutely be looked after, treated… saved.
Our pedagogical experience with the most suffering children in Bolivia shows us that everything can also happen after the age of six, otherwise how would we have today 250 young and ardent leaders who were mistreated, beaten, physically and psychologically violated in their early childhood…
How can they be joyful, balanced and above all full of love for others? Who better than the young people of the mine to make a diagnosis of the high-risk areas, the number of children working there, the detection of alcoholism and diseases?
Definition: In metalworkers’ terms, resilience refers to the ability of a metal to withstand shocks and twists to retain its original form.
Suffering has shaped the character of children. They have learned to endure hardship, sometimes even to appreciate it, because by overcoming it they prove to themselves and to the world a value they would never have imagined… of course, there are all those who die in the mines, there are those who will never be resilient because they will die before their time in the mines or from the cold in the streets at 4,000 metres in La Paz. We all have a different breaking point… but the work of Voix Libres is to give everyone the chance to become a resilient, to develop their talents to the fullest and to commit themselves to others, passing on the benefits to others.
– “Yes, I almost died as a blaster in the galleries 1 km underground, but today my greatest joy is to give the children of the mines the same chance to go to school”… Gustavo was one of these child-maupe, he has now become a child-star.
Voix Libres… a crucible of resilience
Community resilience is the ability to develop extraordinary talents together, despite or because of extreme poverty.
It is the amazing strength of the blade of grass that crosses the asphalt of the road…
It is the new resilience that comes from stress and pain…
It is the transformation of exploitation and violence into happiness…
It is the right to leave the secrecy of the most atrocious pains by sharing one’s word with others… since they too have experienced such an ordeal in isolation… It is an inner rooting to develop results multiplied in number of beneficiaries, but above all in intensity of presence and in boundless energy…
This is how the heart opens up and allows compassion and the listening that heals to emerge…
Resilience is this mysteriously powerful potential, which transforms the poorest of Bolivia into visionary creators of a new world.
Voix Libres est une association internationale humanitaire, politiquement et confessionnellement neutre, fondée en 1993 par Marianne Sébastien. Elle est soutenue par la Ville et le Canton de Genève.
Voix Libres travaille en Bolivie avec les enfants des mines, des ordures, des prisons, des rues et des campagnes. Une pédagogie de multiplication où chaque personne sauvée doit en sauver une dizaine : au départ, 12 enfants dans les mines… Aujourd’hui, en 15 ans, 500 000 bénéficiaires…
Une association where children become authors and directors of their projects a once they have been to school and graduated. … the majority of the coordinators are the children from the beginning, which guarantees a solidary and lasting commitment.
A transparent association: 100% of donations, sponsorships and micro-loans are allocated to the financing of projects in Bolivia. Operating costs in Europe are covered by sponsors and membership fees.