The first year of an urban after-school project in El Alto, Bolivia, is getting high marks from parents for how it is transforming their children’s lives.
Juan Carlos, 12, is essentially the man of his house, at least for long periods of time when his father is away, living in the Bolivian jungle where he can find agricultural work.
That leaves Juan Carlos’ mother Maria to eke out a living selling fruit at a street market in El Alto, a mountaintop community overlooking the metropolitan valley of La Paz, Bolivia. There is a lot of activity in the market, but there also is a lot of competition for buyers’ attention among row upon row of carts filled with produce.
Maria never finished school or learned how to read. She hopes that Juan Carlos and his two sisters, ages 5 and 6, will have more educational opportunities than she did.
But earlier this year, Juan Carlos’ academic future didn’t look so bright. He already has had to repeat a year of school because he had been absent too many times from class. Sometimes, he didn’t go to school in order to help his mother at the market. Other times, his mother thought he was in school when instead he had stayed at home.
And, with failing grades this year, he was at risk of having to repeat yet another school year.
Hungering for More
When Juan Carlos began attending Sinai Church’s new after-school program in El Alto, it didn’t take long for the program administrator and his mother to figure out that he had missed more days of school than she had thought.
“I don’t want you to have to repeat another year of school,” church administrator Patricia told Juan Carlos. “We’re here to help you.”
Juan Carlos would always be the first one at the church after school. At first, Patricia thought he was able to make it there before the other kids because he hadn’t attended school. Then, she realized he was eager to be there because he was hungry.
Since Samaritan’s Purse had outfitted all three churches participating in the urban after-school pilot project with ovens and other kitchen equipment, church volunteers prepare a meal to serve the children when they arrive for the after-school program.
Better able to concentrate on a full stomach, Juan Carlos began to pay more attention during Sinai Church’s tutoring sessions. But he often showed up without any homework of his own.
“He was always coming up with excuses about why he didn’t have any homework,” said his tutor, Jordano, a 27-year-old member of Sinai Church. Jordano, a university graduate in industrial engineering, volunteers at the after-school program there several times a week after spending the day as a private school teacher.
“When he would say he didn’t have any homework, I’d ask to see his notebooks,” Jordano said. “Kids from his class in school were being tutored at the church, too, so it made it harder for him to contend that their teacher hadn’t given them any homework.
“I stayed with him to do homework after the other children had finished and were playing soccer,” Jordano said. “He didn’t like sitting by himself and not being part of the fun, so he got better at doing his homework.”
Help Beyond Tutoring
Juan Carlos knows that if he doesn’t do his homework well the first time, Jordano will prompt him to go back over it. Only then can he play soccer.
“Jordano has helped me with my homework and then plays soccer with me,” Juan Carlos said.
The one-on-one guidance from his tutor has made a difference in Juan Carlos’ demeanor as well as his grades.
“His grades weren’t very good. Now, he’s passing all of his classes,” said his mother, Maria. “Before, he didn’t do any of his homework. I thought he was lazy. Now, he does his homework, sometimes staying up past midnight to do it.
“I’m proud of him. I didn’t know how to help him,” Maria said. “They’ve taught me how to help him.”
Church administrator Patricia and Samaritan’s Purse ministry technician Marcelo Lazo meet with the children’s parents on a regular basis.
“It’s an opportunity to talk with the parents about how their child is doing and also an opportunity to talk with the parents about God,” Marcelo said.
Patricia talks with the parents about how to foster healthier, happier homes.
“Older children sometimes struggle to have time for their own schoolwork as they have chores to do at home, cooking and cleaning, helping their younger siblings with their homework, so they don’t have time for their own,” Patricia said. She tries to help the parents find a balance so that all of their children’s basic needs are met.
“I think what Juan Carlos feels now is that he’s important,” Patricia said, “that he is important to us and he is important to God.”
A Step of Faith
In addition to helping Juan Carlos with his math homework, Jordano teaches him about the Bible. The after-school program includes lessons on biblical values.
“They ask me questions like, ‘Who do you think Jesus is?’ Jordano says about his students. “Many of these families don’t know Jesus. I truly worry about them and have a desire for them to know Jesus. What I want them to know is that God created them and has a purpose for them.”
Juan Carlos used to go to church but didn’t understand who God is. Then, Juan Carlos began to ask questions about Jesus during the Bible lessons.
During a follow-up conversation with Marcelo, Juan Carlos made a profession of faith in Jesus.
“I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus as my Savior,” Juan Carlos told him. “I would like to come to church on Sundays but can’t because I have to help my mom at the market.”
Pray for wisdom for Marcelo, Patricia, and Jordano as they disciple Juan Carlos and talk with Maria about the importance of being a part of the family of God.