Monday, November 24, 2014

Silent strikes and Children´s rights

Hello reader and a very warm welcome to you from the Strengthening Family’s team!  We are in our eighth week here in Bolivia and still have plenty planned with our two project partners. Our team has come to realise that development work has definite ups and downs and this week has been one of our most challenging and upsetting because of recent events in La Paz.

Week eight was due to be Strengthening Family’s Action Friday and we had planned a fair for the children and families at the children´s hospital.  An 8 month old baby boy died in the hospital where we work after severe bleeding, it is assumed due to rape.  The boy had been in the care of an orphanage.  The response by the Bolivian government was to arrest all the doctors and nurses and put them in prison without evidence or charges.  The orphanage staff are under house arrest.  Unbelievably, it has transpired that one of the doctors was a convicted paedophile.  All medical staff have been on strike for 3 days now and the children are not receiving any/enough medical care. 

On Thursday 20th November when our team tried to access the oncology ward for our usual visit we met a massive group of nurses, doctors, police and parents with sick children standing in total silence outside the A&E entrance.  The atmosphere was grim and threatening and we got far enough into the hospital to see that wards had been physically barricaded off.  One of the 30 or so police asked us to leave.  Who suffers the most here?  The children are not receiving medical care for the duration of this strike. But then again, you shouldn´t be able to arrest and imprison people with no evidence and that must stop so the legitimacy of the strike seems sound.  Our team is distraught but Bolivia has woken up to its crisis in child sex abuse and especially in its institutions like orphanages and hospitals.  A 5 year old girl died in Cochabamba in very similar circumstances in hospital after being raped by a male nurse in late October.  Bolivia has the highest incidence of violence against women and the second highest rates of rape in Latin America only after Haiti.

The children´s hospital has become a more central part of our project.  There´s so much scope for activities.  Health care is expensive and of varying quality in Bolivia There are staggering differences in survival for childhood cancers between the UK and Bolivia.  When we participated in the 12km walk it gave the team a real boost because we felt like raising money to pay for the chemotherapy was helping in a different way from when we visit to play with the children.  You can get really attached to the children and I´m really looking forward to meeting their parents for the emotional support classes we have planned.  I feel like in future cohorts the volunteers will be able to get to know the family from the start of the cohort and really make an impact.

The children at the centres where we deliver lessons engage in our lesson plans really well.  It is really challenging to cater for the abilities of 3 year olds and 5 year olds at the same time! We have 3 lessons a week and deliver one on values e.g. racial tolerance, one on physical activity, such as parachute games, and one on crafts.  We got a really excited response with our financial awareness class where the children had to budget paper money to buy Toy Story characters.  One little boy enjoyed the class so much he wouldn´t leave!

A really useful part of the ICS scheme is the Guided Learning and Action Friday activities, especially if you are interested in international Development. Our team did ours on root causes of poverty and because I had never studied anything along these lines, researching for our presentation was really interesting.  Action Fridays are my favourite though because each team organises an activity for all the UK and Bolivian volunteers.  It has involved painting murals or hacking the earth to help make a greenhouse, but there are some very unusual ones as well; for example we visited a woman´s prison and played basketball with them.  It was an evocative experience as, in a similar way to the medical staff imprisoned without charge, 70% of the woman had not been charged with anything and many had young children living in prison with them.  Again, these experiences make you consider human rights from a new perspective.  Why is something right or wrong? If a child in Bolivia has no access to chemotherapy because of late diagnosis or lack of money, is that wrong? Are the strikes of the hospital staff to this extent wrong or are they justified in arguing for better rights?

One of the big changes for cohorts coming to Bolivia is that now volunteers get paired up and stay with a host family for 3 months.  I have had bad experiences of living with host families in the past so I was quite apprehensive about it here.  It turns out to be one of the highlights of the experience and it is so well-organised.  It really pushes you to speak in Spanish and most families will do activities with you as well.  In my host family we made traditional Bolivian Christmas biscuits together and we are taking a few home for our families. 

If you are lucky enough to be coming to Bolivia with ICS our Strengthening Family’s project is seeing a lot of changes which allows a massive opportunity to shape the projects. For the next cohorts any other ideas you have for classes at the hospital could be planned and delivered in the hospital.  Despite all the ups and downs we’ve faced, I’m glad to have learned about them. Especially regarding children´s rights violations.  I am more motivated than ever to work in development, human rights and access to medicines with my Pharmacy degree.

Written by Lyndsey Hands

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