Paulo has 8 children ranging in ages from 14 years to 6 months. Three of them walk 2 hours to school and 2 hours home. He told us that he used to live near the mines, but it wasn’t a safe place for children. He bought the land in the mountains where we visited him, and moved his family there. But he can’t grow enough in his fields to feed them all.
As we talked, his wife nursed their baby, surrounded by five of her beautiful but shy little ones (the older three were at school).
As we walked away, I couldn’t help wondering when the next baby would come.
In rural communities, we’ve seen a baffling series of contradictions about the value of children. On the one hand, their’s is a close-knit large-family culture. On the other hand, if a cow and a child are both sick, the family will usually seek care for the animal.
Rural Bolivian women believe that their role is to make babies, care for their animals, cook food, and make more babies. Their identity is wrapped up in this. They also have a real need for children to help them work their fields.
Bolivian men also see children as helpers for the farm. But the extra mouths to feed are an inexpressible strain. Almost all Bolivian children are abused sexually, physically, and verbally. If you were to take a U.S. class of 30 kids and move it to Bolivia, 27 of them will abused and 12 of those are sexually abused (both boys and girls).
Many parents just walk away. They usually go to find better work somewhere else, promising to send money home, but many never return and never send money. They just disappear.
How can you find your identity in child-bearing and then turn around and abandon your children?
It seems obvious to us that if you can’t afford to feed more children, you don’t have more children.
But it isn’t obvious to rural Bolivians.
I don’t know how to help Paulo and his wife. He is so underwater he doesn’t even know what his problems are, or how World Vision can help.
But it takes time. You can’t barge in, point your finger, and say “Stop having babies and here’s how. You can’t have sex with your spouse certain days.”
It’s far more complicated than that. You have to build trust which requires building friendships. You have to open their minds to new ideas through education. Children need to grasp a vision of their future that includes options like higher education, small business ventures, agricultural innovation, and giving back to their communities. Families need to embrace the value of children, the responsibility they have to each child, and their capacity to meet that responsibility.
World Vision does all of this in the communities within which they work. They also teach nutrition, cleanliness and sanitation, and healthy practices. They have the opportunity to teach about fertility, the reproductive cycle, and why and how to space pregnancies for the health and well-being of the mother.
Because unless they take ownership of their capacity to provide adequate care for the children they have, the cycle of poverty will only continue.
Join World Vision’s work with communities. For just $1 a day or 1/4 of a Starbucks latte, you can help break this cycle of poverty.
This post originally appeared on deepeerstory.com
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