There is a huge space away from the hustle and bustle of the city that is home to an institution housing hundreds of boy and girl orphans and children in care. This long journey began in 1966 thanks to father Berta, who was in Bolivia on a mission under the mandate of Don Bepo Vavassori, the founder of the San Vincenzo Patronage in Cochabamba, which has been welcoming children in difficult social or family situations ever since its inception.
The Bergamo institution is committed to offering a welcoming living space for minors, which is structured on a family model, in order to provide an essential and affectionate support system where they can grow and regain control of their own lives.
It is worlds apart from what we know. Everyone smiles and there’s such happy co-existence among the many children living there, all of whom need love and affection. They come up to you, they ask you what your name is, they’re curious and want to know everything about you, usually growing fond of you in no time at all.
They live within a village where they each have a role. There are those who wash up the dishes, do the laundry, clean the house, look after the vegetable garden and take care of the sewing. They are all involved in the home. The whole community is managed and organised by director Flavio, who constantly looks to manage the area as well as he can with the help of a group of nuns who are always busy helping the various teachers and educators. There are a dozen houses, each of which is home to an educator who carries out the role of mother for around 100 children.
Only if you are in that small world can you truly understand it.
Along with Esterel, the coordinator of the institute, we went to visit one of the family homes to hear stories from seven children living there. They are all brothers and sisters, which is the aim in line with the bid to keep them united. There had been ten of them, but three were transferred to another centre for teenagers to get ready for autonomous reintegration into society.
The village is located on the edge of the city near the Andes mountain range, having been built 60 years ago by father Berta. There are schools (nursery, primary, secondary and a vocational school), a church, laboratories, land for growing vegetables, covered basketball courts and a big football pitch made of dirt that our partner, the Fundacion Casari, almost made flat by getting rid of the incline.
Some of the educating mothers, and there is one per housing unit, confirm that school comes before everything else, which is an opinion that we’ve always shared! Inter Campus provides an incentive for studying and a whole range of mental and physical benefits.
At the end of training on the dirt pitches this week, which is led by our coach Gabriele Raspelli and a group of local coaches, the Fundacion Casari, our local long-standing partner in Bolivia, alongside the educating mothers and parents of children from the local area, have organised a bumper party for everyone.
So many of the children have been asking, “You’ll be back, right?” “When will you be back?”
All we can say at this stage is “hasta pronto, Bolivia”!