Lay missioner Valerie Ellis talks about the two new ministries in which she has been invited to serve. 

I came to Bolivia with the goal of working with children, and possibly women, who are survivors or current victims of violence. Unfortunately, like in the United States, this is not hard to find.

I saved one of the first newspaper articles that I read in Cochabamba, and it contains the following startling statistics: 58.5% of survey respondents believe and 6.7% strongly believe (for a total of 65.2%) that in some cases the violence is provoked by the actions or form of dress of the woman. In contrast, 29.2% disagree, 4.2% strongly disagree (for a total of 33.4%).

In my ministry search, I was overjoyed to meet Brisa Parker, co-founder of Centro una Brisa de Esperanza (CUBE), an organization whose focus is on supporting children and adolescents who are survivors of sexual abuse. Brisa and her husband co-founded CUBE, and also founded A Breeze of Hope based out of Philadelphia in the U.S.

I was very impressed by Brisa’s energy and dedication, and humbled to learn that her search for justice stems from having been sexually abused at a very young age. Her passion and strength in supporting others were evident from our first meeting.

Children participating in a CUBE activity at a school fair. Photo by CUBE.

CUBE’s downtown center is the base for those who travel to businesses (like hospitals and police stations) and schools in the surrounding community to offer workshops on sexual abuse prevention.
There are also workshops given to the parents of those who seek the organization’s resources, and a small comedor where children may receive a free lunch. Finally, there are on-site activities like yoga, arts and crafts, and other recreational activities to help build self-esteem while offering a creative outlet for the survivors of sexual abuse.

Although the center is blessed with full-time staff members who are psychologists, lawyers, and social workers, the center also relies on volunteers to assist in offering support as

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.…”

During my first school visit, I was able to observe a full afternoon of workshops, in which employees and volunteers presented the topic of sexual abuse prevention to children ranging from 3 to 13 years old, in every single classroom.

I am currently preparing to offer presentations on sexual violence prevention to children, and will continue to volunteer in the office and community to help CUBE provide awareness and support on such an important topic.

As is the case in the U.S. as well, there are a shocking number of cases of abuse, and we are only beginning to respond to the needs of those who have been victims of this disturbing social travesty. The organization offers support to approximately 20,000 people in Bolivia each year.

Brisa also founded Comunidad Educativa Para La Vida (Community Education for Life) when she was only 14 years old, as a response to witnessing child abuse as an accepted part of the educational system in Bolivia. The school is located in Chilimarca, a small town about 20 minutes outside of Cochabamba, and over 200 students from 6 months to 8 years old attend. Children receive education through a Montessori style approach, as well as hot food, to nourish their minds and bodies. The food the children eat in the school is typically the only food they will eat all day.

I have been volunteering in a classroom with 2 to 3 year-olds, and love providing positive reinforcement to the children. Although their little lives are hard and they sometimes act out as a result, their smiles and cries of, “Hola, amiga!” when I walk in the door have already won over my heart.

I am very excited about the opportunity to volunteer with two organizations that have an interdisciplinary approach, and I especially love the fact that they are doing prevention and awareness work, as this is lacking in every experience I have had with our society’s response to violence.

I am sure that I will learn a lot, and my hope is that I can only begin to give a fraction of what I will receive.