While visiting Santa Cruz in Bolivia, the first thing you will notice would be the young children begging and sleeping on the sides of the streets. It is very similar to the situation in cities like San Francisco or Portland, but in this case, are desperate children dreaming of a better life.
During my visit, there was one particular moment that impacted me the most. I was in the backseat of a taxi when I heard a child ask the driver for help. This moment was so eye-opening because the child looked like my son Sebastian, and just couldn’t help but image him in that unfortunate position. My immediate reaction was to roll down the taxi window while digging into my pocket for some money, but I took too long. The traffic light changed, the driver sped ahead, and I had lost my opportunity to help that little boy. At that moment, I realized I couldn't continue ignoring this situation.
Relating this emotional experience to one of my students, I explained how I had wanted to give the boy money for something to eat. My student immediately warned me that giving money is not a responsible solution since they can use it for many different things, including buying illicit substances. As a solution, my student said she prefers keeping a box of cookies in her car, so when the kids approach her vehicle, she gives them one cookie.
This intention led me to create “Cookies for Kids”, an organization committed to helping the children of Santa Cruz living on the streets. On our first mission, Michael Lozano, a talented photographer, and I spent 18 days in Santa Cruz to documenting the conditions of the children in the streets, and formulating a program to help them. Our findings were heartbreaking; The children were not only living on the streets, but also were diseased or high on drugs. Many were even the slaves of pseudo-parents who had adopted them as orphans for the purpose of begging.
Visiting local orphanages, Michael and I realized we could help the orphans in this city live better lives and encourage them pursue higher education. We think that by becoming productive citizens, the children themselves would break the poverty cycle. Local orphanages provide as much education as they can, but those efforts end at early adulthood. After that, the orphans are left again in the streets.
From our experience, we learned that the best possible alternative to help the children of Santa Cruz is to provide emotional support, educational opportunities, and resources to meet their physical necessities. Our goal evolved from simply feeding the children to providing the right conditions to pursue higher education and have a more hopeful future. To deliver on our promise, Cookies for Kids was re-launched as Orphan2Uni.
Thank you for supporting our cause and making a difference. I hope to see you at our next mission trip!
- Stephen Luscher, founder of Orphan2Uni