Who says gladly: I live in prison

In Cochabamba, when a woman is sent to prison because of smuggling or involvement in the mini-trade of drugs and she does not get any aid to raise her children (e.g. grandparents, relatives or siblings), she has no choice except for taking them to prison with her. She must pay for a small cell for herself and her children as well as food, clothes and medicine…everything that is urgently needed. Every woman “finds” some sort of work such as cooking, baking, and producing something for the other inmates or as caretaker or having her older children sell on the streets. They do laundry for the guards and clothes are mended or manufactured and sold. In a carpenter’s workshop, tables, chairs, beds for children and dog stables are produced and sold at the entrance of the prison… all of these activities are ways to secure an income. The children neither have a place to play nor do they have access to education.

Since 1996 there is a project that is sustained by the state but it still needs financial support of different organizations. A bus picks up children (the current count is 138) from three prisons. The little ones (1-6 years) are taken to a house that is a kindergarten. The older ones are taken to school. The organization rents two houses; in one house a complete floor with three rooms, a laundry room, and a courtyard with toys is rented for the little ones who are kept there until they are old enough to go to school. They learn the importance of washing their hands, brushing their teeth etc., as the prison has poor sanitary conditions. In the kindergarten, the little ones learn the alphabet and numbers and to read. They also learn songs and to play. The older ones are taken to the second house. Here, there is a big kitchen with an oven so bread is baked daily. The children eat here in one of the main rooms.

There is also a library and rooms to do homework with the help of the staff. The children also learn handicrafts such as ceramic. Some children learn martial arts such as judo and have even won medals.

Close by there is a field to play football and three years ago the older adolescents formed a band. With their work in their free time, they have been able to buy instruments. They play in some parts of the city earning some extra money.

In the afternoon, children of the surrounding slums may also join in; they also get help and support when doing homework. In the evening, all of the children are boarded on the bus and are taken back to the prisons.

Veronica Bustillos, the director of the project, says, “We want the children to develop feelings of worth and awareness that they are like the other people, that they can learn and discover and develop their talents and abilities and that they do not have to end up in prison.”.

In 2009 there was a financial gap of around 16% of the whole budget. Thus the continuation of the project was seriously in danger. Our support for the next five years secures the continuation of the project. In 2012, we supported four youths, who are accompanied by CAICC, to finish high school. They have also applied to the university. This is certainly a great achievement.