St. Bernadette’s Children’s Center

November 12, 2010

St. Bernadette´s Children’s Center is a non-profit making organization, situated on a barren, poverty stricken hillside in the district of San Martin de Porres, Lima, Peru.
Our main objective is to provide a safe and caring environment for the children of the immediate area, irrespective of race and creed.

An environment where they can grow and learn to appreciate themselves and others as valuable members of society, while at the same time being able to enjoy their childhood through play and the many different activities on offer. Our hope is that when these children are parents they will be able to pass on what they have gained through their experience in the center.

The Local Reality

The district of San Martin de Porres is one of the poorest areas in Lima. Many people continue to arrive from other parts of the country seeking a fresh start with new opportunities and new hope. But as a result, the subsequent number of shanty towns throughout the area is ever on the increase, and needless to say, without a corresponding increase in opportunities for the people who arrive. It is a struggle just to survive, and in these harsh conditions it is the children who suffer the most.

As the parents have to work all day, or in some families the mother has to assume all the responsibility because of the absence of the father, the children are left alone. From a very young age they assume responsibilities at home, and spend many hours alone, or with friends in the streets, without the conditions or security for their development.
There are also children who have to work in order to support their families economically, or just to subsist themselves. They put themselves at risk as they leave their areas to sell sweets, clean cars, etc. in the busy streets of the city.

OBJECTIVES

In spite of the needs in which they live, these children have many hidden talents that they can discover and develop in the homely atmosphere that the Centre provides, and where they will feel valued as human beings, while being able to discover their potential through games, study, art, etc..

The Center benefits directly several thousand children with on average 700/800 in daily attendance. We attempt in a wholistic way, to enable the majority to find in the Center what is necessary for their personal and educational formation, and therefore, to feel that they have an important role to play in society, and in overcoming the poverty.

The children will always have the freedom of the Center to choose to do what interests them, with the only request being made of them, to respect the freedom of others.

VALUES OF THE CENTER

1. Cultural Identity.
2. Freedom with responsibility.
3. Self-esteem and respect for others.
4. Solidarity.
5. Tolerance.
6. Honesty.
7. Autonomy.
8. Participation.
9. An atmosphere of joy, familiarity and  kindness.

Activities and Workshops Offered

The Infant’s Area:

Is dedicated to attending the needs of the children between the ages of 2-5 years. It is an enclosed area from the rest of the house where they can enjoy the different games and activities of sensory, intellectual and affective stimulation through work projects carried out by the staff. A play-ground with swings and roundabouts is also provided on the patio outside.

The Games Area:

Offers the opportunity of healthy and free recreation, while promoting the development of mental and social abilities in our children. In all the areas, as in play, we promote values like honesty, self-esteem and respect for others, cultural identity, and underpinning all of these, freedom with responsibility.

The Study Area:

With more than 1000 school and reference books and five staff members always on hand to help, the children now have the possibility of completing their school work, or studying a topic of personal interest, and even preparing themselves for entrance to university. We also have a reading room to promote the habit of reading.

The Computer Area:

This offers a space for the children to learn and develop new skills in information technology, which are so important in our times. Our support in this area is essential because the poverty is such that these children have no other access to this type of learning.

Arts and Crafts:

Here the children develop their manual and creative abilities using different materials, as well as recycling waste materials. Besides this they learn how to work in groups and value the organization necessary to accomplish proposed work projects.

The Artistic Area:

To develop artistic talents a favorable atmosphere in required. The children and adolescents find in the Centre the opportunity to discover and develop their artistic abilities, whether in music, folkloric or modern dance, drawing and painting, drama, puppets and other expressions of the arts. The different groups of music, dance, etc. can present their achievements to all within the Centre through organized festivals, as well as outside in the greater community.

SERVICES

The Psychological Service

This is dedicated to becoming aware of the personal, social and family characteristics of the children, the detection and treatment of emotional and learning problems, and through workshops, the personal development of the children. The workshops are proposed by the children, as well as being suggested by the staff, and develop themes like, values, rights of the child, sexuality, self-esteem, friendship etc. The service also provides the parents support through individual consultations, personal counseling and directing workshops in the community.

The Assemblies of the Children

To learn to live in freedom with responsibility supposes having an experience of participation, of listening and being listened to. Because of this we have assemblies where our children and adolescents can offer their opinions and make decisions about the workshops and activities of the Centre, to propose norms and to evaluate them, that is, to learn to be citizens from their own experience.

In the case of the children, the assembly takes the form of a party, where they can talk about what they like to do and revise what they have already done. For the adolescents the assembly has the characteristic of a more formal meeting, but friendly, where they can propose, critique and evaluate what happens in the Centre.

This year the adolescents have elected four representatives who are the spokespersons for everyone. As part of the annual objectives, it is expected that these assemblies will be the responsibility of the representatives, with the staff there to help. The representative team develops its work plan for the year in conjunction with the staff.

Festivals and Exhibition days

These are central activities for our institution so as to give the opportunity to show the development in the various workshops, to put into practice the values of the institution, and finally to evaluate the development of the Centre. This year the theme of the festival is “Cultural Identity”. There will also be an exhibition day to display the work of the children and adolescents.

Service of Holistic Health

As part of our daily activities, we are attentive to the needs and difficulties of our children as they arise. For this reason, we supplement their nutritional intake with the help of the “Glass of Milk” programme which all the children receive at the end of each day. In addition, if we detect any sicknesses, or if there are any accidents, the institution makes the necessary contact with the nearby medical centre.

Training Workshops for Parents

Our main focus of attention is that of the children and adolescents, but considering that they come from families of high risk in the social, educative and economic areas, we decided to work more closely with the parents, through integrated workshops and training sessions. The method used in these sessions is dynamic and active, and the objective is to motivate these groups to a commitment to the education and formation of their children, in the various problems of the community, and above all, to form links of mutual support amongst the parents.

TEAM

Strengths and Social Impact

In 7 years of work we believe our strengths are in the social commitment present in each of our staff and in the presence and assistance of the children and adolescents who continually demonstrate their confidence in our staff. We consider that that this project actually has a great and significant social impact on this community, as well as strengthening family union, and it gives the possibility that these children and adolescents will be the future citizens with strong and conscientious values. In the long term, our institution could become a model for other similar projects, and indeed, effect positive change in the educational system.

We also have the recent departing of some of our young people now going to university.

Formation and Planning

As already stated, our strengths consist in the social commitment present in our staff which is made up of young people who are mainly from the local area, and whose strong social conscience motivates them to work with dedication. Nevertheless, enthusiasm is not enough, so it is very important that we have formation courses for our staff.

Each year we begin the work with such a course that lasts one week which includes themes such as, the human rights of the child, characteristics in the different stages of human development, techniques in organizing groups, and the planning, elaboration realizing and evaluation of the projects etc. Besides this, during the year we have two other smaller courses and a final evaluation of the year. In this way the experience of the center ensures that we all continue learning.

Hopes and Forecasts

St. Bernadette´s Children´s Centre, as an informal space for personal development and education, that promotes freedom for the child to choose, and to live harmoniously and democratically through learning from their own experience by participating in such a reality, constitutes a unique model that can support and influence other educational experiences, as much inside as outside the formal school setting.

We hope to expand our service to include a greater number of children and adolescents, to continue serving the human needs of these young people, and the local community, and to advance our project according to our reality and possibilities.