It’s all about the food

The Kewina drama team

We love the Bolivian culture very much, but there are some differences that are just so hard to deal with when you’re a Brit…


Last month we were asked to lead a night of drama and evangelism for 120 prison children and their mothers at Camp Kewiña. The prison system here in Bolivia is quite different from England. Whole families are expected to live inside the prison whilst the husband/father serves his sentence. The camp is an amazing opportunity for mothers and their children to get away and have some quality time together.

We had organised our team, practiced most of our dramas and we all had brand new T-shirts. All we had left to do was run through the programme and a few more practices before the event. Being typically task orientated we didn’t really understand what was coming next… Bolivians normally arrive within half an hour to an hour of the allocated time so we were very pleased to see our team arrive a few minutes early ready for our 2 hour journey into the mountains. 

Ten of us squashed ourselves into the truck and greeted the driver who had just turned 18. We were also introduced to two totally NEW members of the team who we had never met before? hmmm… 
The Bolivians were armed with bags full of food, ice creams and drinks and were up for a full on party atmosphere that was to last the whole two hours. Any notion of organising the programme literally flew out of the window with the orange peel and banana skins! I remember thinking that it’s amazing how fun and laughter so easily comes at the top of the list in Bolivia. Maybe we have a lot to learn?

We were very thankful that we had made it to the first police check point, as the driver had been compensating for the lack of front wheel tracking for the last 15km and he also seemed a bit worried that he wasn’t allowed to carry this amount of people. This became more apparent when he asked his passengers if anyone had a licence he could borrow to show the police! One licence was handed over as though this was a normal everyday request. (As there is such corruption within the police force here, many Bolivians find it easy to adopt a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality).

We arrived at Kamp Kewina in the pitch black and it was to stay that way until our presentation. Apparently there is no electricity until 7pm in these parts! Our practice session began and ended in the dark with a few cell phones as spot lights. The programme itself was scrutinised beyond belief as each team member insisted on adding another drama to the list. Dramas and skits that we had never heard of until this point and were never mentioned in any of the eight rehearsals beforehand. Trying to explain that we didn’t have time or that this was totally unprofessional was weighed against the teams enthusiasm and spontaneity. Unfortunately professionalism was lost somewhere along the way and chaos ensued! 

Dinner by candlelight was a welcome  break at this point as we filed into the dining hall to meet the happy campers. As we were chewing on the food that we couldn’t see before us, the camp leader told us that we may not have electricity at all and that we should only choose the dramas ‘without music’ to perform by torchlight. Once this was agreed in a frenzy by the team a miraculous event occurred. The lights came on and then suddenly went off again. One of the prison lads gave us a cheeky grin with one mischievous finger on the light switch… We showed him as much love as we could before escorting him to his seat at the table.


The performance was back on. Two hours of non stop drama and evangelism – nothing else could go wrong…
Apart from the leader of the camp forgetting to tell us that we were to be judges for a gladiator competition and that there would be a 20 minute movie: the evening was a great success. Seeing the amazement on the children’s faces somehow made it all worth it. Most of these young lives had never seen  drama before and were hearing about God’s love for the fist time. Bolivians have this amazing ability to pull it out of the bag at the last minute and it would seem they live to enjoy the whole chaotic journey along the way. It guess it gives them stories to tell, like I have told this one… and life is most certainly lived to the full. 

Even though at times we feel frustrated and completely out of our comfort zone as Brits, I just know we will be doing more of the same sometime very soon.

Prison Break
As we will be travelling over August the staff and inmates at COMETA decided to give us a farewell party until we meet again in September. The afternoon’s activities revolved around food yet again. We were able to provide each person with some cake, empanadas, yuca cuñapes and drinks. The young people performed  dramas and gave speeches. 

One lad thanked us for coming in every week to spend time with them. He said that they are the forgotten ones, young people that no one likes to hang out with and he thanked us for loving them. After lots of tears and hugs we were presented with hand made cards and a certificate of gratitude from the prison staff. We have been overwhelmed with their reaction to us and this was an awesome end to our first term programme.
 
The bus party… all about the food.
  

Drama face paints
      
Thanking the Lord for electicity as the crowds gather
  
Explaining the message of our dramas

  

The children frrom Casa d Amistad
   
Milenka ready for our “Superhero sketch”
  
Recent snow in the mountains, with palm trees
  
all the hand made cards we were given. and the slabs of cake they made for us.
  
Translated as, “We have you in our hearts, with lots of love from the Communidad group.” or maybe. “We will have you in our hearts”…. it is the subjunctive…. i think?

  

After our trip to the Camp we were asked to run another training course for their young leaders and volunteers. This was a great success and over 50 students came to the Camp Headquarters just in front of our house.

  

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Prison mural updates

It’s not quite time lapse photography, but we can now proudly show what we’ve been up to with the boys in CAMINO for the past few weeks. Cannot really show photos which identify them. So apologies for the lack of happy faces. Trust us when we say they were all happy to participate and were really pleased to be included. The team included the boys who had moved into the communidad section. Which means it they have shown improvements in attitude and consistent behaviour. Painting has a lovely calming effect and super opportunities to chat.

One boy, whom we have nicknamed “tough nut” but we now know is called JL, told me that in the future he wanted to teach people how to make good choices. I asked him what advice he would give to himself if he could travel back in time to talk to himself 5 years ago. What he said was; choose your friends carefully, do not follow others when you know it is wrong, study and listen to your elders. 

I guess it is the same all over the world. The challenges young people face. 

   

End of day 1

      

End of day 2
 

Using the data projector to trace the outlines

 

 

   

End of day 4
The dream team

  

End of day 5… with all those who “helped”

 

  

 The finished mural…  They are now thinking of using this space for kids to do their homework and study. At the moment they have a really dark, gloomy room. The only trouble is they don’t have any money to buy tables and chairs. 

Return to Sucre

There are times when words cannot express how you feel. You feel like your voice has just evaporated and your vocal cords have been paralysed by some strange force.

That is how we felt last week. When we saw Yolanda and Alvaro.

When we were here in 2007-2009 we spent a lot of time in a district of Sucre called Horno Casa. We painted, we cleaned, we built paths, we taught Bible stories, we helped with homework, we taught them about healthy food and basic health, we pushed our way past the piggies, served a healthy snack and bought them some books, which they proudly called their “library”.

So last week we went back to visit the project with Phil and Jan Train. Although the project has moved locations numerous times, they still provide a place for the kids to go and do their homework and study every day. Our little collection of books has grown into a bookcase full of study aids. The tables and chairs we bought have survived. They now have their own cooker to prepare a healthy snack every day. We were blown away by the sheer resilience and faithfulness of the two volunteer workers who serve this desperately poor community.

Then it was one of the double take moments… One of the young people smiled at me and in an instant we recognised her as one of the little kids we worked with in 2007. Her name is Yolanda. She has been using the education centre every day as a place where she can do her homework. She is now in the last but one year of high school, having passed every year. (Here in Bolivia you are held back a year of school if you do not pass the end of year exams… So some children can be 7 or 8 and still be in kindergarten, if they do not get the support they need.)

Yolanda then took out a photo from her backpack. It was a picture of us that she had kept from 2009 and the children’s Bible we gave to each of the kids when we left. We both had tears in our eyes as we looked at her, then read the message we’d written in the front cover, then looked at the battered and dog-eared pages of this precious book. She was so happy to see us. So proud of what she’d achieved and we were overcome with emotion. At the time, with our limited Spanish and resources, we were never sure how much of a difference we were making. But Yolanda showed us another photo of her group of friends and was beaming as she told us that one was at university, one had graduated from school, another had a job. It was amazing.

Then another teenager, came and gave us a massive bear hug. Alvaro. He told us he is still at school, wants to be an engineer, loves maths, has ambitions to be a professional footballer – maybe for Chelsea- and remembers the dramas we used to do. 

We also had the chance to see old friends at CCE church. We tried explaining that we were there on ‘holiday’ and were aiming to have a bit of a rest, but nevertheless we spoke at the church on Sunday morning, did two dramas at the church on Sunday night, led a group for university students and did two drama workshops for the youth night. Busy but fun. We also managed to see friends for our favourite Bolivian snack, saltañas, and climb onto the roof of one of the oldest churches. Don’t be fooled by the blue sky and sunshine. Sucre was pretty chilly. In fact we wore thermals the whole time. It was so nice to catch up with our dear friends Phil and Jan Train who totally spoilt us rotten with their generous hospitality and kindness.

We then had a slight change of plan and decided to go to a small town called Corocio for a few days. This is the place at the end of the famous Death road which Top Gear drove up on their Bolivia special. We have heard too many stories of people falling off the edge to cycle or travel down that one. Instead we went in a local minibus with a coca leaf chewing driver hurtling around the corners of the new multi-million dollar tarmac road. Marginally safer.. But only just. We stayed at a hostal which had individual bamboo cabins and treehouses. It was lovely. Proper bathrooms and glass in the windows to keep out the bugs. Dean decided to go all Bear Grylls and we hiked through the jungle and he started a campfire each night with just his flint… No matches allowed! The views were spectacular. But again pretty chilly. It is middle of winter here at the moment.

  With Yolanda in 2015, holding our photo from 2009 and her Bible.

 

Yolanda in 2007 with her Christmas presents.

  

Yolanda with her little sisters in 2009

  With tears in our eyes… The library can be seen in the background.

  At Horno Casa where the children do their homework every day.

  With Phil looking at the new plot of land they have bought.

 

   The friendly youth group at CCE church.

  Our lovely friends Elenir and Hugo

  

On the plaza. Shamelessly posing as tourists.

 I love the central market. My old casera was there, but didn’t recognise me.😥

   

  With Daniel Arostigi… Seriously upping of coolness for the day!

  Banny, who used to teach us Spanish, was very impressed how much we’ve improved. Or was she just being gorgeously kind as usual?

 Jan. What more can we say…. We love you!

   

   

  

  Happy wedding anniversary meal. XX

  

 A few pictures from our break in Corocio. It was cold. But the views were spectacular.

We are self funding our trip here this time. We are able to give any donations directly to the projects we work with when they identify needs. If you would like to make a donation please use the bank details below, which is specifically for this purpose.

Barclays Bank Mr D J Such. Sort Code 20-39-07. Account number 50163678

Postal address. Casilla 15. Cochabamba.  Bolivia. South America

Lights… Camera…action

Back in February we had our first meeting with the SEDEGES co-ordinator and Richard. After a bit of a slow start, due to about 100 “meetings”, we began working in the two rehabilitation centres here in Cochabamaba. As our Spanish has gradually improved we have learnt more about the system here in Bolivia. We committed to a twelve week program at both the drug rehabilitation centre and COMETA, which is like a prison, but they don’t like to call it a prison.


We had our twelfth session with the drug rehabilitation boys last week. We took some games and goodies to share, but we had an unexpected surprise. They had prepared a drama for us. They acted out a series of scenes from their lives.


Scene one… Glue sniffing on the streets, huddled around a plastic bag full of fumes, trying to keep warm. They see a woman with a mobile phone, they decide to try and rob her.

Scene two… The police catch them, throw them on the floor, roughly push them against the wall. Hit them, beat them up, kick them. Grab one and take him to the cells. The others make a run for it.

Scene three… Back to glue sniffing. Two of the social workers come and chat to them and ask them their ages. Invite them to come to the rehabilitation centre. Describe it as a place they will be safe, sleep in a bed, have enough food and can get their lives back on track. Some of the boys go with them. Some say no and stay in the streets.

Scene four… In the centre. Group sessions. Education. Drama. Games. Dances. Washing clothes. Chatting to the staff.

Scene five… One year later… The boys are walking down the street and they see the social workers. They rush up to them and give them massive hugs. Tell them that they are going to college. One has a job in a restaurant. Really thankful for all their help. 

Scene six… Turn the corner and see their old friends, still hanging around on the street, sniffing glue and trying to rob or beg for money. They try and tell them they should agree to go to the rehabilitation centre to change their lives.


Now it’s not likely to win an Oscar or anything. But it was amazing to see that they had actually practiced something. We had been trying to teach them about empathy and trying to see that their actions have consequences. We felt so proud that they could think how other people could feel and the simple past- present- future was such a success. The staff of the centre were amazed to see how the kids could express their feelings. During the twelve weeks there were times when we all felt that it was just crowd control. It was definitely on the chaos side of control. But looking back maybe something did sink in.


One boy “J” told us afterwards that his life was like the drama. He wanted to stay at the centre for as long as possible. He thanked us for giving up our time to help. He said that he’d enjoyed the drama and games. He had never done anything like that before. Then asked with a cheeky smile if we knew any agents in Hollywood!

J is likely to move up a stage soon to go to another section called Communidad. This gives him freedom to go out to college during the day and learn more life skills in preparation for life outside, including cooking, growing vegetables and a practical skill. We’ll keep you posted on his progress.

   

     

We also had the chance to help train some student volunteers who serve at camp Kewiña. We did the first of a series of drama workshops. They had tonnes of creative ideas. We loved the motorbike handlebars and the traffic accident scene!

   

   

Some of the boys at COMETA have moved up a stage to the community program. We went to see their graduation ceremony.

   

   

People say food is the international language of friendship, so we were delighted to invite some of the staff from COMETA  to our house for dinner. The banoffee pie was a great success… And the mojitos too!

   

 

Thank you to all the people who have sent us parcels this month. We had a lovely surprise of chocolate, tea bags and rhubarb and custards? Thanks DK for the malaria tablets. You are a star.

    

We had our first, but hopefully not our last, guests from the UK. Ellie and James from Hemel Hempstead came to visit.

 

It was Mother’s Day here in Bolivia this month and we did a special event for the children and their parents at Centro de Apoyo y Amistad.  Snazzy new Tshirts with our “Expresiones” logo on them.

   

The weather in Cochabamba continues to be glorious.  

   

 

Thank you to everyone for your continued thoughts and prayers. We really appreciate your support. 

If you would like to donate towards our work here in Bolivia please use the details below.

Fundraising account MR D J SUCH

Barclays  20-39-07

Account number 50163678

Our postal address is: Dean and Ruth Such

C/O Conexiones entre Mundos, Casilla 15. Cochabamba, Bolivia. South America


Inside Out…

A whole month has past since our last blog. Since then we have made more friends, performed more dramas, painted a mural, been bitten by more mosquitos and deepened our relationships in the youth prison. I can now almost get away with wearing a base ball cap and greeting people with a fist punch, even though our street language leaves a lot to be desired; the young people can tell that we love them so we tend to get away with it.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon we are greeted at the gates by a different policeman, our bags are no longer checked as they are used to seeing our faces. As the light breaks through the gates our gaze turns to the shadows as this is where the ‘newbies’ sit waiting to have their heads shaved. Many have come from the streets and have head lice, many have sores around their face from the glue sniffing and drug abuse. They glance up at us, and in the back of your mind you realise that you would think twice before approaching them on the outside, but a stretched out hand and a few kind words softens their tough exterior. You start to wonder why they have been sent here and what crimes they may have committed. But generally we don’t ask as this helps us to treat each one as an equal. We know that they need to face up to what they have done at some stage, but it’s far easier to keep the judgement to one side whilst getting to know them.

We usually spend the next 15 minutes wandering round the site. The prison has high walls and barbed wire to keep everyone in, but it’s not like any prison we have seen or even heard of in UK. Sometimes the atmosphere feels a bit like a youth camp, only the young people are more polite and better behaved here!

By now all the 80-90 inmates and staff know us quite well and as we walk we can hear the names Dino, Ruth and Ricardo being shouted from across the ‘cancha’. We are greeted with hugs, hand shakes and fist punches whilst some of the inmates try out their latest English phrases on us. “Smoke weed”, “Hello mate” and “Hello baby” seem to be their favourites. The more astute have now figured out that two of these greetings are gender specific… which is a bonus.

Once the guards realize we have arrived it’s not long before role call is in full swing in the blazing heat of the day and the young people are selected to join our session. At this point we prepare the hall and start to fully rely on the prayers we have have just said in the taxi beforehand…

The young people have responded well to the sessions, we are now about half way through. We concentrate on one theme per week for example; friendship, life choices, self control, citizenship, community, self worth. Each Bible based session focuses on one big question, a drama performance, a discussion and team games.

At first some of them just wanted to watch but now most, if not all, are fully engaged with the drama and are sharing their thoughts with the rest of the group. It can be quite tough when you feel you are making progress, then you hear that some have escaped back to the streets. Recently one of the girls that escaped a few months ago returned. She was found by the police with a gang that hangs out near the cemetery. It seems that her family don’t want to be involved. She is back with us now but is suffering the effects of glue sniffing. Slow speech and slow reactions:( It’s hard to know what to do in this situation but a hug and a few kind words brought a smile to her face. We may start seeing  her regularly on visiting days.

Ruth has commented a few times that this work is so far removed from what we have been used to. It certainly isn’t St. Albans High School for Girls! But we are amazed at were God takes us when you make yourself available to Him.

Tonight we are meeting one of the lads who has been through the rehabilitation system. He was perceived as the ‘head honcho’ when we met him in November. He was released a month ago and called my number out of the blue. It sounds like he has his life back on track, but now I guess the hard work starts… We are now trying to link him up with a church we know in Santa Cruz.

We would love to show you some images of the work but unfortunately we are not allowed to take photos in COMETA the main prison/rehab centre.

Below are some photos of other projects we have been involved with in the past month:)

If you would like to donate towards our work here in Bolivia please use the details below.
Fundraising account
Barclays  20-39-07
Account number 50163678
Thank you for your continued interest and support.

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Another exciting night of Street Drama:)

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We were asked to perform a evening of drama at Camp Kewina. 120 Young people from Emanual College. An amazing 2 day trip out in the countryside.
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Joel, Milenka, Ruthie, Karla, Daniella.
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Traveling to the camp.
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We also volunteered our services to paint Camp Kewina’s new sign.

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The finished product!
The finished product!
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Enjoying the amazing countryside at Kewina.
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Time spent at the Girls home in San Benito.
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One of our many favourites:)
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Birthday parcels! Only 2 weeks late…
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Celebrating Dean’s Birthday. 31 again!
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Thanks Daniella. Saving the Cadburys Chocolate for best!
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Nearly finished! Just the waves and the mice to paint…

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Hope not Dope…

We were asked to paint a mural at the children’s centre called “Centro de Amor y Amistad”. From the selection we gave them, Joanna and her family chose a Noah’s Ark design. We have been there a few times and it is almost finished. Probably the largest wall we have painted to date. There are about 110 children who go there every day to do their homework and have a healthy snack. Everyday we get asked 110 times by the children with huge smiles, “Estan pintando?”… Are you painting? You can see the progress in the photos below.

Our work in the Youth rehabilitation centre is building momentum. The leadership are going through a process of change and we have been invited to many more meetings (as is the Bolivian way) but the work is progressing well in the drug rehab centre (CAMINO). We have been using drama and mime as a way of teaching values and opening up discussions. This is much like a church youth group or circle time, but here the education system is so different. They have no PSHE or citizenship curriculum, so it is the first time for many of them to share their problems and listen to each other. Thankfully we have been building up a great team of Bolivian volunteers who have been coming with us… And of course our secret weapon… Richard, who seems to know everyone and shakes the hand of anyone!

So for the past five weeks we have been working at CAMINO. Apparently there are two sides to this centre. One is for young people about to re-enter society and the other for those that have just come in off the streets. By accident we reported to the wrong place! They enjoyed our sessions so much that they didn’t want us to leave, so the programme has changed! Whilst we have been working here we have found out a little more about their situations…

Glue sniffing is a huge problem here in Bolivia. Children, some as young as nine, can be seen sniffing glue on the streets, in the parks and under the bridges near the river. They do this as it suppresses their feeling of hunger, cold and the sensation is described as being drunk but causes serious brain damage. It is highly addictive and leads to other drugs which are widely available. In CAMINO they go through a withdrawal program. We go in on a Thursday afternoon (and sometimes Saturdays to teach chess). It is often hard to motivate them to participate in games and drama, but once they join in they really enjoy it. We started off with simple dramas and themes based on Biblical values and now many are sharing their thoughts and feelings. Last week we gave each one a balloon to write on. We asked them to write elements of their past that they thought controlled their lives. We were surprised that some of them not only wrote about drugs and sex but also about relationships with their families that had caused deep wounds. Each one in turn burst their balloons as a sign of leaving the past and looking ahead. It’s tough work as we need to go at a slow pace and build up trust. It was also quite sad to hear that three boys had escaped recently. These were lads that we felt were making lots of progress, but now the most likely outcome is that they are back to life on the streets:(

Also had a chance this week to design our new logo. For the work that we have called ‘Transformation’. Take a look below. We have been given permission to show photos now. 

Our Drama group at Belen every Wednesday continues to thrive and we had two presentations this month. One performance was successfully executed in the main plaza and another at Buenas Nuevas School. This was by far our biggest crowd to date with 500 students cheering us on for more. Both Dramas had a powerful impact. The first was based on the dangers of drugs and Aids and the second was based on the Easter message. It felt good to be involved in Schools work once again.

   

  

 

 

 

  

       

 

  

Drama workshops  

  

   

  

   

 

 

   

    

School drama presentation

 

  

  

 

If you would like to donate towards our work here in Bolivia please use the details below.

Fundraising account

Barclays  20-39-07

Account number 50163678

Thank you for your continued interest and support.

Rehab…. But not as we know it…

If anyone had said to us six months ago that we would be working in a youth prison, I don’t think I would have believed them. But God has a funny way of guiding us and preparing us for what He wants us to do.

Over the past few weeks we have had many meetings with the youth rehabilitation centre on the outskirts of Cochabamba. They don’t like to call it a prison, but that is what it literally is. The young people have been convicted of crimes and do not have the freedom to leave… So it is prison…. But not as we know it.

The leaders have asked for our continued help and drama sessions even to the point where they would like us to give some training to the staff.

One centre is called Camino (which means Walk or the Way). This centre is for young people that have been living on the streets and have different drug addictions, but in the main they are glue sniffers or ‘cleferos’ as they are called here in Bolivia. We have been going in once a week, using drama sketches to build their self esteem and teach values. After each session they have been really willing to chat about their feelings and reflect a little on the morals and their own experiences. It is early days, and obviously it takes time to build up a level of trust. But with our team of Bolivian volunteers we think that this is a great way to show them how much God loves them and make changes to their outlook on life.

The second centre is called San Benito. This is a half way house/young people’s home. The young girls, aged 13 to 18, that leave the prison and have no home to go to other than the street usually live here. This is quite a long journey out of town – about an hour and a bit, so we are not sure if we can go every week. But we would love to build on the relationships that we have already started here. Unfortunately, one of the girls we had known from the start has escaped from this place, we are quite sad that we may not see her again. We are praying for a chance meeting on the street.

After our meetings with the leaders we have committed to a 12 week programme with the 80 boys in the prison. Many of these young men have been involved in drug trafficking, drug use, gangs, sexual abuse, violence or rape. They all have a sentence of between three months and three years. Most of these lads have never had teaching on citizenship or community values and again we believe that using drama will help teach valuable lessons and form part of their restorative justice program. It is really challenging but we feel it is the place were we need to be.

The team:
Milenka: Loves drama, a five foot one bundle of fun.
Carla: Team member and qualified psychologist
Carla number 2: member of our drama team and physiotherapist.
Mauge: Our Spanish teacher, she will be helping with a nutrition and cooking course
Jesse: Son of the pastor and drama leader.
Daniella: Amazing worship leader and song writer/chef
Richard: Latin Link Strider. Opened all the doors into the prison for us. Basically his name is our password to enter through the gates!

Matthew 25 vs 38-40 . This is a verse which has been on our minds since we got here.
When did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Our postal address is
Ruth and Dean Such
C/o Conexiones entre mundos
Casilla 15
Cochabamba
Bolivia

Fundraising account:
Mr D Such
Barclays
Sort code 20 39 07
Account no. 50163678
(Any donations will be used to serve the different projects we are involved with).

Unfortunately we are not allowed to show any faces of the young people due to security risks.

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Every week Richard brings food for the new prisoners in the cells. Newly arrested prisoners are not fed by the staff and it is up to each family to provide food for their own. Unfortunately may come here from the street and do not have family.

 

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