Building a More Empathetic and Supportive Society
Martha Calizaya Mamani is a member of the ATD Fourth World team in Bolivia. She coordinates children’s activities at Casa Cuarto Mundo (House of Friendship) in Senkata, El Alto. Martha lives and works alongside some of her neighborhood’s most disadvantaged families, with whom she shares the bond of Andean culture.
In the following article, taken from an interview with Martha, she tells us about her dedication to her community and her aspirations for a more inclusive, better-quality education in Bolivia.
My commitment to my community
I learned about ATD Fourth World twenty-six years ago at the San Francisco de Asís Parish in Senkata. At this time, I participated in Tapori and October 17 events. Two years later, ATD Volunteer Corps member Alain Genin arrived. He immediately began looking for land to build a community space for the families in Urkupiña.
I found it touching when Alain said:
“I’m going to call this place the House of Friendship because I’ve met so many people living in extreme poverty who don’t have any place to come together and unite. Here they can meet, become friends, and support each other. In this house, everybody will be welcome, and nobody will feel rejected.”
Initially, I wasn’t particularly active due to work commitments, but after my daughter’s death, I started participating in activities again. Unfortunately, I was very depressed and went to see an occupational therapist. Struggling to progress with the treatment, I started volunteering in the Casa de la Amistad reading room. I really enjoyed this, and from there, my participation grew and grew.
The children inspire me
After losing my daughter when she was two, I realized I always had an affinity for children. Although all children are vulnerable, I am significantly impacted by the life of these children and their daily struggles. Unfortunately, it is common for a child to come to the reading room on an empty stomach, and working with them inspires me to get more involved.
Additional learning support, a pandemic response
During the pandemic, some children in Bolivia stopped studying because of the lack of opportunities or resources to attend virtual classes. Because of this disruption in their education, these children found it difficult when in-person classes resumed. We started the learning support project because we thought that providing these children with assistance in the classroom would help ease their return to school. However, it was not that simple; many of these children have learning difficulties and are accustomed to being told they are unintelligent. Because of this, supporting their personal and emotional growth is just as important as enhancing their learning.
We help with their schooling and build trust, friendship, and discipline. In addition, we strive to improve their self-esteem and, above all, to give them love and understanding.
We have provided this support for almost two years, and the change in the children’s confidence is evident. When we enter the room and the children are smiling, hugging us, and excited to talk about their day, we know we are doing something right. Realizing these children need our companionship fuels my commitment to making them feel productive, valued, and loved.
We need more inclusive, better-quality education
School instruction is generally very structured, and teachers group students into two categories: those who know and those who don’t know. ATD ‘s approach is unique. As with the learning support project, we use other methodologies to allow children to learn and flourish in school. Treating children with love and ensuring they feel respected and understood are all part of helping them to grow.
Although the law states that all education should be inclusive and of high quality, the reality is that children living in poverty still find themselves stigmatized and disadvantaged in the classroom. We will continue supporting these children until the problem is resolved.
I dream that these children gain the confidence to speak out to demand the quality education they deserve. I dream they learn to be outspoken and are acknowledged. I dream they grow up to be responsible, honest, resilient, and caring adults.
Children, with their innocence and purity, give us hope for humanity. With them, we can build a more compassionate, supportive society where nobody is left behind.
Lastly, I dream that each family arriving at Casa de la Amistad finds a place where they feel valued and heard. Our ability to create things together gives me hope for the future.