The latest news from Father Oscar and his team, who gave us the pleasure of presenting ourselves at our last general assembly, is a little better. This year, once again, they have had to deal with the global pandemic that affects us all and that has had countless negative social, political and health consequences in Bolivia.
The state of the “Papa Francesco” center in Cochabamba
“Our daily life has changed and we have had to reinvent new ways of living in order to face reality,” says Father Oscar.
The Comedor has 45 children officially registered, which corresponds to 25 families; however, about 55 children benefit from the meals distributed: these are the brothers and sisters left alone, without any adult to look after them, or those that depend on the eldest sibling, as the parents have left to look for work.
“It is obviously impossible for us to refuse them food in these conditions”, the Comedor’s managers tell us. The children enrolled all belong to families with very precarious resources, the parents work occasionally as bricklayers, delivery men, street vendors or agricultural day laborers… Most of these families have 5 to 6 children and cannot make ends meet, the money earned being insufficient to feed the whole family.
The Comedor team organizes one meeting a month, the second week of the month, which is attended by 90% of the mothers. They commit to helping with the preparation of the meals (at least one mother comes every day).
Adapting in the midst of a pandemic
From the start of the pandemic, strict hygiene rules were introduced: compulsory use of masks, disinfectant gel, safety gowns, constant hand washing, etc. During the second and third waves of contamination, the hardest in Cochabamba, they distributed meals served in personal tupperwares (dish, drink and dessert). The children, masked, with disinfected hands and respecting the agreed distances, came to collect their box.
Today the Comedor opens its doors as normal, respecting the same rules of hygiene. There are now only four children per table to avoid contagion. The opening time has been extended. The children go to school half-time, either in the morning or in the afternoon; those in the afternoon arrive at the Comedor at 11.30 a.m. and have lunch there until 12.30 p.m.; the others arrive afterwards to avoid grouping.
Follow-up of the families, following the COVID-19 crisis
The social worker, Ross, is following each family closely, visiting them regularly given their terribly precarious situation. Indeed, many parents lost their jobs after the strict confinement of 2020 and thus the means to support themselves. Some had to emigrate to Chile in the hope of finding work in fruit and vegetable harvesting, but returned dejectedly unable to find the expected work. The global pandemic has crippled the economies of all countries. Families are also deeply affected by the death of loved ones, uncles and aunts, grandparents, cousins or nephews…
The Comedor team is trying to teach the families about barrier measures and hygiene, but despite the sick and the dead, many people still do not believe in the pandemic for political, cultural or religious reasons, and continue to live as if nothing had happened. They do not want to be vaccinated either. Only 30% of adults have received their two doses of vaccine, and these because they were forced to do so in order not to lose their jobs! The parish is also contributing and doing all it can to help these families keep their heads above water.
Father Oscar and all his team reiterate their thanks for the vital help that you, dear donors, are giving them and reiterate how grateful they are to you.