27 April 2011

Sheffield graduate improves life for Bolivian street children

Annie with the street children

A caring University of Sheffield graduate has transformed the lives of hundreds of Bolivian street children, thanks to a charity she set up whilst studying for her degree.

Annie Syrett, aged 25, launched Friends of Alalay (Santa Cruz) in 2007 after becoming inspired to help disadvantaged children following a six month period spent in Bolivia as part of her degree.

The charity, which has raised more than £40,000, takes the sustainable approach of helping street children to help themselves, by encouraging them to develop useful skills and become involved in projects that should be self-funding.

So far, Annie has funded and set up a chicken farm, providing many thousands of eggs each week; created a pig farm; set up a vast irrigated vegetable garden, where children can grow their own food and sugar substitutes to sell commercially; extended an existing bakery, where the children can bake their own bread; and equipped a textile unit for the children to make their own school uniforms and other clothing.

The enterprising charity idea came about after Annie’s Russian, Hispanic studies and interpreting degree required her to live in a Spanish speaking country. She chose to work in the city of Santa Cruz with a small Bolivian street kids’ organisation named Alalay - which means “I am cold” in the local Aymara language.

During her year abroad, Annie was touched by the plight of the street children and realised how much more Alalay could achieve with a little more funding. As a result, whilst still at University, she registered Friends of Alalay in the UK and returned to Bolivia to work amongst the kids after she graduated.
Street children in Bolivia are left to survive on their own either because they have been orphaned and have no other adult carers, their parents are not fit to care for them as a result of drink or drugs, or their parents are simply too poor.

Many street children work 12 to 16 hours a day in informal labour such as sweet selling, shoe cleaning and windscreen washing. If they are lucky, they may receive up to 50p a day for this work, but mostly they just beg and steal to survive, and die on the streets.

Large numbers of children have reported being abused, raped or physically beaten and many young girls become prostitutes and fall pregnant due to lack of contraceptive advice and availability. Most street children are illiterate because they left school early or never went in the first place.

Alalay encourages the children to leave the streets and live in small family units, each with a house-mother or father, and lead normal lives in a loving family environment. They go to school and many go on to further education, either vocational or at university.

Annie’s charity, which works to support Alalay, has also repaired the ex-street children’s school bus, implemented an improved water supply and drainage system, introduced enhanced outdoor lighting at a children’s centre, repaired and painted a number of cabins for the kids, and built a playground.
Education is vitally important if the street kids are to help themselves. Annie has therefore ensured that over 80 street children have been taught English to help improve their confidence and future job prospects. In addition, Friends of Alalay is currently supporting 14 students through further vocational training.

The charity has also paid for a dilapidated house to be renovated, furnished and converted into a fully equipped street children’s medical unit and accommodation for volunteers. In addition to caring for street children, the medical centre serves the local community.

Annie said: “I found living with the street kids to be a life-changing experience and knew I had to do something to help. I’m really pleased with what Friends of Alalay has achieved as many of these children might otherwise have been dead on the streets by now, from solvent or alcohol abuse or starvation. They certainly would not have lived as part of loving families or developed satisfying skills and gone on to further education at university or college, so I’m thrilled at having helped them find better lives.”