One night in 2004, Michel, a 13-year-old boy, was lit up by headlights as he walked along the national highway that connects the cities of Cochabamba with Santa Cruz. He worked at night, selling bags of food to passengers through the windows of buses that stopped at a toll booth.
Michel was like one of over 3 thousand school-age boys and girls (aged 5 to 17) who today work in Bolivia, according to a 2019 study by Bolivia’s National Statistics Institute (INE).
Michel, the third of five brothers, lived with them in the town of La Arboleda. His grandfather took care of them because his parents could not. Today, Michel is 19 years old, a very optimistic and charismatic young man. His bright smile reveals his talent for conversations and interacting with people. Michel is a promising student, full of energy and dedication.
But when Michel was a boy, his days used to start very early and end late. At age 13, he began to work to help support his younger siblings. He got a job as a waiter at a little roadside restaurant on the Cochabamba – Santa Cruz highway during the day.
His work was not limited to only serving customers at the tables. At night, Michel and his older brother began to work together selling food at the bus stop. They cooked the food and sold it in plastic bags on the roadside. The boys risked suffering an accident each night as they stretched up in the darkness to sell food through the windows of buses that sometimes were moving.
Despite the unsafe and difficult working conditions, Michel valued his jobs very much, since he needed the money. However, his income varied, as it depended on daily sales. Although his education was irregular, Michel made efforts to continue studying, with his boss sometimes taking him to classes.
Michel has been always grateful for life’s blessings and deeply values education. In his words: “Getting an education is the best thing because it allows you to work without being exploited and have more opportunities for better jobs.”
Michel’s life was transformed
Michel’s life changed in 2004, when he entered NPH Bolivia, along with his brothers. The NPH home is located 30 minutes from his hometown of La Arboleda. The adaptation process was short, yet challenging at times. However, Michel and his brothers soon benefitted from the improvements in their food, education, and health.
Michel blossomed at NPH. His caregivers recall his charisma, his willingness to collaborate, and his focus on dressing well. Although Michel was always naughty, he also knew how to guide his brothers and friends on the right path when it was time to be responsible.
Many young people considered him a leader of NPH Bolivia and see him as an example due to his dedication and effort. Michel spent much of his time at NPH working in agriculture. He spent a year assisting Tío Hugo, who oversaw agriculture, helping with farm work, milking cows, and gardening chores.
Tío Hugo describes Michel as a good employee, saying that “He is a hard worker who learns everything, and never says no when someone asks him for help”. Michel knows how to operate the farming machines, can work long hours under the sun, and is always noted for his good performance.
Michel dreams of engines and education
However, Michel does not want to become a farmer or anything like that. Michel dreams of running his very own car repair shop. He loves to understand how machines work, and he is passionate about cars. Michel has dreamt of having his own repair shop ever since once, he was a little boy, when he saw a sign with his last name on it above a mechanic’s workshop.
In 2021, Michel finished high school as a top student, receiving special recognition and a cash award to encourage his studies. In addition, Michel applied for the scholarships granted by the Santa Cruz Mercantile Bank’s “Puedes Creer” Foundation, as well as full scholarships to study entrepreneurship offered by the Bolivian Catholic University that offer support during the entire undergraduate period, a monetary stipend, and health insurance.
Today, Michel continues his studies to one day better support his family, the most important thing in his life. Michel has always been very close to his brothers and his mother. Although the sleepless nights working as a child are now just a memory, today Michel makes the most of the time to help his family and continue his studies. Michel says that his dream is to one day pose for a photograph of himself standing in front of his own repair shop.
Thousands of lives have been touched
Michel’s childhood was like that of the thousands of Bolivian children who must work to survive and support their families. Since NPH was founded in 1954, Father Wasson’s legacy has changed thousands of lives, including Michel’s. In fact, over the years more than 20,000 children have been raised across all the NPH facilities Today, over 6,400 girls and boys receive an education with NPH’s support worldwide.
In Bolivia, almost 100 children, adolescents, and young adults are part of the NPH family. This is possible due to the collaboration of warm-hearted donors who have joined forces to change lives.
Michel says that though he did not meet Father Wasson in person, he knows him through the results of his work, because of how his projects changed his life and that of his family. If Michel says that if he could speak to Father Wasson today, he would tell him, “Thank you, for having such a wonderful heart. Thanks for helping boys, girls, and young people to change their lives and allowing them to study, live as a family, and continue forward.”
If you want to support the education of Bolivian children like Michel, click here to donate and help us turn dreams into effective projects.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the youth