Milton: Overcoming Childhood Traumas with NPH

Milton was four when his mother died. With his grandfather and auntie struggling to manage his behavior, Milton and his sister Melisa joined NPH Bolivia, where they now receive psychological support for childhood trauma.
April 16, 2021 - Bolivia

Milton and his caregiver Mateo in front of his House, San Jorge

*Milton and *Melisa were 10 and 12 years old when they joined NPH Bolivia in December 2016. Their grandfather tried to care for them for six years, but as they got older, they became more rebellious and took to the streets and disobeyed authority. Now they both receive physical and mental treatment and dream of starting university in the near future, and their positive behavior and attitudes have made them role-models for other children to follow.

Milton finds it hard to recall parts of his childhood. He was raised in Okinawa, a little village located 146 kilometers northeast of Bolivia’s second city, Santa Cruz. He never met his father and his mother died from a rare illness when he was just four-years-old in front of him and his sister, although he struggles to talk about it even now at age 15. “I watched on as she left us. All her body was swollen. At first, it began in her stomach; she thought she was pregnant but then it spread to her whole body,” says Milton.

“Sadly, the two siblings were pretty much raised on the streets, because their home was too small. They used to look for food by themselves. Both of them had hygiene problems and learning difficulties. Milton was very aggressive with his siblings and fellow children. He had problems adapting to the rules and hygiene habits,” says Willy Pedraza, NPH Bolivia social worker.

Okinawa is an hour from Casa Padre Wasson, home to 109 children at NPH Bolivia. It is named after the Japanese city with the same name, after a migration plan by the Japanese government to resettle some of its citizens there in the aftermath of the Second World War. The town is known for its production of rice, wheat, and corn, as well as for being an important connection between the north region of Santa Cruz and the tropical savannas of Chiquitanía, made possible by the longest bridge of the country, Puente Banegas. The village has a population of approximately 12,482 people, most of which live in extreme poverty. According to a 2014 report focusing on the living conditions for the department of Santa Cruz by UDAPE (Unidad de Análisis de Políticas Sociales y Económicas) and the United Nations, 51.9% lived in extreme poverty. Recently, the Santa Cruz municipality is one of the worst-hit regions by the COVID-19 virus.

Milton and Melisa lived with their many cousins; he cannot remember how many nor their names, as well as two aunts, an uncle, and their grandfather. They resided in an overcrowded home consisting of one bedroom where they all slept, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Sometimes one of the aunts worked at a temporary job at the local school, while the grandfather had informal employment working on farmland. Milton can’t remember if his other aunt and uncle worked, but he can recall the struggle to put food on the table, especially when the informal work dried up.

After the traumatic situation, Milton and Melisa’s grandfather took care of them with a little help from her aunt, “He was a good man. He tried to take good care of us. We were very playful and it was hard for him to control us. We often went to play soccer in a nearby field and we would come back very late. Sometimes the doors were locked, so we stayed in the streets all night,” admits Milton, smiling.

However, the neighbors witnessed the situation spiraling out-of-control and contacted the SEDEPOS – the social services authorities in Bolivia – due to concerns about the children’s behavior, learning difficulties and poor nutrition. The authorities came to investigate the complaint and witnessed the poor living conditions for themselves. They then referred the case to the courts in Santa Cruz, who recommended that Milton and his sister go to NPH Bolivia: an organization which had the facilities and expertise to support the siblings’ psychological problems, as well as the ability to provide them with a healthier and more stimulating upbringing.

On arrival at Casa Padre Wasson, the NPH psychology department quickly noticed that Milton struggled to contain his emotions, showed belligerent behavior, and had an undisciplined attitude. “Milton was very aggressive and reacted violently when he was upset. He did not contain his impulses and it was difficult for him to recognize his emotions. He also had problems adapting to the rules and regulations,” says Lena Saavedra, an NPH Bolivia psychologist.

The lack of nutrition, depression over the loss of his mother, and social pressure had left Milton with learning difficulties and neurological weaknesses. Still, Lena was impressed with Milton’s determination to overcome these challenges, and he agreed to enter the Blanca Añez de Lozada Mental Health Center in Santa Cruz. In 2018, he was diagnosed with epilepsy and received psychiatric treatment to control his aggressive behavior.

Now Milton feels part of a family, and although he loves drawing and writing, he says he wants to be a gas engineer when he grows up. He shows off a picture collage he made of his childhood, which also contains pictures with volunteers and caregivers of NPH. The name of the album is “My life”. He says it was an important part of his therapy, a homework task set by the psychology department, that helped him come to terms with his traumatic childhood.

“My life has changed for the better and I am very thankful,” he says, while also offering his support to caregivers in the home to help younger members of the NPH family. “Milton is a very dedicated boy. He is always wondering how he can help and takes every task delegated to him very seriously,” says Willy, very proudly.

The NPH nurse, Verónica Rivera, agrees, adding that Milton’s behavior is an example for other children. “In his treatment, he is receiving neurological stimulation. He has monthly psychiatric dates and this helped him very much. Now, he is not just adapting; he is also helping his NPH siblings and being an example for others.”

Thinking of the past, Milton often asks himself how he would have turned out without NPH, and realizes things would be much different. Milton has psychological visits twice per month and appointments with a neuropediatrist every three months. He also has access to every medication needed for his treatments.

Like the naughty boy he once was, he still enjoys running in the parks, climbing trees, and playing soccer. He has a book of drawings and holds it as a treasure. When he opens it, his eyes brighten when explains each drawing.

His sister Melisa’s life has also greatly improved. She is also receiving psychiatric and medical care. They both like to talk often, sharing their drawings and photographs. She loves music with inspiring lyrics and Milton always finds ways to make her smile. When a birthday comes, they always try to surprise each other, and like most brothers and sisters, they always take care of each other.

Milton’s and Melisa’s lives are now better, not just physically, but emotionally, with the support of the NPH family. “I am happier now, I have a family and I feel healthy,” says Milton, smiling and unable to hide his pride behind his glasses.”

*Names changed to protect children’s privacy.

Make an impact. Support the health and emotional welfare of vulnerable children at NPH. Make a donation at NPH Bolivia.

Rodrigo Pereyra   
Communication Officer




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