When Bolivia went into lockdown, prisoners and their children couldn't have been prepared for the challenges awaiting them. Latin Link's Julie Noble explains what happened in Oruro, and how your support has made a difference.

 When mums or dads go to prison in Bolivia, their children face a challenging future. Under-sevens can live in the prison with their mothers, while older children live with a family member or friend outside. It can be a struggle to look after them with one parent’s income now lost.

Prison Fellowship Oruro set up the Angel Tree Centre (volunteers pictured above) to support these children and their families. The Centre provides lunch and an after-school club for the kids, as well as practical and spiritual support for their parents, in prison or out. I am part of a team that works inside the women’s prison and the young offenders’ institution, running discipleship groups and restorative justice classes.

DOUBLE-LOCKED

You would think that prisoners are used to being ‘locked down’. But this time has been very hard for the Angel Tree families. All prison visits were suspended from 15 March, so the children outside the prison have not seen their mums or dads for a long time. Schools are likely to remain closed until February 2021, and the children inside the prison are frustrated and bored at not being able to go out to school or the Angel Tree Centre. It’s boring at the young offenders’ institution as well, with no outside organisations allowed to run classes or activities.

The young offenders are mainly worried about how their families are coping with reduced income in these times. Recently, schools distributed packs of food to their students and all the young offenders – who get fed by the Institution – asked for their food packs to be given to their families instead.

Prisoners haven’t been receiving the practical help they usually get from their families, so they can’t get hold of basic things like soap – so vital right now.

YOUR SUPPORT PROVIDING A LIFELINE

Food parcels ready for delivery to prisoners and their familiesIt’s thanks to our supporters that Prison Fellowship Oruro has able to help these children and their families during the lockdown. Generous donations and your Indoor Expeditions have supported our efforts to make up food parcels for the Angel Tree families, help the kids with homework over WhatsApp, and keep in touch and pray with them.

The prisoners don’t have mobile phones but the team speak to them and the children on the prison payphones. They asked the children to write or draw what they were feeling during the lockdown and were able to talk to them about it. The funding has also paid for vital hygiene packs (soap, etc) for the mums, dads and children in prison, and devotional materials for those in the prison discipleship groups.

The children are sent some work to do by their schools but sometimes don’t have all the things they need to complete it – thanks to donations, school resources have been sent into the prison for them, as well as milk and porridge oats for the 15 mothers in prison with babies or toddlers – it’s so tough for them having no family help or visits.

Angel Tree participant, sharing Psalm 103:8

The Angel Tree Centre is a supportive community for these families, and the team is working hard to keep this going, despite having to remain closed to the children until schools reopen. They have been acting as postmen, delivering letters between the children. They’re hoping to produce a newsletter to keep the families connected, and wondering if they could run a half day ‘virtual camp’, as the children are disappointed about the usual camp being cancelled.

I am so grateful to God for the whole team’s creativity and perseverance in these strange times. We have had great opportunities to pray with prisoners and their families over the phone or in socially-distanced encounters. We thank God that there haven’t been many cases of Covid-19 in the prisons yet. And we thank God for supporters like you and the lifeline you’re helping to provide. Please pray for God’s guidance about more ways to support this community until we can reopen the Angel Tree Centre and be with the prisoners and young offenders in person again.


Adela’s husband is in prison; her daughter usually attends the Angel Tree Centre

“We depend on my income from selling shoe-cleaning brushes, but during the strict lockdown you could no longer sell anything except food. That affected us a lot and we started to lack basic essentials. I was pregnant and afraid of getting the virus so I didn’t want to take risks - that made it even more difficult to support my family.

“As time went on, my landlords started to insist I make the monthly rent payments or we would be evicted. I didn’t have the means to pay any more.

“That’s why I asked the Angel Tree Centre for help, because I didn’t know who else to turn to. They helped me with food, with words of encouragement, calling us every week and looking for other ways to help me. They have been a great blessing in my life in these times.”


Please Pray

  • Pray that the prisoners’ children will stay safe while schools and the Angel Tree Centre are closed and won’t fall behind with their education.
  • Pray that God would show Prison Fellowship Oruro more ways to support prisoners and their families despite the restrictions.

This article was first featured in the Autumn 2020 edition of Latinfile Magazine. Read the full issue here.