Friends of Alalay directly supports the Alalay Foundation in its work in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.

The Alalay Foundation was started in the early 1990’s by a 19 year-old Bolivian student who passed street children every day on her way to university and was determined to do something to help. Alalay rescues these kids from the streets and offers them a loving environment living together in family cabins; feeds, clothes and educates them and encourages them in their future working lives. The name was chosen by the street children themselves and means “I am cold” in the local Aymara native language. Please watch our video HERE – which shows the reality of life on the streets, how the Alalay Foundation works, and the projects which have been supported by Friends of Alalay over the years.

The Alalay Foundation is entirely dependant on donations, since the national government does not take any active positive interest in the plight of the street children.

Since it was started, the Foundation has helped over 10,000 kids and adolescents and works with over 1,000 children annually, in the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. It currently has 400 children living in various centres, and provides food, health care, clothing, education, social work, spiritual, psychological and legal help, and technical training for them. Most importantly, it provides something they’ve often never had – a home and a family.

Alalay works by involving the kids in four stages of activity:

  • Firstly, street workers talk and play with them on the streets, building up trust and a relationship with the children and encouraging them to come to Alalay.
  • Secondly, the children can choose to enter a “welcome house” at the aldea (a centre about 40 minute’s bus journey outside town), where they will learn life skills such as washing, wearing shoes, looking after belongings (they may never have owned anything before) and so on. Depending on each child, they may stay here for just a few weeks or in some cases many months, and may also attend a local school.
  • Thirdly, when ready, they move to a longer-term cabin where they will go to school, continue developing useful skills and begin to lead a more “normal” family life.
  • Finally, aged roughly 15, they continue/finish schooling and start vocational training – previous courses have included: car mechanics, computer programming, nursing, beauty, business and management, woodworking and textile work. They are encouraged to seek jobs or go on to further education such as university.

In the city of Santa Cruz, Alalay normally looks after about a hundred children aged between 3 and 20. The children live in cabins at the aldea in family groups of around a dozen of similar ages, with a house mother or father. Whereas previously the “welcome houses” were located in the city, as of 2022 it has been decided to bring all the children/staff to live together at the out-of-town aldea, where the cabins are now separated into the three stages mentioned above (new children in “welcome houses”, longer-term cabins, adolescents completing vocational courses). The COVID-19 pandemic brought numerous funding challenges, and with so much unused space at the aldea, it is much more cost-effective to have everyone in a purpose-built area with only one set of maintenance costs. An office space will remain in the city which can support street work, but after some serious renovation work, the plan is that the rest of the former welcome house buildings can be rented out, thus providing a much-needed additional funding stream for Alalay.  

Alalay is run by a small number of Bolivians (many of whom are infrequently paid by the charity, since the priority is to feed the children, and have other jobs to supplement their incomes) with occasional help from students and other volunteers from various parts of the World. There are also psychologists and social workers at the centres.

Alongside the above work, known as the “protection programme”, Alalay has also been running a “prevention programme” at Santa Cruz for the last few years. This programme is based at the out-of-town aldea and works with 70 children from the local area who are at risk of going on to the streets. They are invited to come to Alalay for a few afternoons each week for help with school work and ‘life-skills workshops’ (learning about conflict prevention, raising self-esteem, respect and so on). Parents of these children are also invited to attend various workshops, and have lessons in bakery and textiles. The aim of these classes is to prevent family breakdown and encourage the children to stay at home where possible, rather than turning to the streets.