After a while, Estrella was still struggling with her project. I told her I would help her. We could draw anything she wanted and maybe think about a message for her mom. She had made little progress and was almost crying—she had tears in her eyes. I had no idea what was wrong, but thought she was frustrated by the quality of her work. I started to suggest ideas, because the time allocated for school support was ending. As she continued to cry, I realized that something was wrong with her, and it was not only the school project. I asked what was wrong and waited. I sat beside her as the session ended and other students went to lunch. I asked again, to remind her that I was willing to listen.
Gradually, she began to speak. Estrella was concerned about the quality of her project. “Why?” I asked. She said, “My teacher will be mad at me and then I will tell my mom, and she is going to hit me.”
There it was—the root of everything. Estrella could not write wonderful things about her mother, because her mother was not wonderful for her. However, if Estrella were to not write good things about her mom, she would fail in her task, and if she failed in this, her mother would beat her. A vicious cycle of reality was turning in the head of this ten-year-old girl.
Stories like these are the reason members of Maryknoll in Bolivia, including myself, a Maryknoll Affiliate in Cochabamba, participate in the project of human rights along with other religious congregations. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a project of the United Nations (UN) that reviews the human rights situation in each member country. This year, the UN will assess the situation in Bolivia. Our group, composed of Franciscan missionaries, Christian Brothers, Divine Word, Maryknoll, etc., decided to prepare a report for the UPR, and we focus on the situation of violence against women and children in Bolivia. Our group has relationships with the people affected, and the UN is planning to conduct an evaluation. We see it as an opportunity to gather experience and develop recommendations that could help improve the situation for children like Estrella.