When I was still in high school I went to visit my dad where he worked as a prison officer in Sydney for over two decades. It was father's day and he was working, so my mum, my four siblings and I brought him a picnic lunch. The boom gates were busy, cars were streaming in and out and like so many other children of inmates, I was there to visit my dad. While we chatted happily, the visiting families were stoic faces with painted on smiles. While I waved casually bye to my dad other children's tiny fingers were uncurled from their father's arms, their cries hushed with reassurances of another visit. I was going to see my dad when I got home but those children with fathers on the other side of the wall my dad was working would go home to an absence that filled all the rooms.
Here in Cochabamba I work with children living in jail with their parents. The little boys and girls sleep in the same bed as their mothers and siblings, snuggling tight like jig-saw pieces on a single mattress. There are typically eight families in a single room, bunk beds and no ventilation. There are newly born babies that cry all night because they are hungry and mothers who frustratingly try to lull them to sleep because their prison diet cannot produce enough milk to feed their own babies. The women wash clothes and sell food to make money to pay for their own rooms, the men make furniture six days out of the week in hopes of gaining a little money to perhaps buy an extra blanket or even a bed to sleep on.
And yet the children I work with in CAICC, Centro Apoyo Integral Carcelario y Comunitario (Centre of Integrated Prison and Community Support) are like all children - incredibly amazing little people with giant smiles, golden hearts, limitless imagination and big dreams. These kids tell me confidently they are going to be doctors or teachers, they are going to come and visit me in Australia because they will grow up and learn english and have jobs and travel. They are not limited by their circumstances, they see beyond, CAICC makes sure they can get there. It's not just children from the jail. Some kids at CAICC are there because there parents work long hours or overseas or in other cities. There is no difference between the hearts or minds or dreams of the children, except that at the end of the day half of them board the bus and head home to their prison cell beds.
It broke my heart to visit the jail where these children lived and to see them run along walls and prison guards. It gave me courage to realise that these kids have a place to grow up in and out of the cycle their parents fell into. I have seen with my own eyes the sense of family and community that has been created by CAICC, its director, its two teachers, the cook, the bus driver and the volunteers that have come through before I came, during, and that no doubt will come after. The children have breakfast there, do their homework, muck around, do 'officios' such as cleaning the floor or setting the table for lunch. They learn responsibility, they learn routines, learn work ethic, have adults and peers to look up to, learn how to treat their friends, how to respect their elders and that the world is bigger than the prison they grow up in. They are part of a community and a centre of people who not only care for them but so desperately want them to succeed in life, and do their very best to ensure that happens.
CAICC however has a precarious future and they cannot continue alone. Just like the kids, they need support from all the networks they can muster. They need people to be their champions, as they champion the need for these children to have a better future than their parents. If you want to be one of CAICC's champions and support these kids and their futures the fundraising page is here!
Because even the smallest dreams and the biggest people need people to back them up. And it is CAICC that supports these beautiful little people with their big and lovely dreams. Everybody gets by with the help of others and if you can help CAICC continue their work, well, that would be a dream come true of this little person.