The Children of the Earth Prize for 2019 has been awarded to the founders of the Norwegian-Bolivian orphanage Villa Porvenir and their work for poor and deserted children in Bolivia. The award of 150 000 Norwegian kroner (15 500 euros/17 500 US dollars) was presented during a ceremony at North Cape on June 5th, which was also attended by 500 students from local schools on the island of Magerøya.
The orphanage is located near the major city of Cochabamba in the Andes mountains. It was established in 1997 by Hanne Baardseth from Norway and her Bolivian teacher colleague Gladys Espinoza Tejada. The project idea was developed as the two in 1995 visited destitute families in a poor area outside Cochabamba. Here, they witnessed great material poverty, severe lack of care and much violence. From these experiences grew a desire to do something of lasting value for children and young adults who would otherwise be without any possibility of a good life and meaningful future.
Thus, the planning got started. Hanne and Gladys found a suitable property outside the center of the city, and in 1996 construction of the first house began. The two dedicated women paid for it all with their own savings. A year later, Villa Porvenir could welcome the first children – three boys two, four and six years old. At the orphanage they got a safe home, care and education. The boys are adults now, the oldest one has moved out, number two studies to become an engineer, the youngest is going to be a doctor.
During the more than 20 years since the beginning, the orphanage has taken in more than 70 boys and girls. Quite often they have been brothers and sisters, since that gives an increased feeling of identity and belonging, common history, safety and stability. Some of the kids have been deserted by their parents or otherwise totally without any other family. Others have been subjects of severe negligence because the parents have had problems related to prostitution, severe drug abuse and living on the streets.
All children have been admitted to Villa Porvenir in cooperation with public childcare authorities, and with the acceptance of a local court.
Currently, 30 children aged 6–18 live at Villa Porvenir, where local adult helpers look after them along with Hanne and Gladys. The kids have daily household duties, go to school, do homework, play and participate in spare time activities like band, track-and-field and children’s club. In essence, they live like big families in the separate houses. The activity is funded through donations from a large number of private supporters and even many schools in Norway.
Hanne and Gladys have also provided opportunities for the youngsters to get college and university education once they have finished high school. Many have now got good jobs – and even prospects of building their own houses on properties recently bought by Hanne and Gladys – once again for their own, private money.
The prize winners arrived for the ceremony at North Cape along with two 13-year-old girls from Villa Porvenir, Sarai Mendez Maldonado and Lizeth Mariscal Zarate. Hanne Baardseth has lived in Bolivia for the past 31 years.