After fleeing Venezuela, Yuleidy struggled to start a new life for her children in Colombia. But after a Holt-supported vocational training program, she’s now a successful baker — providing stability and hope to her children.
When Yuleidy first came to Bogotá, Colombia, she and her two children settled into a neighborhood characterized by impossibly steep streets and multi-story apartment buildings nestled straight up into the hillsides. It’s also one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city – but it was all Yuleidy could afford.
In a whole new city, all on her own, she felt lost. She had lived in Venezuela her whole life, but after years of political instability and deep poverty in her country, she gathered her two children and immigrated across the border to Colombia. But her new life didn’t come easy.
“We had to start a new life and adapt to everything,” Yuleidy says. “I had to sell empanadas, arepas and other foods on the street.” But despite how hard she was working, she was barely getting by. She had no way of making more money, and no one to help her with the children.
That’s when a neighbor told her about Bambi, Holt’s partner organization right there in her neighborhood.
For over twenty-two years, Bambi has served children and families in this impoverished area of Bogotá. And the help they offer meets families right where they’re at.
For children who have lost their parents, Bambi is a nurturing care facility where children live as they wait to be reunified with birth family or join a loving, permanent family through adoption. But Bambi also works to keep children together with their birth parents — offering interventions and support to lift families from poverty and prevent children from being separated from their families in the first place.
This was exactly the help that Yuleidy and her children needed.
While Yuleidy’s older daughter spent her days safely at school, 2-year-old Arturo had nowhere to go – making it impossible for Yuleidy to pursue a different, higher-paying job than selling food on the side of the road. Yuleidy, like so many parents like her, felt stuck. Without a support system or resources, she felt helpless to create a better life for her children.
“This is a really vulnerable population — it’s a lot of people who have had to migrate here, and they came without anything,” says Malia Robello, Holt’s Colombia program manager who recently visited Bambi. “When you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and nowhere to turn, it’s not just stress — it can be debilitating.”
That’s why Bambi works in this neighborhood, among these parents and children. With the support of Holt sponsors and donors, they help families by providing a safe place for children to be looked after and nurtured while their parents receive the tools and training they need to thrive, too.
The Comunidad is a free daycare open to children every day of the week, any time day or night — in order to accommodate parent’s daytime or nightime work shifts. The daycare itself has brightly colored walls, with the children’s art projects taped up around the room. A cook provides children with nutritious meals at tiny tables and chairs, and a napping room is available for afternoon naps as well as nighttime sleep. Bright toys line the floor and walls of the playroom, and outside a playground invites children with a slide, swings, a tunnel and monkey bars.
“The facility itself is really calming and relaxing and comforting,” says Malia. It’s a safe and fun place for the children — but also for their parents.
With Arturo safely in the Comunidad program, Yuleidy was free to receive the support she needed, too. Like most parents at the center, Yuleidy hadn’t completed her high school education. Like many Venezuelan immigrants, Yuleidy’s education was interrupted due to instability during their teenage years. For other immigrant parents, the interruption was due to poverty, an early pregnancy, or other difficulty. So one of the first things Yuleidy did at Bambi was enroll in a high school equivalency course, to work towards earning her diploma.
“It has given me a total change since I have learned a trade, which has allowed me to guarantee food and sustenance for my children.”Yuleidy
“They’re really proud, most proud, of getting their diplomas and finishing school,” says Malia of the parents in the program. For many parents, it’s the chance to achieve a dream they never thought possible.
But beyond completing their education, parents also have the opportunity for vocational training — to master a trade that will earn the income they need to stand on their own two feet.
The vocational training programs Bambi currently offers are sewing, cosmetology and baking. After having the chance to explore all three, Yuleidy decided to focus on baking.
Every day, Yuleidy drops Arturo off at the daycare, and walks to the other end of the building. In a kitchen complete with all the tools and ovens needed, she learns baking from an expert pastry chef. She’s now been in the program over 18 months, and in that time has become skilled and confident in her new trade.
“It has given me a total change since I have learned a trade,” Yuleidy says, “which has allowed me to guarantee food and sustenance for my children.”
In addition to the actual vocational skills, parents also complete a “life project” during their time at Bambi. This project encourages them to dream and build a sustainable business plan, complete with identifying obstacles, and thinking ahead to acquire the resources they’ll need to be successful.
“They feel they have a safety net and some resources now,” Malia says, “and a lot of pride and feeling a lot more confident in themselves.”
In addition to being empowered with the skills and knowledge to start a business, parents also receive important parenting support and training.
A staff psychologist is available to parents every day, to help them heal from trauma and learn healthy ways of parenting their children.
“Bambi helped me personally with psychology, how to treat my children, to take care of myself to change my way of thinking and acting,” Yuleidy says. And now, she has a healthier and closer relationship with each of her children.
Yuleidy dreams of becoming a successful pastry chef in Bogotá, and most of all, she dreams of being able to continue her business to guarantee a good life for her children. But now, it’s not just a dream, but a reality that she’s been empowered to accomplish.
“My life is wonderful,” Yuleidy says, “because I have my two children who I fight for every day.”
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