Friendship Mission — Report on Work with Children
Friendship Mission in Paraguay was founded in 1953 by the United Christian Missionary Society (predecessor of the Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries) and by graduates of the International School in Paraguay, the first Disciple mission in Paraguay, founded in 1917. The original purpose of Friendship Mission was to attend to needs of the urban poor living near the Mission and in Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay.
Extreme poverty is a major concern in most Latin American countries. Among the poorest citizens, those who have the hardest time receiving basic health services are often children. Children in extreme poverty who have to work in order to eat, do not have the resources to seek out medical help. Friendship Mission provides services to children who work and/or live in the streets, providing pediatric and mental health services to some of Paraguay’s poorest young people. Basic services such as vaccinations, dental care, diagnoses of childhood diseases, and the early detection and intervention in mental and/or physical disabilities have been just a few of the goals of this program over the past year. The children also have safe opportunities for fellowship and recreation which is important for children as well.
One of the main areas of expansion of this project is to be able to help more children with physical and mental disabilities. Friendship Mission has already helped over 300 children with disabilities, enabling them to attend school, receive medical attention and, perhaps most importantly, understand their own condition so that they can develop the tools to manage it throughout their lives. Many children without access to health care are never diagnosed and so have very little hope of overcoming the obstacles they encounter in daily life.
There have been recent changes in the way special education is understood and implemented in schools in Paraguay. The three areas that this project proposes to concentrate on are: teaching methods, psychological effects, and early intervention. Another important goal of this program is educating people without disabilities so that the children who live with them can have the chance to interact normally in a classroom without being discriminated against because of their disabilities.
There are many challenges associated with integrating children with disabilities, especially those from a lower socio-economic background, into schools and an equal opportunity work environment. This is one area that Friendship Mission will continue to address, along with continuing to provide free basic health care to children who live and work on the streets.
The main goal for the coming year is to implement a diagnostic and treatment center for children on the streets, for children with health problems, and for children with special educational needs. Parents from the community have been very grateful to this program and desperately need it to continue so that their children can receive the basic health care that parents cannot afford to give them.