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Following an earthquake which struck Bolivia in 1998, SOS Children's Villages established an emergency relief programme providing food, medical care and shelter, as well as temporary accommodation for over 500 children separated from their families in the disaster … more about our charity work in Bolivia

Rebuilding livelihoods: Gabriela's story

Rebuilding livelihoods: Gabriela's story

Gabriela, a 32-year-old mother of four, lives in El Alto, in the Bolivian highlands. After her sewing machine was stolen, Gabriela found herself unable to earn a living to support her children. As well as replacing her sewing machine, SOS Children have provided Gabriela with business training to improve her families’ income and wellbeing in the long-term.

Like many other migrants in the Bolivian highlands, Gabriela's family were struggling to survive. When they were burgled, thieves not only took all of their possessions, they also deprived the family of making a living. Working as a seamstress from home, Gabriela’s sewing machine was the source of the majority of the family’s income. “He took everything with him, all my sewing machines, everything,” says Gabriela. “I was desperate. I was pregnant and my husband was just not there for us.”

Two of Gabriela’s children, five-year-old Angela and three-year old Noriko, were already attending the SOS nursery in El Alto. When SOS Children approached her family and offered to provide assistance after the burglary, Gabriela jumped at the chance.

Along with other mothers, Gabriela took classes run by SOS Children designed to strengthen self-esteem and build confidence. The courses emphasis the importance of parents making time for themselves. “We learned to value ourselves, as women and as mothers. I used to only focus on my children, not think of myself,” Gabriela explains.

Gabriela also joined a group run by SOS Children which offers mothers business advice to start their own small companies. The group also offers them micro-loans, which, in contrast to banks, does not charge interest. Gabriela received a small loan from SOS Children and decided that the most profitable option would be to use it to invest in her husband’s CD business. Now, Gabriela and her husband sell CDs and DVDs in the local market every weekend. She says “my husband used to sell standing in the shade; now we have a proper booth.”

Today, Gabriela is much more optimistic about the future. She hopes to receive a second micro-loan that, with her savings, will allow her to buy new sewing machines. After attending workshops on marriage and relationships, she also views her home life and relationship differently. "We both used to be intolerant and we fought all the time. I have learned how to interact with him in a way that benefits the family” says Gabriela. Her husband has chosen not to attend the SOS workshops, but this doesn’t hold her back from involving him in what she has learned and working to better the family’s prospects.

SOS Children believe that it is where possible, children should grow up in their biological families. SOS Family Strengthening Programs help families learn to look after themselves and ensure family unity. Learn more about our Family Strengthening Programmes.