VALERYN | Colombia
Valeryn from Itagüi, Colombia, just outside Medellín, stands in front of her home in one of the city’s shantytowns.
Nine-year-old Valeryn’s father has been in prison for more than half of her life. He has served 5 of his 17-year sentence in La Dorada, Calda, in Colombia—a prison largely reserved for members of political resistance.
Valeryn’s mother María is 45, and now the sole caretaker and provider of her five children. She is unemployed and receiving what little support her older daughter can offer, as well as any help from her neighborhood friends.
The family lives outside Medellín in the municipality of Itagüi. Medellín’s hillsides are lined with shantytowns—shacks piled high and cascading down into the Aburrá Valley mountain range. Their neighborhood, referred to as El hundido (The Sunken), is a foreshadowing of what’s to become of their home.
The hillside shantytowns surrounding Medellín, Colombia.
When Valeryn and her family were located by our Prison Fellowship Colombia staff, they were living in a dilapidated structure of scrap board and poorly secured wood paneling. Sheets draped over holes in the wall, exposed and tangled wires dangled from the ceiling, and corrugated sheet metal and tarps served as the roof. Their home was in danger of being taken out by a landslide, and their lives of being caught in the disaster. Support through our child sponsorship program helped move the family from their leaning shack. Their new apartment is vaulted with brick, and much safer.
In addition, the family’s health is at great risk. Their neighborhood is located in the “red zone,” where a hot bed of debilitating—even deadly—viruses are breaking out, including Zikka, Chikungunya, and Dengue. We’ve ensured Valeryn has all her required vaccinations, but even so, she’s still at risk. And María worries about Valeryn’s physical safety in the neighborhood as she grows older.
Every day is difficult for this family, but we’re helping to lift their burdens. The mere presence of our team in Valeryn’s life means María can work a little more, which is helping the whole family. Valeryn has been enrolled child sponsorship for a year now, and her family receives regular food supplements and enjoys recreational outings hosted by the program. These give Valeryn opportunities to learn about safety and health, as well as to connect with peers who understand what it’s like to have a parent in prison. This social connection and acceptance is so vital for Valeryn’s resilience.
Valeryn also receives counseling and emotional support. This is another crucial piece of care for children of prisoners, who are often ridiculed by peers and rejected by their extended families, as it’s taboo to have a parent in prison.
In 2016, Prison Fellowship Colombia conducted nearly 500 counseling sessions with children in the program. They also work to connect them with their parent in prison, as well as a local church. Nearly half of all families in the program in Colombia are leveraging support from a local church. And Valeryn and her family are gaining strength through the love and care of this new community.
Help a child like Valeryn experience love, acceptance, and hope.