History of the Children's Center
St. Bernadette´s Children’s Centre is a non-profit making organization, situated on a barren, poverty stricken hillside in the district of San Martin de Porres, Lima, Peru.
Our main objective is to provide a safe and caring environment for the children of the immediate area, irrespective of race and creed. An environment where they can grow and learn to appreciate themselves and others as valuable members of society, while at the same time being able to enjoy their childhood through play and the many different activities on offer. Our hope is that when these children are parents they will be able to pass on what they have gained through their experience in the Centre.
The story of St. Bernadette´s Children´s Centre began with the arrival of Fr. Tony Coney to the parish of Los Santos Arcangeles, in 1995. During those first months he frequently visited the poor and barren hillside of Corn Hill, in order to get to know the people and the reality they were living in. What impacted him most was the situation of the children, which became the impetus for the founding of the Centre.
In August of 1996, there was the possibility of buying a two storied house on top the hill, and having consulted with the women of the local prayer group in regards to the needs of the children, it was decided to buy the house. Afterwards, however, there was no money left over to renovate and furnish the house for the children. All we had was the shell, along with, as the contract of sale stated, “The air above it”. So, Fr. Tony wrote to his home parish of St. Bernadette´s, as well as to other future support groups, e.g. St. Anne´s Parish, Belfast, and L.A.S.C.O. Derry, with a request for funding the proposed project. The parish supported the idea, and consequently organized a collection that enabled us to start renovating, and also to furnish and equip the different workshops and play-areas. Bit by bit the house took shape to what was become the first Children´s Centre.
The Centre was inaugurated on 15th February, 1997, the “Padrinos”(sponsors) being Gina Yanez de la Borda, a human-rights lawyer, and Fr. Peter Byrne, a Maryknoll Priest from whom Fr. Tony received the initial encouragement to start the project. In the first three years the Centre opened only in the afternoons for children between the ages of 3 to 12,
with the number participating increasing from 70 initially to 250-300 daily. In 1998 a Civil Association was formed in order to have professional Peruvians on the board which could manage and direct the project towards the future, so ensuring the continued development of the project in response to the needs of the children as they arose.
In 1999 it was obvious that the Centre was too small and that we would have to extend in order to accommodate all those who wanted to enter. It was decided to buy the adjacent house, while on the other side; the natural fall-off of the hillside could also be used to build on. With funding principally from Ireland Aid, the construction started in December 1999 and finished in May 2000. With these extensions we were able to triple the size of the original Centre, adding more workshops, while enlarging the study and play-areas, having a special area solely for the psychological service.
So, we were now ready to develop and expand our work in supporting, not only the children in the afternoons, but also the adolescents and youth up to the age of 16 in the mornings, so operating the full day. A few weeks after the opening we had on average 400 children daily coming into the Centre.
In 2001 we started to organize meetings for the children and adolescents to promote and enable a more direct participation in the planning and development of the project by the children, as well as electing representatives from among themselves to meet with the coordination team. Also in this year, thanks once again to Ireland Aid, we were able to build a new carpentry workshop, and a kitchen, showers and changing room for the staff.
The years 2002 saw the formation of staff teams in the different areas of work, to bring to fruition the plans and goals set out for the year, while at the same time having common projects between the areas to unite the work as a whole. We also saw the last of the building this year with the addition of a reading room annexed to the study area in order to try and promote the habit of reading among the children.
Click on the immage below to visit Fr Tony Coney's Web site. You will enjoy the wonderful story and the images and vidios he has uploaded to the web site.