Out of a catastrophic supermarket fire in which nearly 500 died, a ministry has emerged to enrich the lives of some of Paraguay’s poorest children.
After the conflagration in August 2004, FEISA, the Anglican Training College for Early Years Teachers, began to work with a branch of UNICEF dedicated to helping children under the age of 8, particularly from poor neighbourhoods.
“In partnership”, write SAMS mission partners Caroline Gilmour-White and Samantha Parsons, “we took a Mobile Toy Library (like a Play Workshop) into a school where over 30 children had died and almost every child lost friends and relatives. The Toy Library is a mix of toys, games, dressing-up clothes, stories, and art & craft activities. It enables children to have fun playing (providing a haven from harsh reality), to express feelings through play activities and to learn through play.
“Having no toys, they’d never experienced anything like it. Their joy brought tears to our eyes. So we took it to the Anglican church in the very poor neighbourhood of Zeballos Cue where many people died in the fire.” This spawned more requests and FEISA now takes its own Toy Library to different venues.
One of its ‘stops’ is the church of San Andrés and the children who come to sessions there are dressed almost in rags, normally play with rubbish and have nothing. “Some of them come to church on Sundays. They’re given breakfast, go to Sunday School and if they want, can have a shower and a change of clothes. A washing machine, powder, shampoo and soap have been donated. The clothes are washed during the service and the children return the borrowed clothes at the next play session.”
A visitor commented, “Giving these children a chance to play with educationally stimulating toys is the best thing imaginable. It is such a great work the College and the Church are doing for these kids, really the kind of service Jesus would do.”
SAMS mission partner Mavis Crispin and volunteer colleague Dave Stoker made a trip to Paraguay from their home in Peru to pick up ideas for educational development.
Mavis considered FEISA “an inspirational way to impact the future of Paraguay”. And the scheme which really fired their enthusiasm was the Toy Library. As a result Mavis and helpers trialled a Playbus project in three Lima churches “to bring quality, creative play to children and to build hope and resilience. It sees the children as agents of change in their own community, all in an environment of natural light and space with plants and accessible hydration. It is consistent with the World Health Organisation Quality of life, Religious and Personal Beliefs module.”
Robert Lunt, SAMS (South American Mission Society)