“I was a little problematic before,” admits 18-year-old Felipe. “I was disobedient. I help my dad now, and I help my brothers in what I can. I used to dress ugly, like those criminals out there. I look better now.”
Felipe lives with his dad, two brothers, two sisters, his grandma, three dogs and two cats in a house in the hills that surround Bogotá, Colombia. There’s a lot of love and laughter in their home now, says his sister Rosa: “We are all very close.”
But it hasn’t always been so easy. With their mother in prison and their dad hard at work, the kids had some behaviour problems. In 2018, with their father struggling to cope, Felipe and his younger siblings were taken into the care of Michín Foundation, a residential institution.
The children’s basic needs were met, but what was missing was a family. “I really needed to be with my dad and my sister,” says his sister Rosa. “Sometimes I felt alone.” Felipe agrees.
“Practically they gave us everything, but the thing we needed was the love and affection of someone who loved us,” he says.
“We could have psychologists, social workers, classmates, teachers... but we didn’t have the love of a dad, which was what we needed.”
A little over a year later, the siblings got what they needed: they returned to their family home, thanks to the work of Lumos and Michín. As part of our mission to end the institutionalisation of children in Colombia, we’ve been working with Michín to transition away from an institutional care model to providing support for children within family settings.
A psychologist and social worker have been helping the children to readjust to life at home. “They have taught us to be very tolerant and to focus on school,” says Rosa. “When we have a problem, we immediately tell them and they help us with everything.”
“They always make us smile,” adds José, their youngest brother. “They helped us become better people and improve our behaviour.”
The pandemic brought new challenges. Their dad lost his job, and the social worker and psychologist couldn’t visit. Luckily, we were still able to step in and support the family.
Last year, we helped provide emergency food packages and financial support for other essential items, and a tablet so the children can continue to speak to their social worker and keep up with their studies.
The children agree that the greatest strength of their family is the bond between them: they like to spend time together playing, cooking or walking the dogs. “Like every family, we have problems,” says Felipe, “but what unites us is love.”
Photography: © Lumos / Irene Littfack