Program Director Cochabamba SOS Children's Villages in Bolivia
photo: © Luis Melgar Rada
Family ties across generations: long-term relationship
This Story begins when I was principal at the Agricultural Vocational Training Centre we had in Cochabamba. It was in 1995 when I met Jaime Torrez who was there as a student. He came from the SOS Children’s Village La Paz and was filled with a lot of energy and willingness to face the world. The students used to live at the Vocational Training Centre for two years - a good time to build strong relationships. That happened with Jaime and me. We used to meet and talk about what he had achieved as a student and his future.
He asked me if he could call me “Dad”
When he finished studying he decided to move to the eastern part of the country, the tropical part. He went there to work in an agricultural enterprise. He used to call me twice a year telling me about his adventures and sometimes his problems: “I was working as a tractor driver, I don’t want to work with the chainsaw anymore. I met a girl, …” and so on and so on. One time he called me to tell me that he had been in jail for a few days: he was involved with someone who stole cattle. Another time he called me to ask if he could call me “Dad”. I said “yes” and told him that if he felt like it he was welcome to do so.
We continued to have this phone communication for a couple of years. My wife Luisa and my two sons knew about this relationship and I used to tell them about Jaime’s life.
At that time it was not so easy to get in touch by phone. We did not have mobile phones. For a long time we had no contact. It was up to him to call me, because he moved a lot.
Here is someone who wants to talk to you
In Bolivia the rainy season was very heavy in December 2014 and the tropical region was severely flooded. We at SOS Children’s Villages decided to send a team there to organise an emergency programme. They built a camp in Trinidad. In the middle of January 2015 I got another call. It was our deputy national director who was visiting the emergency programme in Trinidad. Here told me: “There is someone here who wants to talk to you.” I recognised the voice immediately. It was Jaime. He had moved to Trinidad after many years working for ranchers. He had lost my phone number and when he saw the SOS people working in the emergency programme he went there telling them that he grew up in the SOS Children’s Village La Paz and studied at the SOS Vocational Centre. He told them that he had a friend in Cochabamba and mentioned me. We talked for a while, exchanged phone numbers and were happy to be in touch again.
Two weeks later Jaime called me again and he was crying. He asked me if I had heard about the new flood in Trinidad and how two people had been dragged away by the flood. One of them was his second son.
Becoming the child’s godfather
Some weeks later Jaime called again. He was calm. He had some news and a proposal for me. First he told me happily that his wife Martha was expecting a new baby due in July! Second they wanted me to be the godfather for the coming baby. Of course I accepted immediately even though I knew that this kind of situation should be discussed at home. Luisa my wife was always kept informed about Jaime and I was sure that she would agree to my accepting this invitation. So I ended the conversation with him, expressing my gratitude and agreeing to speak again soon about organising the baptism.
A call from Trinidad from somebody else
For about two months I didn’t get any news from Jaime. My attempt to reach him failed, because there was only an answering machine, but suddenly I got a call from a co-worker who was still in Trinidad, working for the emergency programme. He knew about the relationship between Jaime and me. He told me straight away that Jaime had been killed. I couldn’t say a word. I hung up the phone. I called Luisa to tell her what had happened. I really needed to talk to her to discharge all the sadness I was feeling.
We realised that we should somehow get in touch with Martha. However, I had never asked Jaime for her number. Anyway, I managed to contact her through Jaime’s SOS mother who Martha had called before. Martha had told her that Jaime had passed away. When I called Martha she knew me. Jaime had mentioned our relationship. She said that she had already wanted to contact me but didn’t know how to reach me. I closed our conversation wishing her a good birth and saying that we would try to go to Trinidad in August, one month after the expected birth of the baby.
The plan to go to Trinidad
We were unable to organise our activities to travel in August. I called Martha to tell her that and to congratulate her on her new-born son. We agreed that October would be the new month to meet.
Martha called us at the beginning of October, asking if we would come to see them. She told us that the new-born baby was sick and she was afraid that the baby might even die. She asked me if I would have anything against her decision to invite somebody else to become the godfather in case we could not come quickly. She did not want the baby to pass away without being baptised. She said that she and Jaime had another three-year-old son who had not been baptised and that she would wait for us with him to fulfil Jaime’s wish.
Fortunately the baby did not die. We decided to travel to them by the end of December to baptise Jimmy, the three-year-old son. It is almost 1000 kilometres from Cochabamba to Trinidad. My wife Luisa and I really enjoyed the trip, and it was amazing to drive in the Bolivian tropical region. We arrived there on December 30th. The meeting with Martha and her four sons was very emotional. We agreed that it was important to organise Jimmy’s baptism as soon as possible. The Catholic Church used to have strong decrees, e.g. normally a godfather should have a minimum of a week’s preparation for the ceremony, and this was the case with the first church we asked. So we moved to another one where they understood our situation. On 3rd January 2016 we were able to accomplish Jaime’s wish.
It was a magical moment when I held Jimmy in my arms. It was not only the holy water that sealed our promise, it was a long-term relationship that was built during years of waiting for this kind of situation, with a lot of meaning for us and for Jaime’s family. Of course he was present in this moment.
Name changed to protect privacy
Alberto Melgar Rada
is Program Director Cochabamba at SOS Children's Village in Bolivia.
His core motivation is to improve the living conditions for the people in his country. The future of children and community development are the essence of his life. He was an active youth leader and his engagement resulted in political exile. He had to move to Sweden, where he studied agriculture. After seven years he was able to return and began working for SOS in 1998, starting an agricultural technical centre for young people.
Alberto is the proud father of two sons who both live in Europe. He recently lost his beloved wife who was a central link in his social network stretching far beyond the biological family. In his free time Alberto loves travelling and going on picnics.
Alberto lives in Bolivia, a country consisting of 36 nationalities. 48% of the 10 million inhabitants live below the poverty level. Almost 1 million children are at risk of losing their family. Bolivia is a country under development and he feels part of this. He believes in a deep cultural identity and the willingness of the people to fight for their rights.