Bolivian Mennonites support services for addictions, abuse

CHIHUAHUA COLONY, Bolivia

As criminal investigation continues into gang rape allegations on some Mennonite colonies in Bolivia, local congregations see a need to reach out to people dealing with addictions, sexual abuse, and violence against women.

The Mariposa Women and Children’s shelter opened in April 2010, and 7.5 hectares of land is being purchased for a rehabilitation centre that will offer treatment programs for men seeking freedom from alcohol and drug addictions. Both facilities are located near Pailon, 60 kilometres east of Santa Cruz, in a country that has 50,000 Low German Mennonites living in 63 colonies and communities.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Bolivia is working with the Mennonite churches that are developing the centre and is supportive of the efforts to provide a safe environment for women. MCC has been working with Low German Mennonite communities since the 1950s to enhance the communities’ ability to address issues of literacy, healthy families, substance abuse, environmental concerns, conflict resolution, and spiritual renewal.

Construction on the rehabilitation centre will begin as soon as land transactions are completed. “I’ve been getting lots of phone calls about when we will open,” said Klaus Rempel, who represents the Chihuahua Colony on a seven-member planning committee to develop a 20-bed centre.

Alcohol and substance abuse, family violence, teen pregnancies, and sexual abuse are symptoms of low self-esteem – a “spiritual sickness” prevalent in many Mennonite colonies and communities in Bolivia, said Rempel.

Quoting Isaiah 61:1–2, Rempel said churches are stepping up to the challenge of serving God through “binding up the broken hearted” and comforting people who are hurting.

The rehabilitation program will include medical assessments, classroom instruction, Bible studies, a full range of individual and family counselling, and recovery plans in the event of a relapse.

Gladys Terichow, MCC Canada

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