Congress may halt a project that creates social programs to help people in South America - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Congress may halt a project that creates social programs to help people in South America

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July 30, 2003

Montevideo, Uruguay- A group of little girls shimmy and shake, showing their dancing skills inside an activity hall behind a small Catholic church in one of the poorest sections of Montevideo. They come here every day after school. "We dance. We help each other. We read," Daniella said. A little boy named Miguel said he loves to come here because "I like to play with his friends. I like to play ball."

One young mother says this place is a haven. "It's very important because it provides a lot of support for people like me," said Shirley Elizolob.

A couple of blocks away, the nuns who run the program grow an organic garden that helps provide two meals a day for some of the children. "They cannot afford even one meal a day," said the Program Director, Sister Silvia Boullosa.

The only two bathrooms in the neighborhood are in the church. The nuns teach the kids health and hygiene. "They improve their social relationships because they feel well," Boullosa said.

None of this would be possible without the United States government. "Right now, we are suffering the crisis and the children are suffering," said Alvaro Mendy, the Fund of the Americas Technical Coordinator.

In the middle of an economic crisis, the Fund of the Americas has allowed Uruguay to use $4.7 million to start programs to help its people throughout the country. "84% of projects are still going," Mendi said.

The after school program is just one of 81 Fund of the Americas projects in Uruguay. Another is on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, the world's widest river. It's at a YMCA camp, but kids can come here to learn how to protect the environment. It's the middle of winter in Uruguay now, so there aren't many kids here. During spring and summer, hundreds of children come from all over the country. "They learn about the importance of taking care about it and how to take care of the trees, the sand, the water," Mendi said.

But the Fund of the Americas could soon go away. Congress hasn't renewed it. "The people are a strong people, and they are trying to survive," said Sister Boullosa. And those people are grateful for the help, but they worry what would happen without the Fund of the Americas. Shirley, that young mother at the after school program, said "the kids would be out in the streets. They wouldn't have a place to go. They would have a different type of education. It would be horrible."

Uruguay's money will run out later this year, but there is still time for Congress to continue the Fund. The girls on the dance floor don't seem too concerned. They're simply enjoying their time together, smiling and dancing even through difficult times on their own Journey of Hope.

posted at 4:45 p.m. by ben.roberts@walb.com