Children's experiences of daily life in two boarding schools in rural Bolivia
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Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Children living in rural areas face challenges in gaining access to services such as education. For families living in poverty, the costs associated with education can be one prohibitive factor. In ensuring children’s right and thus access to education, civil society organizations play a role in ‘filling’ the gap for populations living in poverty such as the one included in this study. This paper aims to explore the experiences and attitudes of children attending two boarding schools run by a non-governmental organization in rural Bolivia. Qualitative data was generated through the use of multiple methods including semi-participant observation, drawings, sentence completion, ranking and semi-structured interviews with both children and adults. This study explores several key concepts in the Social Studies of Childhood Studies related to structure and agency. Set schedules and routines as well as inter-generational relations heavily define children’s daily lives in the boarding schools. These structures reinforce several socio-cultural values while promoting modern values such as education and equality. The research found that despite increased constraints on children’s space and time, children employ strategies to exercise agency and gain control over the use of their time. Children experience many benefits in the boarding schools such as food and shelter, social interaction with peers and adults and participating in group activities. Children are generally placed in the boarding schools for their best interest. Yet, most children are not consulted on their family’s decision and if given the option, many children would choose to return home to be with their families. Realizing children’s rights requires more than implementing the Articles in the UNCRC. Children are placed in the House for their right to education as well as for the provision of food and other needs. Nevertheless, education should not be a reason for children having to forego being with family. The boarding schools juxtapose children’s rights and well-being or what the Convention refers to as the best interest of the child. A holistic approach is therefore needed in order to assess both objective and subjective factors that play a role in children’s lives. A key component to this is to understand children’s perspectives as they fully comprehend their lived experiences and the factors they value for their well-being and better quality of life.