This is a program that joins societies and inspires girls in a vulnerable state through the example of mentors. “We create women empowered for the future through real social inclusion and equal opportunities so that they can build a better country,” explains its creator, Luz Dary Bonilla.
Fundación Niñas de luz lives in two different realities:
República de Canadá -- Locality of Ciudad Bolívar
Located in the south of Bogota, this locality has more than 700,000 inhabitants who are stratum 1 and 0 (the lowest in Colombia) and it covers more than almost 13.000 hectares. It has a mountainous topography and 72 percent of its area is considered rural. Ciudad Bolívar is one of the most dangerous and poorest areas of the Capital District of Bogota. It is formed by 360 neighborhoods where violence, contamination, diseases, child abuse, early pregnancies, and malnutrition prevail. These conditions are part of daily life for the population of this neighborhood.
Niza IX -- Suba Locality
The residential complex Niza IX-2 (initially Urbanización Córdoba), was built in 1982 in the north of Bogotá in a residential zone of stratum 6 (the highest in Colombia). It has more than 720 apartments on five floors surrounded by large areas of open space.
It is located in a strategic part of the city, surrounded by important road access as well as by commercial, institutional, recreational, s and medical zones. Moreover, it is comprised of large tracts of open space that offer comfort and fresh air to residents, visitors, as an alternative to the urban environment.
It is easy to ignore the reality of the República de Canadá neighborhood, most people do it. However, indifference was not an option for Luz Dary Bonilla, a woman who as a child lived many of the experiences that the girls from the foundation live today. Yet, she overcame these challenges with the support of her mother and a mentor, who showed her that it is possible to rise from poverty. Her desire to contribute to a positive change to have an impact on the girls of the Ciudad Bolivar locality, motivated her to volunteer for a long time with social organizations that served her as an inspiration to create, four years ago, the foundation Niñas de Luz.
Luz Dary explains: “the girls are living in a situation of forced displacement, poverty, and emotional needs. Most of them live only with their mothers and siblings. The girls are in charge of the house (cleaning, cooking, and baby-sitting) because their mothers work to cover basic needs. All the girls go to school and attend the foundation of their own free will and want to find a place where they can forget about their daily routine, where they can be children again, and where they can receive guidance that will allow them to see themselves as women who with real social value who can contribute to their country.”
These girls were the inspiration for the name of the foundation. “When we were thinking about the name, they suggested that it was something with the word “luz” (light) in it, because their mothers told them that when they arrived from the foundation, they illuminated their homes; as if they were lights. Thus, I decided that the foundation was going to be called “Niñas de Luz” (girls of light) because our objective is for those girls to be role models in the future, they will bring light to their communities, families, and own lives, “explains Luz Dary, creator and director of the foundation.
Three Hours of Urban Transport to Discover a City that Also Belongs to Them
With its site in the north of Bogota, the foundation Niñas de Luz works with girls between the ages of four and 16 years old. Currently, there are 30 beneficiaries that meet every Sunday in the community hall after a long journey across the city.
“Several Sundays, my husband and I went to Ciudad Bolívar to take the girls to the foundation. At the beginning, there were five girls, but every Sunday we were surprised by a new girl who also wanted to come with us. Every trip took around three hours and many times the girls hadn’t eaten the day before, but there they were, waiting for us,” remembers Luz Dary.
“People in my residential complex realized there were more girls each time and that made them curious. At first, they were afraid of the place being damaged or robbed, similarly the girls felt that they didn’t belong to this part of the city, they feared rejection and knew that they were being looked at in a strange way, which increased their fear.”
“When there were 25 girls, it became necessary to talk to the people in my neighborhood so that I could use a common room in an exclusively to develop the foundation programs more easily. It was hard but we knew could do it because everything had worked very well so far; the girls always took good care of the place and my neighbors started to get involved with the foundation through talks, gifts, or just by inquiring about it.”
“Before asking for the authorization, I talked to the girls to know if they really wanted to continue with their three hours of travel to get to the foundation and I also asked them why did they always show up to our meeting place regardless of the personal problems faced, even hunger, and their responses were of vital importance:
“No matter how long it takes for us to go to the foundation every Sunday, we will keep going because on our way there, we have seen all of our City, we know that we live in a poor area and that we are coming to a place where people have more money, parks, streets, theaters, libraries, museums…and now we know that those places belong to us too, that we can share in them and take care of them. Now we can walk by these places feeling more confident and we can talk to people who have taught us that what they have is the result of their work, studies, and a true desire to change their lives.”
This answer gave me the strength to talk to the people in my neighborhood and to propose my idea to make a social contribution to our country. The idea was broadly accepted and since four years ago, our foundation has a place in the north of Bogota,” recalled Luz Dary.
Repeating a Life Story
Luz Dary’s personal story is not too different from the story of the girls in her foundation.
“When I was a little girl, I used to live in an area on the peripheral of Bogota. My mom worked very hard every day to put food on the table for me and my siblings and I used to look across the city from where I lived, so far away, so distant from us…that city where people came from to help us, that city where the rich people lived, those who had beautiful parks, streets, theaters, libraries, and shopping centers. I was sure that I could never go to those places because I was poor, until one day a woman came into my life (my school’s social worker), who became my mentor and my dream builder.
Besides teaching me to believe in myself, she took me to that side of the city; she took me to museums, theaters, shopping centers… and she taught me to write down my dreams, to make them real, and to give back to other generations a part of what God and life were giving to me.
After a couple months, I stopped feeling scared of being in those places, I stopped feeling threatened by the looks people gave me, and I understood that I was part of that society too and that I could change my life if I really wanted to.
As time passed, I graduated as a professional and fulfilled many of the dreams I had written down with my mentor, and I volunteered for many foundations, all of them with projects that took communities to peripheral areas of the city in order to decrease poverty, hunger, violence, child abuse, and many other factors that keeps our country from overcoming the difficulties that keep it underdeveloped”, remembers Luz Dary.
From “God bless you” to Programs of Individual and Group Mentoring
The volunteer experience Luz Dary had, inspired her to take a step forward and create a program of mentoring that today is the pillar of the foundation.
“As a volunteer, I knew it was good to bring hope to the disadvantaged, that it was necessary to work for a change for those who are in a vulnerable place to improve their living conditions because that was what others had done for me in the past but I had my doubts; I wondered if those people really wanted the help we were giving them.
Many times, as a volunteer I asked myself the same question and the answer was always a resounding yes because I saw how everybody took our help with joy and gratitude, with many responding with, “God bless you” Yet, I still felt that something was missing because every week, I could see the same faces arrive with the same problems and I could see myself reflected in every one of them.
At some point, I decided I wanted to have a different foundation, I wanted one where we impacted people through inspiration instead of donations. I did not want to keep being the same volunteer that every Sunday went where poverty and need existed in my city. I wanted them to go where people wanted to help them. I tried to join two societies that were different and I started working for these differences to become a way of creating real life change, the only thing that was important to me was the desire to be a better person that all the girls had,” declared Luz Dary.
With this belief, Fundación Niñas de Luz -Funiluz- offers the following activities to the girls who participate in its program:
1. Individual Mentoring: Each girl has a mentor (female volunteer) who is selected after an open call and an interview with the psychologists of the foundation. The mentor becomes an example and inspiration for their assigned girl during the course of a year and they work together to achieve the academic, cultural, and personal goals of the girl. The mentor can continue to work with the same girl until one of them leaves the foundation as long as both agree to the mentorship. They communicate every week and go on outings together once a month to learn and experience new places.
2. Group Mentoring: During the weekends (Saturdays and Sundays), the girls receive sports training with a soccer school, personal and business training through a program called ANTIVIRUS, and art education with diverse dance classes. “Antivirus is an alliance between the foundation and a business community that wants to educate the girls by giving them exposure to being, doing, and having. The objective is that if girls have a winning mindset, then they won’t allow external situations to affect their lives in a negative way and they will always work to reach their goals in an honest and responsible way. They also train the girls in entrepreneurship so that they can create their own businesses in the future and share the wealth of their knowledge with other,” explains Luz Dary.
3. Educational, cultural, and recreational outings: Focused on the care and enjoyment of common spaces that the girls may have considered out of reach before these experiences.
4. Life Stories: Every month, we have special guests -- that sometimes are the residents of the building where the foundation is located. They share their own life stories with the girls, motivating and inspiring them to create and reach their own dreams.
The foundation currently supports the following dreams:
1. To become an Olympic gymnast: This is the dream of Angheline Cuesta Osorio, who is currently in the Colombian League of Gymnastics. She has already competed twice and has always placed among the first three places.
2. To become a singer: This is the dream of Paula Cuesta Osorio, who is currently studying music thanks to a scholarship that she won with the foundation’s help.
In the future, we want to work with more than one hundred girls in Bogotá and offer support programs in vocational training.
Tangible achievements of Funiluz
1. We have incorporated the girls into a society that they didn’t feel they belonged to.
2. We have created awareness of the importance of their bodies and taught them to not allow sexual abuse of any kind, under any circumstances.
3. The girls are aware of the personal, social, and economic problems that an unwanted pregnancy can create and as a result, none of our girls have gotten pregnant since the creation of our foundation through present day.
4. The girls work proactively to create peace and reconciliation spaces for themselves and their families because many have been displaced by violence and were left with physical and mental wounds.
5. The girls understand that wealth and material goods are mostly the result of study, hard work, and determination to reach goals.
6. The girls enjoy and take care of the City’s common goods.
7. The girls have grown personally and culturally.
8. The number of girls has grown and they now bring others to the foundation who are in need of help.
9. The girls represent Colombia once a year in a world Flashmob for kindness.
10. We have one girl training in the Colombian League of Olympic Gymnastics. She has competed twice and has placed in the first three levels at every competition.
11. We have one girl studying music at a professional level.
12. Each girl has a mentor.
Building up a Strong Support Network
The foundation Niñas de Luz currently counts 15 mentors -- all professionals in different areas who are inspiring confidence in the girls and serving as about themselves and role models. They include two psychologists who graduated with honors and two volunteer doctors who provide monthly check-ups to the girls. “We even have a volunteer in France -- who sends inspiring letters written by French women to the girls here in Bogota, creating a beautiful bond between them. We have another mentor in England, Paola Tello, who is one of the selected physicists for the 2018 Antartida Expedition, she sends a weekly video to the girls teaching them about something new and interesting and shares information about our foundation in the UK,” explains Luz Dary.
“Furthermore, we have created alliances with different institutions that allows us to provide better development programs for the girls: The Comunidad Semilla de Paz and the Antivirus program, the Foundation Tejiendo Sueños, the Program El manto de historias, and Nave Nube that made a donation of school shoes for each of the girls, the church San Maximiliano Kolbe that makes a monthly donation of groceries to the girls, the organization Life Vest Inside that leads the program Dance For Kindness, and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP) Bogotá that has made financial contributions and created different activities for the girls.”
“Lastly, concludes Luz Dary, we would like to expand to have new partners in Colombia and other countries. Slowly, more and more people have joined us, creating an invisible safety net that is making our foundation stronger”.
“We are convinced that the importance of our project does not lie in the amount of people that we have an impact on, but in how we unite societies and inspire future women to change the life of their communities in the building of a better country.”
How can you help?
The current level of funding for the girls’ transportation and the activities are simply not enough. The foundation continues to be supported in part through Luz Dary Bonilla’s personal salary. Many activities are for free or at a very low cost by partners of the foundation.
Yet, at this moment the foundation needs monetary donations “because we don’t have any economic resources besides my salary,” explains Luz Dary. “Our main objective is to find a bus to transport the girls from their homes to the foundation.”
The donation of these resources is guaranteed to be used exclusively for the benefit of the girls and donors will be presented with a detailed audit of their donation and a management report from the foundation explaining in detail the activities that were made possible through the gift with correlating graphic support.
For additional details and to become part of our dream builders network please contact us:
By phone: +57 3005586669
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