This is the story of how the Claves Program began.
Karina had been different for a while. Her joy had disappeared. She often skipped out on attending the YFC Youth Center in Montevideo. When she came, she kept to herself. She seemed afraid. She didn’t go to the Youth Center camp because her family wouldn’t sign the permission slip.
One of the Youth Center mentors closest to her noticed the change and for several weeks tried to get closer to her, without much success.
One day Karina showed up, visibly troubled and upset. She looked for the mentor and told her she needed to talk. In a separate room, trembling with fear, Karina told the mentor that she could not go back to her house and that her family couldn’t know where she was.
Little by little, Karina was able to talk about the terrible situation of sexual exploitation, which involved her family, the police, and a neighborhood exploitation network. One of Karina’s relatives had sexually abused her and later exploited her sexually, earning a lot of money from the girl's body.
We were deeply challenged as people of faith: What could we do? How could we help? Where to start? How to protect this girl who had risked her life by trusting us and now couldn’t go back to her family’s house? How does God allow these unfair things to happen? How can adults do so much harm to children and adolescents?
Although we had no experience with this type of situation, we put ourselves in God’s hands and began to act stealthily. Karina was rescued with the help of a lawyer friend, a doctor, and a government institute. She was taken from her home environment to a safe place while waiting on the judicial process. Only a few Youth Center mentors knew about the situation, for their own protection.
When Karina disappeared, her family and the police began looking for her. When they came to the Youth Center, the staff were able to honestly say that they did not know where she was or what had happened to her.
After some time, Karina was able to provide evidence she had obtained by putting her life at risk, and several of the people involved were prosecuted.
Karina was able to get out and she started a new life.
This experience opened our eyes to a reality that we had not seen: the sexual violence suffered by many children and adolescents.
This difficult experience planted a seed that led us to study the issue in-depth. We searched for a way to prevent sexual violence and intervene before these little ones, who are loved deeply by God, experience so much suffering.
Violence in childhood limits the possibilities for physical, mental, social, and spiritual development. But it also affects the possibility of a healthy relationship with God, especially when the violence occurs within the church.
Abuse causes children to live in fear, pain, shame, and anger. These emotions hinder healthy growth, and make it difficult to learn, love, trust, believe, be generous, and distinguish between good and bad.
Child abuse is one of sin’s cruelest manifestations, which breaks God's design for childhood. It is an insult to the image of God.
For 25 years, a team of professionals at Youth for Christ Uruguay has led Programa Claves- a ministry focused on the prevention of violence against children and adolescents. The ministry comes from a hope-filled perspective, in tune with the good news of Jesus Christ. We want each child and adolescent to be treated as Jesus would treat them.
The Claves ministry has spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean through Christian churches, networks, and organizations. We firmly believe that we are collaborating in God's mission for this world, and in particular for the “least of these.”
Over the years, Claves has promoted biblical reflection on the subject, created innovative methodologies, and developed teaching materials. We have trained educators and mentors to work with children, adolescents, families, schools, churches, and communities to promote fair and care treatment of children and adolescents. We’ve carried out public awareness campaigns with teen leadership to advocate for better public policy. Teens have also shared what they have learned with other countries.
Initially, the Claves team traveled to different countries in the region to train educators and mentors to carry out prevention programs with children, adolescents, and families. Soon, the demand for training was so great that we began to train trainers in each country so that they would have the expertise to train educators and mentors locally.
At this time, there are more than 100 Claves trainers in the region, who are certified to train in our main curricula:
- “Empowering Ourselves through Play to Face Hard Situations”: Sexual violence prevention through workshops led by trained educators and mentors. The workshops establish a playful and pleasant space, without creating unnecessary fear. Children and adolescents develop cognitive, emotional, relational, and spiritual strengths to face situations of sexual abuse or other situations where their rights are not respected.
Each participant receives the “Empowering Ourselves through Play” manual and a Teaching Material Toolkit which includes puzzles, domino, posters, board games, stories, and songs to use during workshops with children and adolescents, given within the context of a church, school, community center, etc.
- “Fair and Caring Treatment within the Family”: Promotion of healthy family relationships and parental capacities. A family may be the best place to grow or the worst, where children are most vulnerable to abuse. To grow as God wants, children need people who love them, take care of them, listen to them, satisfy their needs, comfort them, and are good models. Children need to be disciplined without violence, educated with love and hope, and to be shown the concrete expression of God's love.
In this course, educators and mentors are trained to carry out a series of activities with family groups, promoting healthy attachment and empathy; knowledge of the needs of each age and how to respond to them; analysis of families of origin and parental capacities; sexual education within the family; discipline with fair and caring treatment; the fair and caring treatment toward oneself, toward the other family members and toward the environment; how protective networks collaborate in parenting; parenting support through biblical reflection, etc.
Each participant receives the "Growing Up with Love" manual and a toolkit of play-based teaching materials to use with families.
- Fair and Caring Treatment Campaigns
The Fair and Caring Treatment Campaign is a public awareness campaign led by adolescents to raise awareness about the mistreatment of children and adolescents.
Adolescents from educational institutions and churches participate in conceptual workshops and training in varied artistic techniques. Through creative activities, adolescents capture the attention of adults and challenge them to be symbolically vaccinated against abuse. They invite adults to commit to a culture of good treatment through concrete actions such as listening, believing, including, and protecting children, as well as reporting all situations of violence.
This campaign was born in Uruguay in 2003 and has expanded to 16 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.
- Uruguay “Country of Fair and Caring Treatment”
Campaign for the prevention of child and adolescent sexual exploitation, carried out by trained youth alongside adult mentors and educators. Through a symbolic passport, adolescents and youth promoters invite tourists to commit themselves to the prevention of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. Communicational tools, such as TV ads, brochures, maps, and posters help spread the message. This campaign was created in 2012 and has been shared in Guatemala and El Salvador.
During the pandemic, Claves has developed new, online training to promote resilience, life-purpose for teens, and healthy discipline. We seek to continue our contribution to promoting fair and caring treatment and preventing child abuse, according to the heart of God