Claudia Gonzales

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 2016
This description of Claudia Gonzales's work was prepared when Claudia Gonzales was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016.


Claudia empowers children and young people through their Social Sports Schools and prevents abandonment when detecting vulnerable children in schools where she has alliances. She also, strengthens the social structure gathering the family and the community around positive living spaces. Claudia breaks with the scheme of family violence and neglect of children and young people, combining Prevention with Care Programs and Shelters. She showed that it is possible to reintegrate healthy and empowered young people with "life skills". Claudia marked a before and after in Bolivia, since her model of shelters did not exist in that country, and there were only correctional centers for children and adolescents, where they were treated as prisoners.

The New Idea

Claudia promotes the exercise of the rights of children and adolescents, to build a culture of protection, good treatment and peace. Claudia differs from other initiatives because she clearly separated children’s stages and developed programs for different needs. Even though she started with a Protection Program, which serves a population of 0-20 years old, she expanded and developed the Prevention Program with the Social Sports Schools, thus eradicating the causes of child abandonment. In the Social Sports Schools, she empowers in skills children and young people, from 6-17 years old and their families, she creates a bridge between formal and informal education, where children from different social classes interact and work together, and thus prevent new children joining the streets.
At a very young age Claudia became involved with children who have been abandoned, and unlike the traditional approaches she does not criminalize them, but understands that children have developed a series of behaviors, thoughts and defense mechanisms that have helped them survive, they have put aside their fears, emotions and feelings, typical of their age, to assume the defense of their lives turning them into "adults". Claudia saw and sees street children as owners of their circumstances, capable of making their own decisions and choose a positive and responsible change in their lives. Children capable of learning new values, behaviors and lifestyles. Claudia believes in a demanding and driving love, responsible and mature, not an overprotective love that makes it impossible for them to adapt to a world of challenges. It is a love that gives them the security of having people who will constantly encourage them and hold them accountable for their own actions and decisions.
Claudia’s model is replicable because she has demonstrated the full reinsertion of sheltered youngsters and the actual prevention of domestic violence situations and in schools. For it empowers children, strengthens family links and coexistence in schools. Besides having involved the State to assume responsibility, Claudia has created awareness and articulated artists, businessmen and the general public to support financially and with volunteer work in preventing violence and child neglect. This way she obtained the alliance with the recognized Real Madrid Football Club Foundation, for technical, logistical and image support programs promoting Values Education in these soccer schools. Claudia could bring to ASHOKA leadership on the issue of children and young people’s rights, impacting the entire region with the replica of her model.

The Problem

In Latin America, 1 in 5 children under 15 is in the streets (CEPAL, 2013). In Bolivia, 44% of the total population is under 18, which translates to 4.4 million young people. And more than half of them (58%) are in poverty. In the country, poverty affects almost half the population (45% of a total of about 11 million people), and most of these people are children and adolescents. There are 3,000 children living in the street, about 1 million children and adolescents who are workers and exactly 1,487 children living in prisons with parents serving criminal sentences. To these inhuman living conditions is added violence, since there is an alarming number where 7 out of every 10 children receive physical or psychological abuse in their homes, in schools or in their workplaces. The very poor situation of children in Bolivia is so severe that, for every 100 children under 1, exactly half have no birth certificate and 30 children out of 100, dropout from elementary school. And in addition, there are complex situations where children are the most vulnerable. Consequently, for example, 47% of reported victims of trafficking crimes are girls, adolescents and women.
Only 20,000 children live in foster homes, and 80% of them have families. The loss of parental care in families is due to lack of resources or lack of income that prevents the fulfilment on covering the basic needs of children. In Bolivia there exist very poor native families, farmers with parents who do not speak Spanish -but only the Quechua or Aymara native languages-, that cannot read or write, with 6 children that do not attend school and most of them without ID, because they have to help in the survival, living in overcrowded conditions without access to basic services, and health. Likewise, when they arrive in the city they find themselves without training skills, outside agriculture, which leads them to extreme poverty, drug use, and alcohol consumption, deriving into situations of domestic violence, resulting into children leaving their homes.
Children in street conditions assume violence as a means of survival and a way to interact and solve problems. There is an excessive use of force and assaults with knives are frequent. They look at people who approach them with distrust and feel no need to go to school because it is much more attractive to experience and explore life from the streets. To momentarily escape the aggressive environment in which they live drug use is constant, mainly as ‘Clefa’ inhalants. Many times, the lack of parental care and the abandonment situation means that girls approach the world of prostitution, and this exposes them to the risk of early pregnancy or contract a sexually transmitted disease as serious as HIV/AIDS. Scars they will have for the rest of their lives. The lack of budget allocation from the State to protective and guarantors of Children’s Rights of Institutions, as well as the constant rotation of personnel in these institutions make it difficult to implement public policies on the rights of children and adolescents.

The Strategy

Claudia creates her Alalay Foundation (, -which means "feeling cold" in the Aymara native language-. In 1995 she started with the Protection Program, which serves a 0-20 years old population. She has several programs or spaces for social reintegration. She has the Shelter Houses, which houses kids between 7-13 living in the streets and that no longer wish to continue in the streets. It addition she has the Villages, which houses newborns to 14 years old. Most of these children have lived in vulnerable conditions. Followed by a stage of Independence, where young people between the ages of 15 and 20 leave the Village and go live in the Shelter Houses along with the other children and young people who come from the streets. All this as a way for young people to be role models, contribute to the reintegration of these street children and also have food and shelter so they can prepare in a trade or profession that allows them economic independence. She managed to replicate this model in several State Shelters (SEDEGES) of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, El Alto, La Paz, Tarija, Sucre and Potosí. In 2002, she decided to solve the problem, from the root, and generate a general culture for the protection of children, via the Prevention Program, through the Social Sports Schools, for dropout prevention, domestic violence, homeless children and early pregnancy by a strategy of teaching values in soccer. She created partnerships with Public Schools, and managed to obtain spots for the beneficiaries of her programs and awarded scholarships to children from public schools in vulnerable conditions -30% of children are vulnerable to dropout and other violence problems-. Currently, in a third stage, Claudia has begun to transfer her prevention model to the Municipalities. She has a Board with 5 members -elected every 2 years by an Assembly of 50 members-, 2 Regional Directors, a Prevention Director, a Protection Director, 2 people in the management team and 25 volunteers.
After having served around 45,000 children and adolescents in situation of abandonment, Claudia has a deep understanding of the problem on the situation of children in the streets which allows her to prevent, with a systemic approach, through the Social Sports Centers model. Claudia uses play and sports practice as the main link strategy with children, to work five areas of knowledge: Social, Educational, Physical-Driven, Technical-Tactical and Regulatory. In the Social Education area, the Model focuses on education in values based on the principle that a good athlete reflects identical values to those of a good citizen: Self-Esteem, Communication, Problem and Conflict Resolution, Values, Gender Equality, Leadership, Rights and Duties, Positive Attitude and Environment.
Likewise, Claudia counts, within the prevention model, with the Centers for Comprehensive Development (CDI), in Santa Cruz and in Alto-La Paz, located in communities with extreme poverty; there she developed care methodologies in the communities to identify and address in schools, children in unsafe conditions, providing tutoring and academic leveling with comprehensive evaluations. Multidisciplinary intervention programs to Families, with support for living costs and Productive Workshops for parents, intervention and family therapy, in order to strengthen family ties and empower families and communities and enable them with means to overcome extreme poverty and prevent abandonment. The impact on families has been extraordinary. According to the monitoring of beneficiaries, family communication has improved; in 68% of the families served there are no more couple assaults among parents, 87% of families negotiate peacefully and 83% of parents now express love to their children -a radical shift, considering that, before, 90% of parents didn’t-. Parents have earned income through workshops on which they have been trained in textiles, bakery, pastries. Consequently, generating a more favorable communication environment with their children, supporting school responsibilities, and creating bonds of belonging and community around the Center.
Claudia takes the Multidisciplinary Intervention Program to parents of children and young people attending the Social Sports Schools; there, converge fathers and mothers, from different social strata; they sign an agreement where they commit to comply with 70% of training in life skills and strengthen family ties. With the Social Sports Schools teachers from neighboring schools also benefit, because with the help of social workers from the Alalay Foundation they are trained in sports pedagogical and technical tools, comprehensive evaluations are carried out in schools identifying and serving children in unsafe conditions with athletic scholarships, tutoring and academic leveling. In addition, teachers are replicators, to other allied schools, of methodology and participatory techniques in life skills, prevention of school, family and social violence and in the capacity of observation, analysis and critical thinking of the dynamics and problems of personal life and social environment of children. This proposal also reaches community leaders and local governments. Claudia, with Alalay succeeded in reducing 65% of child labor, and children, in the intervened schools, have improved 75% of their academic performance. In addition, legal assistance has been provided to parents for IDs, giving people access to public assistance in health and education -Registration of children in schools-. In regards to teachers, about 95% acquire and apply new strategies in class communication, education, negotiation and children’s rights.
Today, Claudia has 8 Social Sports Schools in 3 of the Departments grouping the highest population of Bolivia: La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. And she works in partnership with 80 public and private schools in 27 municipalities of La Paz and Santa Cruz, in high-risk communities with high rates of poverty, domestic and social violence, where they operate Centers that rely on schools and converge around 10 schools each. She has transferred the Model to 230 Teachers and has a history of 25 thousand benefited children. In addition, she has shared methodologies with African countries.
In the Social Sports Schools, children in vulnerable conditions and risk, share with adolescents between 15 and 20 years of age the Alalay Foundation Housing Shelters. Through training and sports tournaments children/young people who lived on the street, and those living in violent and abusive familiar surroundings have an intercultural and intergenerational dialogue that fosters peace, good treatment, assertive communication, self-esteem and healthy lifestyles activities, preventing the cycle of violence in their living environments. With the Socio-Sports Schools there exists dynamic post-game empathy with social organizations and reinserted people who teach children the value of education. A story of learning experience for children is the life of Toribio Barrenoso, who at the age of seven left his home due to his uncles’ continuous attacks. After being 3 years on the street he was rescued by the Alalay Foundation. Since he was small his escape from violence was to play football and today, at the age of 33, he returns all the love and support received from Alalay as soccer coach in the Social Sport Center Max Paredes, a very poor area of La Paz. When Toribio left Alalay, he traveled through Europe and Asia and trained as a sports coach. He now works at the Foundation and through play and guidance teaches values to children who, like him, as a child, run the risk of domestic violence and neglect.
In 2013, as part of sustainability, Claudia signed an agreement with the Real Madrid Foundation and through soccer, developed a model of sustainability for these sports schools. Solidary students -which are 40% of the benefited- pay a monthly fee of (US$ 35) and with this, scholarships are created to favor the development of the other 60%, who are vulnerable children, and who, although living with their parents are at risk. Real Madrid trains coaches on sports and donate their brand so they can access other sponsorships. Claudia also promotes the donations and symbolic adoption strategy. She has the support of Banco Mercantil, and has developed projects with the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Rotary Club and other organizations that have contributed with food, supplies, infrastructure. Among her sponsors is SAMSUNG with the social media campaign "Helping, costs nothing", where for every ‘Like’ to the campaign page, she received financial support. This has helped her raise awareness on children's problems.
Claudia also carries out lobbying and negotiating with government authorities and local actors in Municipalities and Departments, this way she managed to influence the agenda and public policy. This is how in 2014 she got 4 Municipalities to take responsibility for their Social Sport Schools and allocate budgets for the prevention and eradication of school, family and social violence. Claudia appeals to the human rights approach to achieve structural and institutional changes. She has presented concrete proposals at a departmental level, and legislation proposals at national level, which are strengthened through networks. For prevention, Claudia articulates with the street network in Bolivia, the National Network NNASC, made up of 20 national institutions, and is part of the International Network of Street Teachers "DYNAMO" based in Portugal, which groups organizations in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Through this network she shares methodologies, laws and good practices. Claudia has alliances that allow her to go as far as Unicef, the Don Bosco Project, the La Paz Foundation, Save the Children International Plan and about 30 local organizations working on issues of violence prevention from an exercise of rights approach. She also works very closely in a programmatic way with Children and Adolescents Defenders of, La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. As well as the ‘SEDEGES’ which are public entities that oversee the welfare of children and adolescents in cities.
For the reinsertion of the Social Sports Schools throughout Bolivia she works with the Ministry of Education, Sports, Opportunity Equality, Land and Health, and with the Governments of La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Tarija, as well as the 15 municipalities of Santa Cruz and 12 municipalities of the City of La Paz. In the next 5 years Claudia has the goal of being in all the cities in Bolivia and have 20% of transfer to municipalities. She will replicate in other places in Latin America, -with special attention in Brazil due to its population density and high social inequality-. Her vision is to create a non-violence culture within the family, school and community so children and adolescents in extreme poverty and vulnerability are not expelled or abandoned by the family or school nucleus, nor live on the streets because of physical, psychological, sexual or emotional abuse.

The Person

Claudia comes from a family who taught her the responsibility to give to others. Both her mother and father served as a role model and inspiration, since she remembers that there were always people who helped with either shelter or food at her home. Since she was 12 she went to orphanages and talked to the children and at 15 she led educational programs for the older, who had to leave the orphanage. In fact, she contacted several supermarkets and restaurants so they would hire them and this way have money to afford a place to live.
Claudia's life changed radically one morning in 1990, when on her way to college, with just 18 years of age, she found 30 street children roaming the streets. When she saw them she asked herself: Who looks after them? What does the State do? and the key question: What do I do? At that moment, she met Joaquín Verastez a 7-year-old boy who had not eaten in two days. Claudia invited him to have breakfast and listened to his history of neglect and mistreatment from his mother, who left him with his grandmother, and that after her death came under the tutelage of such a violent and abusive uncle that Joaquin preferred the street. The next day Claudia gave him a pair of shoes, and the following day took him to live in her own home and with her own means decided to pursue the protection of street children.
She starts with the evening school reinsertion program, and for the next three consecutive years she encouraged her friends to volunteer with her and during the evenings they would go play soccer in a park in La Paz, where street children would take shelter from the darkness. This way she earned their trust and taught them to read and write encouraging them to join the school. Later, with the support of her parents, she managed to rent a house and moved, together with one of her classmates, to live with the 50 youngest children from the park, and with donations managed to equip the house. Thus began Alalay.
In 1996, she opened the house for girls and teenage mothers, housing teenage girls from 11 to 15 who had their babies in the streets, as a result of abuse or rape. And under her direction motivated two educators and some volunteers to join her cause. Today she has developed a Model, not only of protection but prevention, and with her Social Sports Schools she dreams that no child takes to the streets. Claudia, like their parents, involves her children and husband in this life project. She is a civil engineer, but she taught herself education, values, human rights and enjoys the recognition of the Bolivian Society.