Suzy was was born and lived with her family in Hove until age 18 when she decided to take a GAP year and work with disadvantaged children in Paraguay. It was here she realized that she wanted to open a charity to support children in need. Suzy has a passion for working with children and as a mother herself, believes that education and basic needs such as water and a decent health service should be available to all little people. She hopes that by founding Kiya Survivors she has helped many more children and families, get access to these vital and yet basic services.
Your gap year abroad to South America when you were 18 served as a catalyst for you forming Kiya Survivors at the age of 21. What about your work with underprivileged children moved you to start your own organization?
It was the lack of support not for just abused or abandoned children, but primarily, for children with special needs living in poverty. It is a minority sector that only really became brought to the front line in the UK in the 50’s. In Peru, people struggle to feed themselves and send their ‘normal’ kids to school, so anyone born to be different, just isn’t a priority. And I understand that! But I wanted to show people that we are all special and all deserve attention, love, and care, as well as basic rights like education and access to medical care.
Kiya Survivors is based in the UK, what are some of the biggest cultural differences for underprivileged children in Peru as opposed to the UK?
The differences are so great! The corruption in the government allows children to be even more vulnerable than in most countries, and there just isn’t enough support for those living in poverty--and when I say poverty, I don’t mean like we think of it in the UK. I mean no running water, no toilet, no electricity. No beds. No help. In the UK, we have the NHS! Free and good quality state education! Benefits for parents if they are single or have ill health! In Peru, if you don’t have money your options are very limited, and the free health care only covers very basic problems, meaning many, when faced with severe problems, are unable to seek help. It really makes me feel grateful for what we have in the UK. People don’t realize what they have here.
The mission of Kiya Survivors is to give Peruvian children who truly need help a fresh start. How do you go about providing support, resources, education, and programming for these young people?
We have a professional team of therapists including Social Workers, Psychologists, Physiotherapists, Project Managers, and teachers dedicated to working with children and their families. We run a program called Proyecto de Vida (Life Project). We assess, analyze, and put together individual family plans to help families escape poverty with this program. This includes: Enrolling children into schools, getting medical attention, helping parents find work, installing water, building bathrooms, putting together in home physio routines, and much more. It works and really does change lives.
What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to a prospective applicant of your volunteer abroad programs?
Throw yourself in! Peru is chaotic, often makes no sense, and is the opposite to what you probably know, in so many ways! But, it is beautiful, hopeful, and exciting. The children don’t just need professional helpers, they need smiles and love, fun and laughter. Everyone has different skills. All of them can be used onsite and WILL make a difference. So come with an open mind and heart and you will take more away with you than you think!
You work with almost one thousand Peruvian youth in need of help every year. Do you have plans for any expansion beyond the five projects Kiya Survivors currently operates?
No! If anything we will be down sizing so we can have a greater impact on those we already support. It’s about quality of service and our projects are always metamorphosing to new circumstances and improving how we run our programs to ensure we truly are providing the best we can.
What is your favorite memory from your time establishing Kiya Survivors in Peru?
The day our first Kiya kid got a job! He was from a broken family and had had a tough time. He had Down Syndrome and was the sweetest and most determined lad I have known. He said he would be Mayor one day...and he is now the Mayor’s assistant! It was a proud moment and really made me realise what an amazing job we were doing.
What has been Kiya Survivors’ biggest accomplishment since it was founded in 2001?
There isn’t one. Every child’s individual accomplishment is our latest and greatest success story!
What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
Seeing a child and their family turn the corner and become a family after months of therapy and support to help them learn to love their children, to see them actually accepting and loving them. It’s a special thing.
What is on the horizon for Kiya Survivors? Anything we should know about?
I am leaving! I’m four months pregnant right now so will be handing over the charity to the teams while I take a year off to enjoy MY family now!