In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Community is Core to Recovery
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” – Desmond Tutu
McCaig’s belief in nature’s restorative power is one of the biggest reasons for creating Refugio. NOVO clients are frequently prescribed “time in community and nature,” something that McCaig has coined “immersion therapy.”“There is a profound spiritual connection in nature that cannot be emulated in a concrete building,” he says.
None of this happened overnight, of course. The journey to Bolivia began years before, back in Canada, back in that comfortable environment where a young Warren McCaig entered a bible college to study counseling and theology.
In Bolivia, McCaig’s work took him to a radio station doing outreach to migrant workers. There, he says, he formed a profound connection with Diego Davila, a Quechua migrant from the mountains of Bolivia, who introduced McCaig to a very different world from any he’d seen before: a world of struggle, pain, and inequality.
“I don’t think I had even heard Spanish in Alberta,” said McCaig who was captivated by the Davila’s compassion for his people and his enthusiasm for helping them.
“He had a real outreach into the settlers into the lowlands. I was working alongside him while barely able to communicate, solving technical, computer, and networking issues for the radio network. He had such a compassion for those people that even without a lot of language, it was impossible not to pick up on his enthusiasm and heart for outreach to that people group.” This non-verbal partnership with Davila led to an epiphany for McCaig. “I remember thinking what a privilege it would be to be able to work alongside that guy and get to know him without a translator.”
Jackie and Warren returned to Canada but soon the EFCCM invited them to come back. Inspired by his time with Davila, this time they went better prepared: for nine months they took Spanish language immersion classes in Texas, Mexico, and Cuba. After they landed back in Santa Cruz, a home for abused and neglected children invited Jackie to join its board of directors—a position that opened them to new life-changing experiences.
Bolivia has no foster care system, so such homes often become permanent shelters for children removed from abusive situations. Part of Jackie’s role in that project was to throw birthday parties for all the kids. At one of these parties, McCaig befriended a young boy, spending a carefree afternoon swimming and playing ball with him. Eventually he asked the boy about himself.
“He looked over at me, and without breaking a stride said, ‘I saw my dad kill my mom, so they took me away and put me in this home.’”
Later, he learned the family had a history of substance abuse. One night the father had come home drunk. An argument ensued, and he murdered the boy’s mother. “I just didn’t know how to emotionally respond to, or appropriately respond, to a kid with that kind of trauma,” McCaig remembers. “We need to help kids in this situation, but what needs to be done to help before they get into these types of situations?”
As he tells this story, McCaig recalls the words of South African cleric Desmond Tutu: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” Tutu’s words gave McCaig an answer to his question “What needs to be done?” He looked upstream, at rehab programs that could help adults and potentially spare children the kind of trauma experienced by the young boy he’d met.
As he researched rehab in Bolivia, though, what McCaig found was not promising. Existing projects fell into one of two camps. One model, a longtime classic in addiction treatment, pushed men into lockdown facilities, forcing on them a stringent regimen of work and moral reform. Instead of healing, these programs often create more layers of trauma. Other projects were led by pastors who were usually in recovery themselves, using their churches to pull men into a litany of church services, prayer groups, and religious commitments. McCaig describes the approach like this: “Let’s do church eight hours a day, every day, until these guys aren’t addicts anymore.”
McCaig believes a spiritual component should be one element for recovery—but not the only one. “If you don’t help those people understand the root of their addiction, heal that, develop better emotional tools, sometimes better vocational tools, you’re not providing them with a real opportunity for real recovery and freedom,” he explains.
Artyom Keller is a child of God, writer, explorer, photographer, and lover of people. Born in the USSR, he has made his home across the globe from South Africa to New York City. He loves connecting and supporting the underdogs and unseen. You may find him in interesting places with interesting people. He’s currently following a call to serve vulnerable populations, seeking innovative ways to heal broken lives with love.