Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Journey of Cohort 10

Picture taken from: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000UEV77QXi57w/s/650/650/Mirador-Andino-Jacha-Qullu-Mt-Illimani-La-Paz-Bolivia.jpg

Upon arriving:

 I had a 30 hour journey from Manchester. After two trains, three planes and some delayed baggage, we landed at the airport. We were welcomed and put on a bus for the transfer to the office, but after 5 minutes of the ride we take a break and stand on a pedestrian bridge. It’s not just the altitude that takes your breath away... The view of La Paz from El Alto is spectacular, the feeling is sublime. The city stretches across the landscape as far as the eye can see, set to the background of the surrounding snow capped mountains. We are here.

La Paz is literally a city in the clouds. It’s hard to believe that a place like this exists with neighbourhoods carved into the mountainside, houses and motorways interrupted by huge crevasses and peaks. The natural beauty is amazing with a view from any street or roadside, for me particularly the red mountains towards the south zone. At night you get to see distant thunderstorms light up the sky

Weather here can be crazy, the sun is hot but the air temperature is low. You can be sunburnt in the morning, have to wrap up in the afternoon, back to t-shirt weather later on and be caught in a painful hail storm in the evening

Settling in:

The custom greeting is a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek wherever you go, there is no escaping it. There is a range of host families, hosting volunteers, spread out across the city. The general consensus is that they cannot do enough to welcome you into their family. The cooperantes are the same. They welcome you to the project and make time to get to know you personally. Activities are run where they show you around the city. They will help on any aspect of life in La Paz, take you to the doctors and chemist if needed, help you find the laundrette, and even personally take you there and make sure you get a fair price. You couldn't possibly ask for more.

When you meet locals in a bar most of the time they want to know “what do you think of my city?” The main difference between here and many places is the UK is the completely different rhythm of life: the time of rush hours, when shops open, some school children have classes at 9pm for example and families are in the parks at 10pm. Also you are introduced to Bolivian time, 5pm meeting means 5.45pm, your clothes will be ready tomorrow means next week. 10 minutes means your food might arrive at some point and so on. It’s hard to get used to but best embraced, the British are famous for being pedantic. As you get to know the city you feel proud of being able to navigate such a different place and the absolutely crazy transport system becomes second nature, 8 passengers can and will fit into a taxi. The newly built, not quite finished but functional Teleferico (cable cars) are an incredible way to get to work.


The ICS programme here in Bolivia is split up into 5 different projects, mine is Child and Youth Empowerment. My team delivers sessions at youth centres, this term we are teaching Derechos de Ninos (children’s rights), with others including modules on health and the community. Sometimes the partner projects’ interests’ conflict with the youth centres interests; flexibility and adapting to change is a necessity. Office time is spent researching and planning. We organised a photo exhibition of young peoples photos, a project that had begun months previous by other teams.

I have a lot of experience of youth work in the UK I was expecting Bolivian children to be different in some way to what I am used to. But to my surprise they are exactly the same as back home. Despite the massive change of culture the group dynamics are the same, the same types of characters arise in the groups. They are just as inquisitive, creative, cheeky, naughty, articulate and passionate. Thinking back it is difficult to understand why I thought they would behave differently, although from what I have seen over here there tends to be a greater contrast of ability within an age group between children. I think maybe British children are used to a more regimented school system.

A pleasant surprise, and one I don’t feel I was informed much about in training, has been Guided Learning and Action Friday. I really feel like I have learned a lot from these sessions where each week one group delivers a session on a specific subject for the morning, and an expert speaker comes in and gives a talk. In the afternoon we all get to experience each others charity work for a day.
My eyes have really been opened to what development work really. Most importantly, that you can build a career in helping others.

Written by Evan Barlow

No comments:

Post a Comment