Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ruby’s Blog

Our day begins on the Teleferico, the incredible cable car network that towers over La Paz: a relatively small city, but when dangling in a cable car looking out over the vast expansion, you can feel the enormous potential of the day ahead. Sitting watching the thousands of cars, minibuses and trufis honking their horns down below, a thought occurs; is this the future?

La Paz is a city of extreme contrast; from the super clean, super modern Teleferico system that makes me feel like I am on the Starship Enterprise, to the ancient, spluttering minibuses and trufis that will only leave when it is not possible to squeeze one more person in to the vehicle and sometimes require a rolling start. From the sleek-suited business men striding down the street, mobile phones clamped to their ears, to the homeless children who walk amongst them, begging for any coins or scraps anyone can spare. Amid endless towering office buildings and enormous supermarkets, you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by beautiful green foliage, or colossal rock formations sprouting up from the ground. La Paz is like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Working with children has always been something I have been passionate about, so when I found out I was going to be working on the Childhood and Youth Empowerment project I was overjoyed. Since getting here, I have been working in two separate centres three times a week. The first is Las Lomas centre, a beautiful little yellow building perched on top of a cliff overlooking the city. Here we are working with children from the ages of 2 all the way up to 17 years old on a project called “Planting values to cultivate health”, in which we are exploring healthy eating but also how to be a more socially conscious citizen. Currently we are painting large plant pots, and this week we are going to be planting some seeds and herbs, but along with these we will be planting a moral value that we want to work on- for example honesty or responsibility. This means that not only will the children understand better where fruits and vegetables come from and really feel the sense of achievement when they are able to eat something they have grown themselves, but also we can incorporate self development in to the lesson and they can learn more about what it is to be a socially conscious citizen. 

The second centre we are working in is Alpacoma centre. Alpacoma is an industrial area with many child labourers, working from as young as a shocking 10 years old (the legal age to work here in Bolivia), and when walking to the centre you can feel the atmosphere change; there is a sense of solemnness in the air as you walk down the dirt track road surrounded by ominous machinery, mountains of bricks and solitary half-constructed brick walls. However, when you reach the centre, half hidden down a path behind a lone shop, it all changes; when the towering iron gate is opened, you walk in to a bright, sun filled courtyard with children playing and laughing everywhere you look and more rainbow painted murals than you thought was possible to put in a confined space. The project we are running here is one about Social Skills, and though we are told to expect at least 20 kids to come to the session every week we often end up with only three or four girls. However, what we lack in numbers we absolutely make up for in personality; these girls are brimming with attitude in the best possible way, from Masiel, the sassiest 14 year old I have ever met, to Lydia, always the voice of reason who only wants to see justice in the things around her, and Etson, the only boy to attend our sessions- though he never speaks a word, he is there giving me a cheeky grin when we walk in to the classroom every week without fail. In these sessions we discuss things like personal goals, moral values, global injustices; and from their ideas and discussions I feel so priviledged to have met these amazing, intelligent young women and so blessed to be helping them realize that they can do and be exactly what they want: there are no limits to where they will go. 

When we are not working in our centres, we are hard at work planning sessions in the office. At only 18 years old I am the youngest person in the cohort, I was expecting to feel noticeably out of my comfort zone and lacking in work experience. However, this is not the case; every single person I have met here is amazing and unique and treats me as an absolute equal. Everyone brings something different but equally important and interesting to the group; I have never met a more diverse yet accepting team of people in my life, and I know that I have made friendships here that I will treasure for a long time.

I would like to give a special mention to my incredible team mates in the Childhood and Youth Empowerment project. Not only my fellow UK volunteers who never fail to make me smile and are there with me at every twist and turn of this at times challenging journey, but also to the amazing co-operantes Emma and Adri, without whom we would be absolutely lost when working at our centres, and in just about everything else we do here! And finally to our two Team Leaders, Vince and Ali, who keep us motivated, inspired, positive and most important of all keep us smiling even when things are difficult: thank you for guiding us through this wonderful adventure.

So whether we are busy teaching kids how to brush their teeth, or cementing a crumbling wall with our bare hands in the pouring rain, every day is a new challenge and adventure that leaves me never without a smile on my face.

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