Friday, June 5, 2015

Goodbye, my friends (although, it isn’t goodbye. Not really)

As I sit here writing this blog, surrounded by the warmth and laughter of the volunteers in the office, the realisation hits me that we are in week 10. The final week. I can’t help but have a sense of sadness knowing that we are well into single figures for how many days we have left in Bolivia together. I’m not really sure how to compose this blog, I have so many memories that I’m reminiscing on from the past 60+ days, it’s going to be hard to condense my time here in just 500 words (although I’m certain I will probably write about double that, apologies to Emma in advance who has to translate all of this) but I will try my best. 

From day one here in Bolivia I have had a host family; a Bolivian Mom, Dad, two sisters, a nephew and Grandfather who have been my rock. I can’t express in words how much love I have felt from this family. This is the first time they have ever taken in volunteers and this is the first time I’ve ever lived away from home with another family, so it was a new and daunting experience for both of us. But I can safely say that having a host family has been an enormous contributing factor to the immensely positive experience I’ve had in La Paz. It is said that in week 7 homesickness hits you, but I had it in week 5 when I got Salmonella. I did really miss home, but my host Mom went above and beyond to ensure she was doing all that she could to make me feel better. When my whole body was feverish, but my feet like ice blocks, she massaged my feet with deep heat for over 10 minutes trying to get them to a human temperature. My host father brings a joy and energy into a room like no one I’ve ever met in my life. He works 6 days a week leaving the house at 8am and returning as late as 11pm, but he is ALWAYS so bright, cheerful and has the most infectious laugh. I have so much love, gratitude and respect for my host family, who I will hold dear in my heart for ever. They have already told me that their home is my home and if I’m ever in La Paz that I am welcome to stay with them any time.  

Now onto the members in my team, Childhood and Youth Empowerment (Empo). I feel truly blessed to have worked with these crazy and hilarious but genuine and caring souls. There are 2 team leaders, Vince and Ali who are the most amazing team leaders, 2 cooperantes,  Emma and Adri, and 2 in-country volunteers, Tita and Sole who have also been like big sisters to me. Also, we have 6 UK volunteers and we were divided into 3 sub teams all working in different centres, educating children on different subjects. Alex ( a very knowledgeable sweetheart, always up for a good natter and quite the chef) and Fiona ( just the coolest girl - so chilled, incredible taste in music, very talented journalist and full of so many anecdotes involving celebrities) have been working on a peace culture project focussing on the environment. Dan ( a strange boy but never fails to make me laugh, has the most diverse taste in music ever and has a brain like a sponge) and Lauren ( who is just so hilarious, terrible taste in music but she’s just such a wonderful character, she’ll make an excellent teacher) have been working on a Citizen Security programme which includes the identification and prevention of alcoholism and alcohol related problems as well as child trafficking. Then there’s Ruby ( I don’t know where to begin with describing Ruby. I have loved every second working with her. She has so much love to give, Ruby can’t walk past without giving you a hug or a kiss. She has one of the biggest hearts, but such sass! Rubes has a hair flick  to depict every emotion. I love my wee Scottish lass!) and I. We’ve been working in two different centres 3 days a week. Our project in the Las Lomas centre is called ‘’ Planting values to cultivate health’’ and we’ve been working with 3 to 15 year olds. It involved us creating workshops regarding nutrition but intertwining it with moral values e.g  we painted recycled plant pots with the children which they planted seeds in, but labelled it with a value they think they could improve on such as respect or honesty. Our final session took place last week and was emotional to say the least. We created a two scripts, about nutrition, for a puppet show for the majority of the children in the centre. After we performed that, a few of the children performed a dance, a rap and some poems that they wrote about Ruby and I. We finished the day with a football match which is where I scored my first ever goal (it was of a proximity of about 20 centimetres, but it still counts!!) !! Saying goodbye to the children of Las Lomas was one of the hardest things. Seeing their reactions and hearing the impact we’d had made me realise how much they mean to me and how much we mean to them.   

In our Alpacoma centre, the situation is very different. Instead of having 6 different classes, we only have one very small class with the age range of 13-17, once a week. We have been focussing our workshops on social skills and communication, discussing topics such as moral dilemmas, compromise and negotiation, future goals and local/global issues. I have loved working with such a small class because I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know each one of them. In the short space of time that we’ve been working with them, I have seen them go out of their comfort zone and develop, some more than others but development from all for sure. It’s been an honour working with them and I’m so very proud of them all, but especially a young boy called Etson. Every single week he chooses to come to our session (which isn’t compulsory) knowing he’s the only boy who ever turns up. He’s always struggled trying to articulate his thoughts and feeling and often needs encouragement to participate in our activities, but he always would join in. In our final session, Etson thanked us for helping him be more able to speak in front of people. Knowing we’ve made that difference to him means the world to me. 

Having completed ICS now, I can honestly say that it’s really helped my development and it’s improved my perception of international development. Before leaving the UK, I had a vision in my mind about what my volunteering with disengaged and impoverish children would be like, I don’t really remember what what vision was but it was very different to the reality. I know now that international development is not aid or relief, two things that only result in a temporary alleviation of person/community's hardship. International development is all about sustainability, empowerment and education. You want to go into a bad situation and leave an impact so that the beneficiaries know how to fix that bad situation themselves without needing the assistance of volunteers from a charity. To some extent, I believe we have achieved that. 

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