Thursday, October 22, 2015

A week in La Paz by Mason Wood

On Monday mornings, after arriving at the city’s highest point via my contrasting journey of the bustling Puma bus and the tranquil Teleferico, I cross the musty streets of the city’s highest point and meet my demi-group at one of the centres I volunteer at. We are ushered into a crowded room full of baying three to five year olds with the language barrier here lessened by the enthusiasm of these curious toddlers. The ensuing three hours are spent making sure the children are occupied: we help them with their work, an activity which is as rewarding for us as teachers as it seems to be for the children, and we play with them at break times.
In the afternoons we work in a classroom of older children. We help them with their homework, and, although my lack of Spanish can be a hindrance, both the children and the teachers really enjoy having us there. We also teach them the English language and British games, as they teach us the Spanish language and Bolivian games, as a form of cultural exchange.

On Tuesday mornings, we bake bread in Los Lomas, the busier of the two centres. This gives a great insight into the culture of working women in Bolivia. It is a warm, welcoming environment and we thoroughly enjoy helping out. We are fed to excess, and as food over here is a sign of affection, one can only take it as a compliment.
After cooking for three hours we head back to the office (which is shared with two other volunteer groups from ICS) to plan and organize sessions for the rest of the week. We are really expected to take initiative when creating these sessions as coming up with creative ways to entertain and teach the children is a new challenge for many of us; and making sure we are fulfilling our duties to the best of our ability is a constant test of our imagination and diligence. We also have more planning time on Wednesday mornings.
Wednesdays afternoons are completely different. My demi-group attends Alpacoma – the more peaceful, quieter centre. Here we really help out a lot. From spending the afternoon exhausting ourselves whilst growing vegetables in the simmering greenhouses to leading lively sessions in the crowded classroom, there is always some way we can improve the children’s lives.

On Thursday mornings it’s back to baking bread in Los Lomas. This hot and, I’ll admit, sometimes gruelling task is the most rewarding of all as we can instantly see the impact of our work on the grateful faces of the hungry children.
After we have completed our kitchen duties, we head to one of the classrooms for the only session we have with teenagers. These young adults are the future of Bolivia, and with great pride we educate them on many important issues such as: health, nutrition, human rights and more.
Fridays are great. In the morning we attend a workshop in the office which is called Guided Learning. This consists of one group presenting in imaginative ways, ideas and information on a given topic to the other groups. My group was the first to present guided learning and I think we set the standards high. Our topic was “the root cause of poverty and inequality” - a topic we were all really interested in and wasting no time in splitting up into groups and researching as much as possible.
In the afternoons (after a 1 hour period of language exchange – which is really useful for getting to know more people and, of course, learning Spanish) we have what we call “Action Friday”. Here, the team leaders exchange us volunteers with other groups so we can all experience the work the other teams are doing, and help out on specific tasks which might require more man power.
I could go on about the amazing weekends, (which are the most exciting part of the adventure) and all the travelling we have done/intend to do, but my blog is getting a bit lengthy…
To summarise, I urge any young person to apply for an ICS scheme as it is the most exciting, rewarding thing I have done in my life and I am learning so much.

Chau for now!

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