Sunday, October 11, 2015

Harry's Blog

One week in, La Paz still holds itself as a foreign and intriguing place. Despite this, I was gently surprised by how understated the differences are here. South America, often seen as a wild and untamed land, delivers all the silent expectations of a stir-crazed westerner, in the brash yet unassuming way which seems so integral to the culture of Bolivia.

At first, arriving into the bleary night, cushioned by the familiar hum of a city centre, we trundled from El Alto airport together. The bus span haphazardly through the city, dropping off myself and my roommate in downtown La Paz, where we were welcomed by our Bolivian host and mother, Marcia.
Marcia lead us to the room which was to be our home for the next three months, the apartment was homely and inviting, though small. The next day we travelled on the teleferico, or cable cart, back into the city centre and to our office, to meet the other volunteers.  The day was filled by introductions to the Country, its blessings and its dangers; general formalities which seemed to make us all both eager and impatient to begin work on our actual placements.  

We were split into our respective groups and the training for the rest of the week was spent in a similar state of limbo, adapting to the city and assimilating what lay ahead. In the later part of the week I went with my group, which focussed on youth empowerment, to two different schools in the impoverished uptown districts of La Paz. The first school was buried behind a dusty winding road, far above the city centre. The teachers all introduced themselves in Spanish, and their greetings were translated by one of our In-Country Volunteers.

What struck me initially was the beauty of the place, framed by the mountains and overlooking the rest of La Paz, the humility which this school presented seemed unavoidable. After a cursory look around the computer room, library, and greenhouses which the last cohort had built we were ushered in to meet the solitary cook, a lone, forever smiling woman who provides for roughly 150 children each day.

The following week the schedule slid into place, and we were split into groups of three to focus on different tasks throughout the week. I was working with two Bolivians, which allowed me to greatly improve my Spanish, and was not too daunting as they were perfectly able to translate English.
Our tasks ranged from pruning tomatoes, cooking bread, and running human rights workshops for children between the two schools. Once a week, we also headed to community outreach points where children who weren’t in school are given constructive support.

Each task proved rewarding, though the effect is cumulative, and it is important to remind oneself that it is only through incremental efforts that a genuine difference can be made to improve the infrastructure for these children. This being said, it is important for the volunteers themselves to be part of a humanitarian organisation, allowing everyone to have hope for a global society which is more equal. 

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