Bolivia, Week Six

This week has been non-stop and there’s lots to say, so I’ll take it a day at a time.

Tuesday

My night bus from Uyuni arrived in La Paz at 5:30am; three mini-buses and 90 minutes later I was back home. That gave me a few crucial hours to plan my third English lesson.

During that time though, I met our two latest volunteers – 18 year old Lucy from Timperley and Nikki, a 23 year old veteran volunteer from Nebraska. The campsite was also hosting a group of volunteers from American non-profit Globetrotting for Good (I’ll call them GfG for short). They had arrived over the weekend and already started work in the local school, but more on them later.

I wasn’t quite as prepared for this English lesson as before, but fortunately Justa was able to assist, whilst Lucy and Nikki modelled some conversations for me during the lesson. The twelve students and I were also joined by Jasmine from GfG; she observed the class and then asked me to do an interview – my second in as many weeks!

We went straight to the Albergue after that and made bracelets with the girls. The session was a bit disjointed but went ok.

The evening was spent planning the following week’s activities and getting to know the new arrivals, but it was an early night all round.

Wednesday

Despite not being scheduled to go, I went to the morning session at the Children’s Centre because I’m running out of time to visit them (the other sessions clash with my English lessons). I was helping in Giovanna’s class and, outside of the normal mealtime struggle and not-so-normal weighing/measuring of the children (they do it once a month but I hadn’t seen it before), I had good fun playing with the group. Our “organised” activity involved the children guessing the animals from their outlines and then we all made the appropriate animal sounds – led by Constança, who is a natural animal impressionist!

We then went straight to the Albergue to set up the orientation game that Constança had devised. We hid four sets of coloured paper hearts around the outside area and gave each team a map to find them in order. They loved it! The teams were a mixture of ages and genders but they were all running around and searching high and low to help their team win. Of course we gave them all a prize (chocolate), but in this case they all deserved it. It was my volunteering highlight of the week and great to see Constança’s hard work pay off.

Even so, we still had 90 minutes of the session to go. As we hadn’t played football in a couple of weeks, we played an epic game of 11-a-side. The game was aided massively by the arrival of coloured bibs, which gave it some much needed structure, and obviously my team won (backed by a defence of me and five girls under 12).

In the evening we all gathered for a tea party in the Agora (the marquee in the campsite). After a couple of hours of eating and chatting, the formalities started – first of all for Constança’s despedida and then for the official thank you between Up Close Bolivia and Globetrotting for Good.

GfG is a hybrid between charity and volunteering. They identify worthwhile projects to support around the world, ascertain what the projects need (often by just asking them to name their dream wish list) and then set about trying to supply everything on the list.

A lot comes in the form of donations of second-hand goods; such as a laptop and projector from an American school for the English classes; or riding materials from Samuel Grey Horse (a Native American who is often seen roaming the streets of Austin, Texas on his horse!) Each of the volunteers also fundraise before the trip and this money goes towards things like two-years worth of WiFi in the Children’s Centre!

Whilst chatting to the GfG’ers, two of them said something that was of particular interest to me:

Firstly, Joseph, who is the co-founder of GfG and who has been all over the world in the last five years. He told me that, as an Up Close volunteer, I had “won the volunteering lottery” by being here – and he’s a man that knows. It’s not necessarily just because of the projects that we work on (as amazing as they are), but also combined with our living situation in the houses with the campsite, which he described as unique in his experience and possibly worldwide!

I also spoke to Lizie the dentist, who is volunteering here in Bolivia, but is actually from Cusco in Peru. When she heard I would be moving there in September, she offered to exchange details and suggested that we keep in touch, so I have a familiar face in the city and she can practise her English!

Thursday

I had a Spanish lesson first thing, before I went to another English lesson. This one was very different because I was joined at the front of the classroom by Nikki: she’s an experienced English teacher (relatively), speaks fluent Spanish and is far more of a natural at taking centre stage. She also has a different approach to planning the lessons and is far happier just going with the flow and seeing where the lesson takes her. I think our first lesson as a duo went quite well, but I expect them to get better as we continue to work together.

From there I went straight to the Albergue, where we made plasticine animals. I think I’ve said before that there is a lot of talent in the children’s home and this was proven once again. I’m not sure these pictures do some of them justice, as some were particular small and intricate, but here are some of their creations:

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Triceratops, elephant, rhinoceros, turtle, pig, penguin, cat, cat, dog

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Plasticine yoda!

 

In the evening, we ticked off one of Constança’s last week wishes by going for pizza at Il Portico (my third visit so far). During the meal, Justa instigated a personality test/game, which revealed that I’d like to be an invisible kangaroo, a volcano or a football, but not a bat, a gun or a dodo.

Friday

The morning was supposed to be free, but I was still up early to try and sort out all the new materials GfG had brought. Despite unsuccessfully connecting the computer and projector, I decided to go with Lucy and Lizzie to see how GfG were getting on in Jupapina school. As expected, we saw the classroom they had renovated and the mural they had painted, but things quickly escalated from there!

As soon as the call went out, the entire school descended into the playground ahead of a present giving ceremony. There was some singing and then garlands of flowers/fruit were presented to the GfG five and Rolando and I was happy taking pictures. But then all of a sudden, I was roped into the festivities with Lucy and Lizzie. Before we knew it, we had flowers round our necks, we were in all the photos and then we all joined 12 schoolchildren in a traditional dance!

Lizzie, Lucy, Zebra and me

Back row: Jasmine, Lucy, Lizzie, me. Front row: Lizie, Elese, Sally and Joseph

The fun continued as they were also celebrating Elders’ day. Eight grandparents were interviewed, and they gave their name, age and number of grandchildren (I think 90 and 17 were the largest numbers). They were then presented with an assortment of daily essentials from the local shop, ranging from fizzy drinks to toilet roll.


We weren’t done yet though as dozens of tables of food appeared. So having popped to the school for a few minutes, we ended up sharing the limelight amid a crazy couple of hours (Joseph of GfG again described it as possibly the best “thank you” he has received!)

In the afternoon, we went to Porvenir and I had another exhausting session – I’m sure the children are getting more demanding!

Actually, I am starting to notice changes in some of them. Some are becoming more expressive and active, for example, whilst others are simply making friends and playing together more than before (when previously they may have stayed close to mum or dad; this may also indicate a change in the parents).

Saturday

Today started like any other Saturday, with an early start at Porvenir, but I wasn’t to know yet that it would turn into a Day in the Life of Amy Souster! Amy is from Sheffield and works for the NHS, but she’s currently volunteering in Bolivia for nine months – predominantly at FUNPROBO (Fundación Prótesis para Bolivia), but also Porvenir (because she’s horse-mad).

The Porvenir session was another busy one for me, but we had a half-time break when the GfG team presented all the horse paraphernalia that had been donated – thank you Mr Grey Horse.

After the session I accepted Amy’s invite to visit FUNPROBO and see the place in action. It’s in Sopocachi, which is an hour away on public transport, but it was well worth the journey!

First of all I met a young amputee who was walking on his new prosthetic leg for the first time and then Amy showed me the workshop where most of the limbs are made by Florencio. In the office I saw some home-made prosthetic legs that patients had left behind – one was crudely crafted, in part, out of a drinks bottle and another from cardboard. I saw my first ever 3D printer, which is used to print hands, and was unexpectedly given the chance to help Amy and her partner John in putting one together!

John and I, deciphering the instructions for putting a prosthetic hand together

It really was a fascinating afternoon and this video is an excellent insight into the work they do at FUNPROBO. Worth watching.

It started to rain on my way home and by the time I arrived, an incredible electrical storm had begun. The night sky was regularly lit up for the next 45 minutes as the fork lightning danced across the sky – I spent half of that time outside in the rain because it seemed like there were storms in more than one direction and I couldn’t see it all. I didn’t get any of it on camera, but Alison (who works on the campsite with Helene – check out their blog here) managed to get these stills from a video:

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Sunday

On Sunday morning I was back at  Porvenir for our last session of the week. Everything was a bit wet from Saturday’s storm, but that didn’t deter the children. Amongst all the usual fun and games, an impromptu game of football broke out (as opposed from the usual passing circle). It got quite lively and my volunteer-bib was ripped after Mateo tried his superhero moves on me.

It was Constança’s last day and her  final request was to go to Pollos Copacabana, the Bolivian favourite for fried chicken. Interestingly, you won’t find McDonald’s after they closed all their restaurants! So Lizzie and I accompanied her and we shared a large bucket of chicken. I was actually quite satisfied. After that it was a quiet evening as we said farewell to our Portuguese friend. Tchau!

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