Tag Archives: Volunteer

Bolivia, Week Three

This week was all about coming and goings… and the zoo!

This week started with the arrival of some more volunteers, which means I’m no longer the new guy.

Australian couple, Ani and Bill, joined us on Monday – they’re backpacking for a few months and decided to offer their services for a week after seeing an Up Close advert in their hostel in La Paz. I think it’s an amazing way to break up a long trip and experience something other than the typical tourist spots.

The next day, Constança arrived from Coimbra in Portugal (via Madrid and Miami), but it wasn’t all plane sailing. Given the delays and the fact that her luggage didn’t arrive for more than 48 hours, Constança dealt with everything amazingly well – including the altitude, time difference and being thrown straight into working at the schools!


Having more volunteers will open up extra projects, but for this week it just lightened the load and gave me a couple of sessions off.

I was only in the Children’s Centre once this week; helping in the kitchen for the fifth time out of six. The nursery was happy to welcome the new recruits and they were happy to pitch in by helping the Tías in they classrooms and Maxima in the kitchen.

The Albergue, on the other hand, is not a place for any more comings/goings than necessary, so Ani and Bill didn’t join us here in the afternoons (as they are only volunteering for one week).

On Tuesday and Thursday, the niñas and niños painted their volcanoes (which were mostly unrecognisable from the ones they made the previous week, because we took them home and fixed/re-made them over the weekend!) Next week, we’ll hopefully be getting them to erupt!

On Wednesday, we attempted to play dodgeball with all the children, but there were just too many rules to make it work. They were all excited that there were muchas pelotas to play with, but it was chaos. Much more successful was the netball-type game we played next, because there was only one rule – you can’t move with the ball. It’s a more inclusive game here than football because you have to keep passing and involving other people (with a wide age range and a mixed group, the older boys tend to just keep the football).

At Porvenir, we volunteered as a five for the first time and had two pretty relaxed sessions (the Saturday session was cancelled due to a public holiday that nobody seemed to know about in advance). The skipping ropes were popular this week, even with one of the grandmas!

Away from the volunteering

My Wednesday morning off coincided with Megan and Dane’s, so we made an early start to go to the Valle de la Luna. There was a sort of other-worldly feel about the landscape, but the 45 minute circuit was plenty of time to see everything.

Afterwards we went to the zoo in Mallasa and I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of the animals have been rescued and are there to be rehabilitated, meaning they don’t always look their best, but the conditions seemed quite good. Their headline animal is the puma and from what I saw it isn’t short on food.

There are a lot of animals and we whiled away a couple of hours there – the monkeys were my favourite (obviously) and we got pretty close to the condors.

With Saturday’s session at Porvenir cancelled, the four other volunteers decided they wanted to go to the zoo, so I went along for the second time in four days (it only costs 5Bs or 50p). Laura had also been before and showed us to a few parts of the zoo I had missed on Wednesday.

This included the alpacas and vicuñas – the latter seemed to take a liking to us and one charged across the enclosure straight away. Two minutes later when all seemed calm, it jumped again and Laura managed to take this action shot!

I had a Spanish lesson on my other morning off – it was with a new teacher (new in both senses of the word), so he had to start by gauging my level again and he seemed pleased with what I could do. I enjoyed the way he used different media to teach, with a couple of short videos to watch (including a Toy Story Short and The Butterfly Circus).

On Thursday, all the volunteers and work-aways got together for a meal, and Laura did really well cooking for eight for the first time. It was nice to get everyone together as we’re all usually busy and spread out across three houses. We had burritos, Megan provided chocolate cake (having perfected her altitude baking) and then we played some games, like Uno!


Sunday was the last day for the four Australians – Megan and Dane from the campsite and Ani and Bill as volunteers – so we marked the occasion by going bowling. It might have been my suggestion but everyone seemed to have a really good time; it was new and different for most people!

Afterwards, we ate in the MegaCentre food court and then went to The Dubliner for some happy hour Guinness! It was a good end to another good the week, although it was sad to say goodbye to some new friends.


Two weeks of volunteering in Bolivia

I’ve been living in Jupapina for almost two weeks now, but it feels like longer. I’ve met so many people (mainly children – it’s so hard to learn everyone’s name) and been kept really busy.

Volunteer-wise, I think it’s going pretty well. The first day was a bit overwhelming, as I learned about the three projects I’d be working on and found out that two of the three existing volunteers were leaving pretty much as soon as I arrived! That just left me and Laura (also from Manchester and here 3 weeks before me) and I think we’ve coped quite well – although to be fair to Laura, I’ve taken a backseat a lot of the time while she’s taken the lead with her superior Spanish. I also have to mention Justa, the volunteer coordinator, who has been incredible – not least because she’s juggling that role with her many other commitments and battling against illness for the last week.

So let’s go over the three projects I’ve been involved in:

1) Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre

We spend three days a week here, 08:30-13:00, during which we’re responsible for two hours of activities on two of the days. As above, I’ve not been that involved in much of the planning or explaining activities (yet), but it’s been a lot of fun interacting with the kids (as Tío, which means uncle, or Miguel) – particularly the obstacle course we did on my first day.

The rest of the time is spent either in the kitchen or with the pre-infant class. The kitchen is ok and you get double portions for lunch (not always a good thing), but you have to do things exactly as Maxima says or else you have to watch her redo them. I’ve only had one morning with the pre-infant class and spent a surprising amount of time trying to get them to eat. Playtime was great though and I look forward to more of it.

2) Albergue Children’s Home

This is a facility for vulnerable children who have suffered violence and abuse and they stay from anywhere from a day to three months. We’re also here three days a week, from 14:30-16:30. Tuesdays and Thursdays are spent in the classroom (with girls and boys separately) and we’ve been doing arts and crafts with them so far – making and designing masks in the first week and papier-mâché volcanoes this week. Wednesdays are outside and football is easily the most popular activity (and there are some really good players). We’ve also done a treasure hunt and some sports day type races (sack, egg-and-spoon, 3-legged) with mixed results!

The children are aged from 5 to 17, so it’s difficult to get activities to suit everyone, but they’ve generally responded well. The older girls seem particularly mature and have helped us handle the class at times (two volunteers with limited Spanish and 25 girls is a challenge!) The reactions of some of the younger children has been overwhelming and it’s amazing how quick you bond with them.

My highlight so far is helping Percy with his papier-mâché and getting his over-the-top gratitude and his secret handshake.

3) Porvenir Equine Therapy Centre

The start of my volunteering coincided with the start of a new 10-week cycle at Porvenir. 15-20 children (aged 2-16 with a variety of disabilities and behavioural issues) come to the centre three times a week, accompanied by various family members. Living with a disability in Bolivia can be challenging for the whole family, so this foundation is like a sanctuary for them.

The children each get 15-20 minutes on a horse and some receive physiotherapy and I’m told by the experts that some have shown remarkable progress in just two weeks. The rest of the day is an opportunity for everyone to enjoy themselves in what is an incredible setting – visually stunning and very peaceful, but also a very loving and supportive environment.

For the parents it’s a chance for them to socialise together, while there is lots to keep the children occupied (not least the dozen other children plus me and Laura). It’s a joy to watch the kids having fun, particularly for the parents.

Our role is nothing to do with the horses (obviously), but we help to ensure things run smoothly, help people get to know each other (using name tags and playing games) and keep them entertained (more games and even some yoga). A lot of my time has been chasing footballs to stop them going near the horses.

For the first two sessions, we were joined by some people from the department of human rights who spent a lot of time with the parents. Listening to them was quite emotional and highlighted how much this place means to them.

This has been the project where we’ve had the most time to spend with individual children and families, and again it’s amazing how quickly connections form. My highlight so far was during the sack race, when the girl with the most serious physical disability was helped by her dad to complete her turn and it literally brought a tear to my eye.

For those that are wondering what happened to the football coaching I thought I was going to be doing, it’s because the projects are prioritised and depend on the number of volunteers. But I’m happy and feel privileged to be able to work on the above projects.

Away from the volunteering, it hasn’t been too difficult to adjust to living in Jupapina. The main street has the daily essentials (although the butcher is hardly ever open when you need it) and Mallasa (where our midweek work is based) is not far away. I’ve also just discovered San Miguel’s MegaCentre and it’s only half an hour to get to La Paz.

The first weekend, I joined three others (Laura and an Australian couple, Megan and Dane) on a hike down from Muela del Diablo, which was largely successful until we had to cross the valley’s dirty river in our bare feet.

View from Muela del Diablo

This weekend we went into La Paz to see the University’s annual dance festival. It was essentially an endless parade of dancers and musicians down one of the city’s main roads. They had some crazy costumes, full of colour, and everybody was having a great time.

I’ve had two Spanish lessons so far, but I’m not sure my Spanish has improved a lot. Porvenir will provide me with the best chance to practice (so many nice people).

Looking ahead, there will be more of the same, but there are new volunteers starting this week, so I won’t be the new guy any more. I’ve got next Sunday and Monday off, so I may get away on a trip somewhere.

The eve of my first project

I’ve never kept a diary/journal/blog before, so let’s see if I can keep this up!

Getting to know La Paz

I’m sure it’s cliché to say, but La Paz literally takes your breath away – both because of the altitude and the spectacular views in every direction. Getting from the airport to my hostel via the Teleférico should have earned me a rest, but I headed straight out on a walking tour. The content of the tour was up there with the best I’ve been on, but after three hours I was about to have my first run-in with altitude sickness.

With that in mind, I haven’t done much since that first morning. Fortunately, my arrival coincided with the celebration of the revolution in La Paz, so I watched the parade in Plaza Murillo on Friday night. I enjoyed being part of the occasion and it felt like the whole city was taking part.

I wouldn’t say I’ve got to know the city or the people yet though. I’ve been staying in a hostel, largely talking to English speaker backpackers and I’ve only eaten in one restaurant (recommended by the walking tour guide and both meals there have been pretty good).


So now it’s the eve of my first project and there’s so much I don’t know about what’s going to happen over the next few days and months; it’s both daunting and exciting.

I don’t feel “prepared” for this at all and, if I’m honest, I haven’t given the actual volunteering that much thought. Which is strange given that I’ve flown 10,000km and paid to be here.

My first thoughts are about the other volunteers who I’ll be sharing the experience with – how many will there be? Is anyone else starting tomorrow? Will anyone’s Spanish skills be as weak as mine?

Then the project itself: I’ve never worked with children before; nor animals; nor in a culture that doesn’t speak any English.

It’s a lot to be taking on all at once and I know there will be challenges. Culture shock is real and total immersion is going to be a completely new experience. But there are plenty of people to support me and I’m looking forward to it.

So let’s see what Up Close Bolivia has in store for me.