JULIA HAAS’ TIME IN COCHABAMBA
When I arrived to the small airport of Cochabamba, I never could have imagined the lasting relationships that would be built, and the unforgettable memories that would be made. I chose Volunteer Bolivia because it offered everything I wanted: Spanish classes, a homestay, and volunteer placements. I never could have anticipated how these opportunities would impact my life.
My Spanish classes were incredibly helpful. Although I had studied Spanish before arriving to Cochabamba, the classes improved my skills immensely. The professors were wonderful. They are able to teach anyone at any skill level and are very knowledgeable. My professors, Chichi and Martha, worked so patiently with me, and together we built a lifelong friendship. They are not only my close friends now, but they became my new Bolivian mothers.
In addition to acquiring two new Bolivian mothers, I also gained a new family. My homestay experience was nothing but positive. The family was quick to include me in their life, and I soon felt like another daughter in their wonderful home. They laughed with me; took care of me when I was sick; made sure I was well-nourished; held my hand when I dislocated my arm; and were patient when I tried to explain myself in a language that is not my own. The relationship we built was incredible. They really did become my family, and saying goodbye after three months was extremely difficult.
While in Cochabamba, I also worked as a volunteer, which was an extraordinary experience. I participated in a couple of the on-going activities Volunteer Bolivia offers such as assisting with distributing backpacks with school supplies to kids in the countryside and translations. However my official placement was in the Cancha. The Cancha is an immense open-aired market where one can find anything from toilet paper to computers.
I worked with an after-school program for the kids whose parents work in the Cancha. This program offers an opportunity for children to get help with homework and learn important life lessons. I not only helped with homework, but I initiated a number of activities:
- Organized a “classroom transformation” project painting 29 chairs and 11 tables as well as purchasing new educational posters, dictionaries, books and two new tables.
- Organized an “Oral Health Day” where, along with new toothbrushes and toothpaste (which some children did not have), they received an explanation on oral health from a local dentist. They also each learned how to correctly brush their teeth, which was extremely important considering the poor state of the children´s teeth at such young ages.
- Produced an English and Spanish promotional slideshow for the program to be able to raise money for itself since it receives no governmental help.
I learned so much from these children who live such hard lives, and when I said goodbye there were tears in my eyes as well as the children’s, who I grew to love so very much.
My time with Volunteer Bolivia was unforgettable. The people I met and the experiences I had will always hold a treasured place in my heart. I hope one day I can return to this beautiful country whose people and culture gave me so much more then I could have ever given them.
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