Volunteer Bolivia
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article about Volunteer Bolivia in Transitions Abroad

by Sara O'Neill Kohl

During May through July of 2003 I participated in a program located in Cochabamba, Bolivia run by Lee Cridland and Javier Molina. Voluntarios Bolivia is a personalized combination of Spanish language classes, volunteer work, and homestay with a local family. Working with Voluntarios Bolivia gave me the opportunity to learn far more about the culture and people of the country than I could have otherwise.
The language classes at Voluntarios Bolivia are customized to your level and are either small groups (less than four students) or one-on-one. The teachers team-teach; one focuses more on conversation and the other on grammar and structural concepts.
The goal of the language program is not just to teach you Spanish to communicate but also to help you understand the cultural context. Often lessons consisted of discussions of current political issues or trips to the market.
While in Cochabamba I stayed with a wonderful Bolivian family that treated me as one of their own children. "We had meals together, went to el campo on the weekends, and I quickly became a member of the family. My Spanish improved rapidly thanks to the total immersion experience. My family was always patient but gently pushed me to get beyond feelings of shyness in order to learn as much Spanish as I could. They also had a strong connection to the rural village where the mother was from and taught me about the struggles and political success of the cll111pesillos and the movement for Indigenous rights in general.
The volunteer work I did while in Bolivia helped to solidify my connection to the community and gave me another chance to use my Spanish. I worked at a daycare center located in the main market, Canaritos Pampenos. The center was founded by three women who saw the need in the community for this type of program. Many of the children who attended the center had parents who worked at stalls in the market and had no safe place to do their schoolwork or relax and play.
The opportunity to learn from people I never otherwise would have known was a central component of my experience in Bolivia. The directors of Voluntarios Bolivia have connections to many social service organizations and NGOs operating throughout Cochabamba and will work with you to create a customized volunteer experience.
I would highly recommend Voluntarios Bolivia as a program for people who want to learn Spanish while getting involved in the community. The integrated and participatory approach to teaching about language and culture is an opportunity to get to know Bolivia, and that is an experience you will never forget.

Lee Cridland, Co-Director Volunteer Bolivia
Casilla 2411, Calle Ecuador 342
Cochabamba, Bolivia
Tel. 011-39 591-452-6028
Fax. 011-39 591-452-9459

Sara O'Neill Kohl is currently working in adult literacy in Chicago and would love to return to Bolivia soon. Contact her at sokohl@gmail.com.

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