Legacy

One thing that has been important and obvious to all of us is that we not only represent ourselves here in Bolivia, but we represent the United States as well. We have tried our best to make good impressions on our families, friends, and anyone else we have met here. It has been important to us to remain humble and be open-minded. Although the governments of the United States and Bolivia are not on the best terms, we have tried to make all of our interactions between ourselves and Bolivians positive ones.

In reference to our legacy, we just hope that we have done a good job at our service site. Every time we go to the home, we work hard and do what we can to help the tias with the boys. With our work at the orphanage, we hope that we have showed everyone there that Amizade participants should continue to work there. The boys and the tias have had an effect on us, and we are sure that other Amizade groups will feel the same. We care a lot about all of the boys. It would be wonderful if they remembered each one of us, but if they do not remember each of us individually, we just hope that they remember that there are people out there who really care about them and see the value in each of them.

We do believe that we are taking a lot back with us as well. As we have mentioned many times before, we will take with us a bigger recognition of all the opportunities we have back home. We will also take a different perspective of the world. We have been living in a part of the world where there is a lot of poverty and have gained more appreciation for the comforts we have in the US.

This has been a unique and special experience for all of us. We have no problems encouraging other students to come to Bolivia with Amizade, but it is also important for us to share our suggestions for improvements for the program. Other students should recognize that this is a great opportunity for a wonderful and eye-opening experience.

Hasta luego!

Mark, Quilla, Steven & Mikhael

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Self

Coming to Bolivia has pulled all of us out of our comfort zone and has affected our perceptions of our identities. Just being in another country and a developing country, we have all realized how much we have back at home. Every week we interact with children who do not have and probably will not have the same opportunities that we have had. The boys we work with do not have families; we do. They also may not have the opportunity to receive a college education; we are receiving that education now.

Our dilemmas with our identities do not primarily come from our service work. Our identities become an issue during the times when we interact with people around the city such as when getting a taxi. This simple act has provided us numerous moments for thoughts about our identities. We all have different experiences with taxis. Taxi drivers seem to be able to tell that Mark is from the United States, and because of that, he has to be tough when negotiating prices for taxi rides. These experiences have made him realize that he is a minority that is associated with being rich in Cochabamba, and this is a new way of thinking for him. Steven and Mikhael, on the other hand, have different interactions taxi drivers. They first think that the two of them are Brazilian and are surprised to find out that they are actually from the United States. There are many Brazilian students here, so the first assumption is generally that a foreigner is most likely Brazilian. Quilla has had a unique experience too. She was born in Bolivia and looks Bolivian, but has grown up in the US with a family that is not Bolivian. When she speaks Spanish with taxi drivers, though, it becomes evident that she did not grow up here. It has been an eye-opening experience when people make a wrong judgment about you and voice that incorrect judgment too.

Despite our unique experiences, in the end we are foreigners here. Being foreigners and being judged by others based on that has made us take a moment to think about the times that we have judged other people, especially foreigners in the US. We have learned that we should be more careful when making assessments about other people. What other people think of us may not be true, and what we think of them may not be true either.

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contamination

                   

 

 

Contamination can be negative if positive relationships are not built and if there is not consideration for culture. We have all formed different relationships within our service and with the people of our community.  These relationships have helped us secure our beliefs that by being here we are not negatively contaminating. The relationships we build give us an appreciation for community on a different level. Our experiences, for instance, Isabel’s conversations about night life, Sarah’s understanding of woman’s rights and Carly’s  observation  about expected roles of family members ,have  informed us of the different ideals that exist in Karagwe.  

                Isabel’s view of contamination is that although we are contaminating it is not always a negative thing. The individuals that she has had conversations with have held on to their beliefs and perspectives about their culture. For example one conversation Isabel had with a student of Kayanga Secondary School, George, about gay rights, showed that two individuals from different cultures can share ideas but hold on to their own values in the end.

                Sarah’s view of contamination is only negative if you do not respect the culture.  Understanding their practices will although you to be less ethnocentric and more open to their ways of life.  For example, prior to living in Kayanga Sarah never thought that showing her knees would be culturally unacceptable.  Now every day, Sarah rocks a floor length skirt, showing her respect for the culture.

                Carly thinks that contamination is the wrong word to use when referring to her volunteering.  The experience that she has had, leads her to believe that she has been leaving a positive trail. For example,  everyday the people she works with, or the means of transportation she takes, everyone is happy to see her and welcomes her . Carly has built relationships beyond Kayanga showing that she is taking in the considerations of the way of life in Karagwe.

                Together through relationships we have been able to positively integrate into the community without negatively contaminating. We recognize that  negative contamination exist, but believe that everyone should make their best effort to engage in cultural activities, thus understanding the culture, people and way of life in which we live in.

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The Insider’s Perspective

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              Last week we all completed interviews with workers from our different placements.  We all faced different difficulties considering the language barrier. Despite the struggles, we all benefited from the experience by receiving an insider’s perspective on our work.

                When asked about our intentions all of our interviewees were quick to reply that they thought we had good intentions. After spending some time at out placements the people we work with have observed our work and concluded that we intend to make a positive difference.  As Sarah’s interviewee Lida pointed out, a volunteer with bad intentions not only makes the NGO look bad, but is also a wasting everyone’s time.

                All of our interviewees also commented on the importance of relationships formed during our time here.  As Emmanuel (Carly’s interviewee) put it, the relationships that Carly makes at Mvunno mean more than learning how to construct a water tank. Isabel’s interviewee Paulo, said that the interactions and relationships she forms with teachers and students is the most valuable part of her service.  Lida told Sarah that the relationship she has formed with Womeda are valuable because she can now take what she has learned about the mission and vision of  Womeda back to America.

                Like our intentions, all of our interviewees thought we would have positive impacts.  Paulo told Isabel that since she is so involved with APROFI, he thinks she will be remembered once she leaves, and will have a positive impact on both the kids and the teachers. Emmanuel told Carly that her biggest impact is on the families she is building tanks for and the relationships she will form with them. Lida has already taken note of some of Sarah’s impacts on Womeda. For example, Sarah has created a facebook page for Womeda as well as conducted research.

                Although we all knew our own intentions since the beginning, it was refreshing to hear that the people we are working with think we have positive intentions.  However, because they are so sure we have positive intentions and will have a positive impact, we realize that it is our responsibility to ensure that this happens.  We all hope to leave footprints for future volunteers that encase helpful service, good intentions and lasting relationships.

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Cultural Contamination: Reflections on Service in Bolivia

It is a common theme throughout our group that the vantage point from which we see our service leaves us with more questions than answers. Although there are adults present at our service, we work almost entirely with children, who, while our presence surely has an impact, are relatively unfazed by our cultural differences for a number of reasons. First of all, as children, they are not terribly aware or concerned with these differences. They’re more worried about getting in some playtime or wondering what will be for lunch. Secondly, the orphanage hosts many volunteers to work with the kids, so they are constantly exposed to all kinds of different cultures in their daily lives. Therefore, our service at the orphanage tends to leave us with more questions than answers about the cultural “contamination” our presence causes in Bolivia as a whole.

We all feel that we have a stronger dialogue with the culture when we are out walking on the street.  Foreigners are not a terribly common sight in Cochabamba, and the strange mix of our group (Quilla looks Bolivian, Steven looks European, Mikhael looks Brazilian, and Mark looks……American) makes us even more of a spectacle when we go places. It seems like every head turns when we walk into a restaurant. Our conversations with people tend to turn to American culture and our perspectives on different topics. What we wear, how we speak, and how we behave are all noted by the people around us. In this way, we are involuntary ambassadors of American culture.

So while it is true that we are indeed “contaminating” Bolivian culture with our presence, we are in agreement with Appiah that perhaps this cultural contamination is not such a bad thing as it may seem from the start.  Initially, it appears to us as Americans that when our culture contacts another, it tends to be adopted and, subsequently, the previous culture is driven out.  In reality, this does not really occur and, when it does, this transition is often a good thing. First of all, cultural traditions endure. While the context around them may change, the core factors that separate one culture from another will not; identity is not easily homogenized. Secondly, the practice of one culture adopting certain aspects of another is nothing new. In fact, communication between cultures is a critical piece of human history. Think of major religions, Arabic numerals, and literature through the centuries.  These things, and countless others, have passed through cultures by ambassadors much like ourselves.   In this way, we feel that our service and presence here in Bolivia is a natural and benign part of our experience here.

 

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Extrospection

This week we found out how valuable our time at the orphanage is to the children and to the “tias”.  The “tias” know that we are there because we want to help the children and that we want to make an impact on the community. They can tell be how hard we work and how committed we are to being there that we really care.  In the past there have been groups that haven’t been as helpful and have not given as much care and attention to the children that we have. The “tias” are grateful for what we do because it gives them a little bit of a break.  Also, having a few extra pairs of hands and eyes around means that the children get more supervision and attention.  In a normal day the staff at the orphanage do not have time to read to the children individually, or to pull them around in toy cars or even to kick a soccer ball around with them. We get to do all of those things. We get to play with the children and keep them occupied. This is an invaluable service because it allows the “tias” to do other things that they need to do, but are difficult to accomplish with 9 children at their feet.

The “tias” also believed that our being their was as important to the kids as it was to us and to them.  The see how excited the children get when we come and they become accustomed to us being there. They enjoy having more people to play with. They know that they are going to have fun with us when we are there and they know that we will play with them as much as possible.

We learned how important and appreciated our work at the orphanage was by interviewing the “tias” as part of an assignment. Though the things they told us didn’t really surprise us, it was great to hear that the work we were doing was appreciated and that we were making the kids happy.

Hasta Luego

Mark, Mikhael, Quilla, Steve

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Calculus of Service: Orphanage Work in Bolivia

Every Tuesday and Friday from three to seven, we head to Pedacito de Cielo, an orphanage for boys affected by HIV/AIDS that is run by a charitable foundation based here in Cochabamba.  This large house sits on an about an acre of grassy yard between two high-rise buildings and is home to ten boys, ages 1 to 5.  Twice a week, we run a four-hour marathon of carrying, chasing, playing, dressing, eating, and all manner of other chaos that runs from the afternoon nap (ending around 3:30) to bedtime (around 7:30).  Despite its challenges, we’ve found working at PDC to be a very rewarding service opportunity. Our little group of four has turned out to be very cohesive, and we tend to see things the same way on a lot of topics. Service was no exception; in fact, our philosophies of service bear remarkable similarities to one another.

All four of us focused on one single critical reason for service here in Bolivia: to gain a more intimate connection to the community itself. Michael talked about a “broader perspective and deeper understanding”, Steven “a deeper connection to the community”, Quilla “to experience a country in more depth”, and Mark discusses how service helps him see the community as a “living system”.   It would be one thing to travel to Bolivia and discuss and observe its various aspects, then leave with a certain appreciation of the country. It’s entirely another to travel here, and get physically, mentally, and emotionally involved in a real problem of Bolivian society (in our case, children affected by HIV/AIDS).  In assisting at the orphanage we are investing, in some small way, in the solution of a looming problem for this country.  Indeed, people who only know the good things about one another are just acquaintances. It takes a genuine sharing of one’s innermost problems to become true friends.

Our opinions were very similar, but not exactly congruent, when it came to intention and value of service.  We agreed on the point that service without value is worthless, but had varying standards of measuring this value. Mark and Steven brought up, in particular, an external measurement: gauging value on the lasting impact it has on those served. Mikhael, although he also mentioned this external measurement, took a slightly different perspective, putting value on an internal measurement: how he is changed by the service he is performing.  In regards to intention, we agreed on the point that sincere personal intention is important to all of us.  Moreover, the intentions of others are also important, because any service done with selfish intentions will eventually serve the self, not those who need it.

Interestingly, all of us converged on the topic of the relevance of Illich’s speech. The difference between the North American students that Illich describes and us is the fundamentally different perspective involved. Illich implies that the students he dealt with in Mexico were there with certain expectations. They failed to abandon their assumptions about how the world should be and, thus, went into their service with the intention of “fixing” a “broken” society by homogenizing it with the supposedly superior American model.  However, Amizade actively discourages this kind of thinking (this essay was included in Amizade’s journal!). The true value of a trip abroad, it says, is not to change the culture you enter, but to allow it to change you. Therefore, at the orphanage, we work on the terms of our Bolivian hosts, not our own.

Overall, our group speaks almost as one when we say that service is an integral part of our experience here in Cochabamba. It gives us insight into real problems that are present in this culture, and it allows us to be part of the solution. Moreover, it’s not just what we do that is important, but also the intentions behind it and its impact in the future.

¡Ciao!

Mark, Steven, Quilla, and Michael

 

Want to learn more about our adventures?

Follow Mark at www.mountainlionwv.wordpress.com

Follow Mikhael at http://www.amizade.org/volunteer/mikhael/

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