Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Adventures

"I’ve been incredibly sloth-like in getting around to writing this blog post. It has been about two weeks and a lack of motivation, waves of sickness, and not knowing what to write about led me to putting off writing all together. Though fret not, my waves of sickness have not prevented me from having fun, and enjoying some new experiences which I will share with you here.

The weekend before this past weekend I had a “come to Jesus” moment. Meaning I literally went to Jesus. He looked as fresh as a Colgate commercial, in all his white statue glory. I had the pleasure of realizing that the spot in the mountains where the Jesus statue stands is really the best vantage point of the city of Cochabamba. Many describe the city in words and phrases you would normally reserve for your middle school pictures such as “generally unattractive,” “not quite developed,” or “it will be better in a few years.” Frankly, I rather quite like the grittiness of Cochabamba. It may not have pristine streets and phenomenal urban planning, but a general welcoming feeling supplants those unavoidable flaws. So Ava, my fellow volunteer and housemate, and I took a few good too many photos and I even climbed a tree and almost got stuck. It should be noted I was only a few feet off the ground when I managed to get stuck, though slightly frightened nonetheless.

I’ll take a paragraph here to further explicate something about Bolivia I have come to love. This small country really can have it all, as long as you believe. Never mind the giant Christ statue in Rio, Bolivia can have its own over-sized Jesus too. And how about Incan ruins? The Peruvians certainly don’t have an exclusive right to them. In fact, just a few hours away is the “Maccu Piccu of Bolivia.” How neat is that? And, oh yes, this may be a landlocked country, or so you thought. If you travel to the extremely cold mountains in Oruro you will find the magnificent salt flats which basically double as a beach because it looks rather sandy and magical. So were you looking for the authentic South American experience? Feel free to travel on down to Bolivia its much cheaper, there are far less tourists, and the people here are just the best.

Last week I had the privilege of visiting the houses of the women of Tantakuna with Johan, a Proyecto Horizonte staff member that has been working with the women for years. This meant trekking around the Ushpa-Ushpa community surrounding the organization for a few hours. The views were great. The women were just as sweet, funny, and bubbly as they are in the weekly meetings. Many of them live relatively close to one another as some of them are actually related and therefore keep close to their extended family. The first house on the walk was Basilia’s, she is one of the older women in the group, with a wealth of knowledge and character. I looked on as she weaved monkeys into some bracelets. Why monkeys you may ask when there are none in Bolivia? To this I would reply, “great question, probably just because.” Of course, Basilia being the mother she is, pleaded for us to return to her house later for some lunch, we happily obliged. The next two women we visited had little ones running around while they weaved and tried their best to keep children off window sills and the such. The kids were absolutely adorable and it was endearing to see how they were inheriting the comedic ways of their mothers.

The next house we visited required a bit of a workout in climbing a really fantastically horrible hill. I feel out of breath just recounting the walk. After a decent bit of time we arrived at Victoria’s house, who according to Johan had recently added her makeshift pint-size door in the entrance way of the property. In seeing this I began to notice just how much the idea of progress was valued by the people in the community I was in. Being that it was just 15 years ago this illegal settlement was nothing more than tents, it’s rather incredible to look around you and see brick houses and more home additions in progress such as bathrooms complete with showers. Settling isn’t really in their vocabulary when they know they have the capacity to make something better.

This same idea of progress is probably best exhibited in the last house I visited that day. This particular women just maybe a year ago had her single, small dwelling. She now has a complete bathroom and another house next to her where her grown son and his family lives. This same woman has been on her own now as her husband recently moved away. And she’s doing great. Whereas just last year she had trouble taking on large amounts of orders in Tantakuna due to health problems, today she finds herself bored as she has already finished her work for the next order. She, like many others, isn’t one to dwell on the past or possible obstacles, but she sees what she can do better and how she can make her future brighter.

As with any developing area, there are those who have obtained their giant houses through more illegal means. It’s disconcerting to see elegantly painted five room houses amidst the humble abodes of those in Ushpa, but it isn’t that uncommon. If you ask those around, they will tell you that the owners of this type of house have either worked in Spain (before Spain decided to take down the Eurozone in conjunction with Greece) or they are cocaine suppliers. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality the people have to contend with.

In other excruciatingly exciting news, snow has been bestowed upon the surrounding mountains, capturing the attentions of millions. Though it is winter here, it is unusual to have any sort of precipitation in these months. Friday and Saturday were complete downpours, as evidenced by the next three days that would follow without wifi. During these times of contemplation as I didn't feel quite well enough to leave the house, I read a book I initially had negative amounts of interest in, I studied some Arabic for the first time in months, and consumed a bit too much locally made peanut butter. In general, it's always good to disconnect ourselves from the blackholes we succumb to with the internet, but I do miss the luxuries it provides.

To return to the snow, I was lucky to get a clear view of the white-peaked mountains on Monday while the pollution remained in check. And with the help of almost every member of my host family, I was reminded of the snow's presence and how I should go see it more than a few times. Between the excitement over simple weather happenings, painting my host mom's nails as she rushes to a luncheon (thank goodness her eyesight isn't perfect), and the incessant warmth extended by the family to me and all their volunteers, it's hard to not actually feel like part of the family".

- Holly, United States

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"If anybody is looking for a place to volunteer in South America, look no further than Proyecto!" - Kathryn, United States

My final day of volunteering has come to a close and I leave for the United States tomorrow night. But before I finish this journey, I wanted to write one more post about the amazing organization that I have been volunteering for. 

That organization is Proyecto Horizonte located in Ushpa-Ushpa. They focus on healthcare, education, and local development.  I have been working with the education aspect by teaching English classes at a local school to students between the ages of 11 and 17. What amazes me about Proyecto is their dedication to improving the lives of the people in the community.  They want everyone to be educated and not just on science and math but also on living a healthy lifestyle. I have enjoyed getting to know everyone that works in the physiological department, the youth club, and the educational department. 

Another aspect of Proyecto is the volunteers that work there. During my time here there have been volunteers from the United States, Cananda, Germany, England and Bolivia. Volunteers travel from all over the world to work with this organization. Some stay as long as a year, while others volunteer for the summer. Each person has a different story but also comes from a different culture. During one conversation I am likely to hear English, Spanish, and German. One of the things that I will also remember about Proyecto is the chance to meet people from all over the world. 

I loved Proyecto ever since reading about them online before I came and when I was talking to the volunteer coordinator.  Although my first two weeks in Bolivia were an adjustment, the people at Proyecto supported me every step of the way.  Because of this organization, I have been able to learn about and appreciate the culture of Bolivia. If anybody is looking for a place to volunteer in South America,  look no further than Proyecto. Just do me a favor and know more about Bolivia and the city of Cochabamba than I did to try and prevent culture shock. 
The link to their website is below if anybody is looking for more information about this amazing organization. The website has information about volunteering, donating, or buying products from the local women's group. Feel free to email me or let me know if you have any questions as well!


- Kathryn, United States

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"My Eyes are starting to open"

How interesting is it to read about the experience of a Bolivian-born volunteer who lived most of his life in the United States?  

Christian writes about going away a on a little adventure to the rural Bolivia: 

"Man has this city opened my eyes and thoughts. As I try to observe myself in those little hours I have to myself at the end of the day I start looking back at my life back in the United States… This week I decided to go on a little adventure hours away from my homestay with a new friend I had made in Proyecto Horizonte, in a bus, no in a train, actually both. 
Excited to leave, we rushed to the Cancha (The central area for transportation, sales, and food) to catch our bus-train, unfortunately we underestimated how crowded it would be on a Saturday. Getting close to departure time we tried running but that was not an option for us as the fastest we could go was walking not mentioning getting lost in the way. Thankfully after getting out of the crowd we started running to buy our tickets and made it just on time. Astonished myself I have never seen a bus on train tracks and was excited for the trip I was about to adventure to. Unlike going on the roads we were able to see the rural parts of Bolivia which were beautiful in every way possible. Seeing the “Cholas” (Natives to Bolivia) in their natural habitats was interesting as a lot of families had farming fields, herds of animals, and mud houses. Of course there were some scary parts where the bus-train would start shaking back and forth violently as we cross bridges that are thousands of feet up high. 

Being able to see the different levels of Urbanizations as we visited many pueblos on the way to Mizque. The 6 hour train ride really made me reflect on my life seeing more than just a regular “American” lifestyle I’ve always seen. Seeing most of the people astonished and smiling because of a bus-train, kids playing around, and the many family driven jobs. I’ve been battling this thought my time I have been staying here, the thought of opportunity, emotion, and perspective. 

How many of the intelligent kids I come across with in Proyecto Horizonte never going to college because of opportunity, but at the same time live a happier life than the regularly stressed working American? Of course I do not speak for everyone but it’s something I hope to define more in the time here".

- Christian, United States

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

First Week Recap - Discovering Cochabamba

After my first week (plus a few days) in the beautiful and confusing Cochabamba, Bolivia, I have an endless list of questions. I have at least reached one conclusion that Cochabamba is a city of many cities. The magnificent mountains are peppered with modest shacks and the remains of a more traditional lifestyle. Yet closer to the base of the valley, it is impossible to ignore the mansions dispersed throughout the hillside, towering over the rest of the community. This same theme is evidenced in the community of Ushpa-Ushpa where I work at Proyecto Horizonte. Beginning as a community of shacks made from whatever materials could be found, Ushpa is transitioning into a conglomerate of more steady brick buildings with a few out of place mansions spread throughout.
Ushpa itself represents to me the deep-rooted traditional culture that thrives in Cochabamba. Here the women wear traditional clothing, operating day to day the same way they have for generations. For a great many, I’m unsure of the number, Spanish is not their first language, but rather Quechua or Aymara is. It is fascinating to see such a demographic able to coexist so successfully with the more urban and progressive facets of the city. It is in fact a city of about two million I believe. And therefore, it has much of the same characteristics any large city would.

Some first week struggles I’ve had include but are not limited to, remembering my Spanish and being able to converse with others as nearly no one speaks English, overcoming a stomach bug, finding reliable wifi, and crossing the street without risking my life. The Spanish here is very different from the Mexican Spanish I was taught, as I expected but did not know how to prepare for. It is more formal and uses a slightly different set of vocabulary. However, I was happily surprised by how slowly people seem to speak here, just as they are in no hurry unless driving, the words come carefully and with time.
Some things I love and was surprised by in the first week include the fabulous and cheap public transportation, the phenomenally fresh fruit, my conversations over tea with my host family, the generally kind and welcoming disposition of everyone I’ve met, the stray kitten that visits the house from time to time, and other things I know I’m forgetting. To address what I mentioned earlier but did not really explicate, Cochabamba is a city of many cities. The Northern part of the city is extremely wealthy and modernized, the parks are well manicured and the streets clean. Just a little further down the road, it is completely different, street-side vendors crowd the sidewalks making money selling anything they can, buildings look dilapidated, and the parks on this side of town are more akin to patches of dust. The segregation between the classes is very obvious in Cochabamba. Even Ushpa exists in a different realm from the rest of the city. Ushpa was described as rural to me prior to my arrival, in fact, it hosts about 100,000 residents.

My work so far with Proyecto Horizonte has involved working with a group of girls that host community development workshops. I have been helping prepare materials on some of the workshop topics which range from sexual abuse to the importance of recycling. I’ve also been learning about the organization’s work with the Tantakuna women, which is a group of local women who produce artisanal products and with the help of Proyecto, find vendors to sell their products to. I hope to work more with the Tantakuna women, and learn about their women’s empowerment initiative, but first I need to learn all there is about the processes involved, as it can get very complicated at times.

Miscellaneous Observations:
-Red lights don’t mean stop and are hardly even a suggestion.
-There is a large German population here. Many come out of high school with a program that sends young Germans abroad to developing countries to volunteer for 11 months with an organization. So just the other day as I was waiting at the bus stop, I was approached, thanked for my service, and asked if I was German.
-The winter season here only shows itself in the mornings when it is in the fifties. But each day temperatures seem to hover around the same mild climate in the seventies, it’s quite nice. Though most of the population is breaking out their winter coats, I’m enjoying a break from the boiling summer heat that comes far too early back in Tallahassee.
-Parents that can send their children to private schools do, as the public education system isn’t necessarily the best.
-The students of a public university here in the city have been on strike for about a month now. Reasons being outrage over an examination system for the professors to ensure quality among the staff. It seems that much of the university’s faculty is being accused of not taking this competency exam. I don’t have all the details but I hope to learn more about it as it seems to be a major topic in the news each day.

- Holly, United States

A British volunteer , Michaela, looks back at her 3 months of living in Bolivia and working at Proyecto Horizonte

After being recommended Proyecto Horizonte by a family friend who volunteered for the organisation a couple of years ago and loved it, I decided that I was going to complete the next four months of my year abroad volunteering for the project. I started off staying in a homestay with a wonderful host mum, however I had planned to stay in a flat with other volunteers but unfortunately the flats owned by the project were not ready to move into straight away. Luckily there was a girl from Alaska staying in the same house who was also in the same situation so we decided to go searching in the city for a flat to rent out together. After just two days of looking we moved in, it was really easy to find somewhere.

Having traveled for almost 30 hours from London to Cochabamba at the beginning of March 2015, I headed straight into the project the next day.  On my first day I was shown around the whole place and was amazed to see for myself all the different ways in which they help the community, having read about it online.  I started working in the medical center for my first month and now work with the children aged 3-4 at the nursery in Inicial 2.  All of the children are so sweet and I love being greeted in the morning by the kids coming up and hugging me saying, ‘Hola profe Mica’ it really is the sweetest and the best way to start the day.

It is not all work and no play, I have been fortunate enough to visit the beach city of Iquique in Chile for five days, the beautiful city Sucre (another city in Bolivia) and Villa Tunari, which I can best describe as a tropical jungle.  I am also planning to take a trip to the Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) and hopefully La Paz and many other places.  I have now finished my third month here and cannot believe just how quickly the time has gone, with just one month left I know how quickly it will fly by and I am not ready to leave.  I have really enjoyed my time here, everyone who works at Proyecto Horizonte are so lovely and welcoming, I definitely want to come back. Cochabamba is one of my favourite places I have visited, there is so much culture and diversity here that I will never get bored of this amazing city. 

- Michaela, UK

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Hello there everyone,

my name is Tim Conitz, I am from Germany and nineteen years old, graduated from Highschool this sommer and I am working around the area of Proyecto Horizonte 11 Month (started in August 2014). By now, I helped grateful in the field of education and physical education and some other functions.

Es sind knapp 3 Jahre vergangen, dass ich La Paz 2012 nach einem 3-monatigen Schüleraustausch verlassen, und meine erste Bolivien-Erfahrung gemacht hatte.

Nun bin ich zurück. 2014. Älter, mit einem Schulabschluss und der willentlichen Verpflichtung 11 Monate im Auftrag des „weltwärts“-Programms im Proyecto Horizonte meine Freiwilligenarbeit zu leisten. Zwar wohne ich 1 Stunde und 2 längere Truffi-Strecken vom Projekt entfernt, aber es ist jeden Tag definitiv wert, hinzufahren.

Im August 2014 angekommen, startete ich knapp 2 Wochen später in Proyecto Horizonte/Mineros San Juan zu arbeiten. Nachdem mir Eliza Wall das Projekt gezeigt und mögliche Arbeitsstellen vorgeschlagen hatte, machte ich Bekanntschaft mit Profesora Maria Theresa, die Leiterin des „Gabinete pedagogico“ in der Schule „San Vicente Paul“. Die Arbeit sagte mit ausgesprochen gut zu und ich mochte die Arbeitsmethode und das Motiv in der Arbeit, dass ich bei Maria Th. blieb.

Das "Gabinete Pedagogico" bietet Nachhilfe für all diejenigen Kinder dieser Schule an, die im Unterricht Schwierigkeiten haben die Lerninhalte und Aufgaben zu meistern – aus unterschiedlichen Gründen. Jedes Kind stellt unterschiedliche Ansprüche an uns ihm zu helfen aufgrund dessen, was ihnen sozial, neurologisch oder anderweitig in ihren jungen Jahren Probleme bereitet hat, bildungsmäßig mitzuhalten. Dort habe ich bisher von Montag bis Freitag 8-12 Uhr und am Nachmittag, Montag, Mittwoch und Donnerstag Maria Theresa geholfen, die Kinder zu unterstützen und mit zusätzlichen, für sie angepassten Materialien zu fördern, und mit [didaktischem] Material wie Puzzle, Memory usw. das Gedächtnis zu stimulieren. Wir Freiwilligen, die Maria Theresa helfen, haben auch neues Material dem „Gabinete“ gespendet, denn die Neugier der Kinder wollen wir aufrecht erhalten.

Ich hatte mich schnell in die Arbeit eingefunden und mir die ersten Namen und Gesichter gemerkt, doch bei ständig abwechselnder Anwesenheit  von den durchschnittlich zwanzig 6-10 Jährigen hatte ich meine Probleme, alle Namen zu lernen. 

Wenn ich dann zum Beispiel gefragt wurde, warum ich mir mein Haar gefärbt hätte (ich habe blondes Haar), hat mich das amüsiert und Aufklärung war gefordert. Den Raum säubern und Männlichkeit ist auch eine Sache, bei der ich etwas „schräg“ angeguckt wurde – es ist einfach nicht üblich, dass Männer putzen.

Generell hatte ich in den ersten 4 Monaten im „Gabinete“ einen riesigen Spaß an der Arbeit mit den Kinder beim Lernen oder Puzzeln und den stetigen Fortschritt der jungen Menschen zu begleiten, ist eine große Freude. Wir hatten am letzten Tag, bevor das „Gabinete“ für die Ferienzeit schloss, den Kindern einen Becher gefühlt mit „Gelatina“, Früchten und Joghurt beschert.

Ansonsten half ich am Dienstag und Donnerstag Nachmittag im Jugendzentrum mit, Computerarbeit[en] zu erleichtern, Englisch-Aufgaben zu verstehen oder bestritt das ein oder andere Volleyball-Spiel.

An dieser Stelle kann ich einfach sagen, dass ich bisher eine sehr glückliche und bereichernde Zeit hatte,

Im Februar geht’s für 5 Monate weiter!