EXPERIENCES

Thirsa tells about her experiences (as a therapist) in Bolivia:

November 2017. A few months since my return from Bolivia, I am packing my bags again to return to the country of which I could imagine so little just one year back. Through Beyond South America I had certainly received some information regarding the local culture and the project I was to partake in, but how it would be in real life, I didn’t know.

In December of 2016, Laurie awaited me at the airport in Cochabamba and brought me to the host family who received me with much love. With the exception of a few words, I couldn’t speak Spanish yet, but with the use of hand gestures and an invented ‘Spanglish’ we got quite far in communicating. Staying with this family, I gained my first impressions of Bolivian culture, which for the most part consisted of dinners with the family followed by dance parties in the garden. They allowed me to get acquainted with the delightful Bolivian food, customs and habits, such as celebrating Christmas Eve with a turkey and holding a toast at midnight. I started soon with the language lessons because I had been so eager to learn Spanish and since it was necessary for my project.

Learning Spanish was intensive, fun, and occasionally frustrating. But I was amazed at how quickly one can learn new words and phrases when living in a country in which the language is spoken. I would listen closely to what people say when they wanted to step out of a ‘trufi’, and I would point at many objects in the house of my host family in order to learn the words.

In February of 2017, I made a start at a local centre offering art therapy in their socio-education program. At two locations in the city, children came in the morning or afternoon to partake in the circus classes or in the socio-education classes and to receive a warm meal. Because I had worked on this project for some months, it was easy to build up a relationship with them, and this mutual trust proved great during the creative therapy. Through exercises in creative therapy the children learned to show and improve their social skills, such as working together. This was very important, because most children had had so little self-confidence. By positively stimulating them, in this project and in others, their self-confidence grew.

Next to Performing Life I also gained experience as a creative therapist at a shelter for women. At this shelter, women were offered creative therapy on a weekly basis to, among other things, learn to express their emotions and feelings, and move beyond their traumas. Of course, my life in Cochabamba did not just consist of voluntary work. Together with the other Dutch people, the Cochabambinos and other volunteers we undertook quite some activities, such as parties and trips to Salar de Uyuni and Sucre, since Bolivia is rich in beautiful cities and nature – all with their own surprising touches.

My trip to Bolivia has made me realize just how well off I am. Poverty in Bolivia does not pertain solely to financial issues, but it is also greatly present in the field of education. Many Bolivians have not had the chance to develop themselves further. This angers and saddens me. On the other hand, I have seen much potential in young Bolivians who have been able to develop themselves and who would like to put in the effort for a shared Bolivian future. All in all, I am very grateful for the experiences I gained and which played a part in my own personal development. Those experiences will stay with me as I now set out to return to engage in development work in the country I cannot let go.

Volunteer Iris tells:

Cochabamba: the Bolivian city where I stayed for five months thanks to the assistance of Beyond South America.

In hindsight, my stay was far too short, but I’ll be back some day! In three words, my adventure was challenging, festive, and educational. Challenging because every day, there would be something going differently than planned; festive because the Cochabambinos will always find reason to party; and educational due to the many cultural differences and the Spanish classes.

Through Beyond South America I got a work placement at a foundation that works as a daycare for children from a neighbourhood where many mothers have come to work in prostitution. Foundation Emanuel offers children from this neighbourhood tutoring, a place where they can play safely, and have three warm meals a day.

As a volunteer, you will be warmly welcomed by all the niños and tías, but with a more or less average command of English you won’t make it alone. Thankfully there is a good language school in Cochabamba: Juntucha. Beyond South America works closely with them and the language lessons are challenging and creative. Through the large network of Beyond South America and the language school I became acquainted with many people with whom I underwent activities on a weekly basis; from salsa classes to road trips. Cochabamba is no place for moping about; there are fun things to do!

Cochabamba: ciudad de todos, Iris (volunteer in Bolivia in 2017)

Inca writes about Laurie as a supervisor:

I know that I don’t open up to others the easiest. I don’t show this much, and yet I thought about this after the first time that I was to see my supervisor Laurie IJzerman: How could I communicate to Laurie that I don’t reveal my character very soon to people with whom I don’t feel ‘that connection’? I felt that this was an odd question, so I left it aside and hoped that things would work out by themselves. I didn’t even have to clarify it to Laurie with words. After several supervision-talks my concern about ‘not being able to reveal myself to others’ was fired back at me. Laurie told me how she had gotten a bit of a fright after our first conversation over the thought that I might not have come to show myself fully and would therefore lose chances to learn things. It was a good moment of reflection.

Laurie has the great gift of sensing and communicating exact concerns, so as to leave you at ease, even after days during which you felt you were near giving up. And such days were certainly there for me. Hereby I would like to thank Laurie IJzerman once more, and I would also like to wish everybody who will come under her supervision great luck on their path towards ADVENTURE! Laurie IJzerman is the perfect adventure-watcher during your voyage through the unknown.

Intern Magda tells about her intern period in Bolivia:

During my studies in Creative Therapy I was given the opportunity to spend some months abroad during my final year. Together with Inca, a fellow student, I opted to go to Bolivia – the land of the lamas, the condors and cholitas. Through our search for a supervisor we gained contact with Laurie. From the get-go, the contact with her felt natural. She quickly responded to all the questions we fired at her per e-mail. Ahead of my arrival I had no clue what to expect. I didn’t speak the language and I was unfamiliar with the culture. So I was taken by a culture shock during the first weeks I spent in Bolivia. Still, I remained curious to learn anything that was new to me. Laurie offered me great support in this and understood what I was struggling with, since she too had once been in that position. What I appreciated a lot was how she was able to approach everything from a positive angle. For example, she would stress my quality in seeking contact with the local population. This gave me more confidence to go out onto the streets and not lock myself behind closed doors.

Besides the supervision, Laurie offered me many hours of Spanish-lessons. In the beginning, I couldn’t utter a single word of Spanish. Every class she would look at my needs and would match the lessons to these needs. At first, I just learnt some simple Spanish words and phrases, like asking for the way and ordering food and drinks. After some time, the verbal conjugations came into picture and I learnt to ‘create’ sentences correctly. The amount of lessons differed per week and depended on my desire to learn the Spanish language. Laurie was flexible in this. Sometimes we would speak three times a week, and at the end of my three months in Bolivia we spoke just once every two weeks.

The supervision also went smoothly. In the beginning, Laurie helped me to find a placement at which to intern. In doing so, she took into consideration what it was that I wanted to accomplish from my intern-period and with which target-group I wanted to work. The weeks after, she offered me support in many aspects. Laurie was a person with whom I could share everything that didn’t benefit me, and somebody who understood and motivated me to accept new challenges.

It was a great experience, Bolivia. Thank you!

Nicole exchanged knowledge and experience with other physiotherapists in Cochabamba:

I have lived and worked for five months in Cochabamba – a city where I’ve felt at home since day one! I stayed with a host family, in an accommodation in the garden. At first I lived here alone, later I shared this space with Stijn and Sabine. I have worked as a physiotherapist in two different centres for disabled children. In the mornings, I worked at Aten, and during the afternoons I worked at Capedis. At Aten, children would only come for ‘day-treatment’ and general stimulation of the development. In the case of Capedi, the children also lived there. Here, I worked together with physiotherapists from both centres, and we managed to learn from each other! They do their job very well, considering the resources they have, which makes creativity an asset! Nevertheless, time and efficiency differ in this country to my own, thereby making (an initially seemingly long period of) five months seem too short. Still, I managed to leave behind some nifty techniques. Also, I wanted to be able to travel around for some weeks, and both Bolivia and Peru offer such incredible beauty and diversity!

I have absolutely come to love Cochabamba; the friendly people; the colourful Cholitas and their traditional clothing; the fact that you can buy anything at one of the many markets on street, be it a single button or a washing machine; the trufis and micros that bring you from one place to the next at any time of the day; the relaxed atmosphere; the delicious fruit; the music; men who all can dance ;-); and the new friends I’ve made, some of which I’m fortunate enough to be seeing soon in Europe. I am going to miss the colleagues, children, and friends in Cochabamba enormously (Laurie in particular), and I certainly plan on returning one day to pay everybody a visit!

Stijn created and cared for urban vegetable gardens in Cochabamba:

Bolivia – what a country, what a culture, what a scenery, what a lovely people. I am writing this story now that I’ve just returned to the Netherlands and am still living in the high of my joyous journey. Four years ago, I travelled for five months through South-East Asia, which left me with an amazing experience, but I wanted more. For a long time, I thought about what I might like to do: cycling through China, voluntary work in Africa – but then, I stumbled upon the organisation Beyond South America. They offered me the opportunity to fulfill the two wishes I had within the two months’ time I had. Since my childhood, I had the desire to do voluntary work. Firstly, because I wanted to contribute to third world countries and secondly, to get acquainted to a culture in another way than I had gotten to know them through my trips. I was instantly attracted by Bolivia. It is a country with diverse sceneries, a culture, which I did not yet know much about, and a country that certainly needed some extra assistance.

Beyond South America found me an organisation, which suited my interests and matched my preferences. I spent two months creating and caring for vegetable gardens to help support the poorest of families in Cochabamba. Besides working, there was still plenty of time to go out on excursions. I did this during the weekends and saw highlights of ‘Bolivia’ such as Salar de Uyuni and other tiny villages like Coroico that I recommend you to visit!

Laurie, the contact person in Bolivia, is truly great! My Spanish was rather absent, but if I had a problem she would help me right away. I also lived with an open and warm family, which against my expectations, were financially quite well off. Personally, I would have thought it to be an even greater experience to live with a poorer family where my monthly contribution would have made a noticeable difference. So, if you would also be interested herein, communicate this to Beyond South America.

Intern Sophie writes about her intern-period in Bolivia:

Sometimes you come to a place where you just feel at home right away. This was the case for me in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Surely, I had to take some time to get used to it and I experienced the well-known culture shock, but after that had faded away I spent five months of incredible homeliness in Cochabamba.

For my studies in Cultural and Social Development I left in February last year to Cochabamba to complete my third-years internship at a cultural educative centre. The central goal of the project was to improve the quality of life and the development of the artistic skills of children, adolescents, and young people by means of an educative-creative-artistic process. The project runs a circus and theatre school in the north of Cochabamba. Additionally, they work in a southern-positioned suburb, which focuses on the artistic schooling of parents and single mothers, and where they organize workshops for children to learn about theatre and art. I have worked at both places, and was surprised by the spirit and work ethic of my colleagues at the centre. Getting caught up in this, I was occasionally ‘halted’ by Laurie, who reminded me that I was also to enjoy my period in Bolivia. For this I am grateful, because sometimes I found it difficult to let go of my internship. I felt greatly connected to the centre where I worked, but because of this I would occasionally forget to think about myself.

In my spare time I discovered the salsa, bachata, and the merengue with Laurie and the other girls. Every weekend we were once again to be found in the salsatheque La Escaramanga, where we were quickly recognized by bar staff who would honestly ask us why we hadn’t been there the last weekend if it had just so happened that we skip one weekend.

I learnt a great deal from Bolivia. I easily get concerned about minor things, but having gotten more acquainted to Bolivian life I’ve learnt to let go of that more easily. Why would I be worried about things that are not yet a part of my life, or that have already passed? My time in Bolivia was intense and overwhelming. Due to the intensive internship and having lived with a Bolivian host family, I got to known Bolivia from within. I am very thankful for having made the step, despite having experienced some fleeting moments in which I wondered what made me make this decision, I gained so much from the many experiences. Laurie stood by me in those doubtful moments to find fitting solutions and to offer me some support. And with Marye from the Netherlands being there too, it was a good combination, which made my time in Bolivia even greater than it already was.

Mariska about Beyond South America:

With the help of Beyond South America, I came to Bolivia fort the very first time! After a few Skype sessions and a couple of e-mails later, the staff of Beyond South America found me appropriate voluntary work and a host family, too. After I arrived in Cochabamba, the staff brought me to my host family and they shared some useful information about the city. Besides that, they handed me a city map and a Bolivian (emergency) phone so that I could reach them 24/7. If I had any questions I could always contact them and they answered quickly. I always felt save in Cochabamba and I had a lovely time here, thanks to Beyond South America!

     

Lars van Kester worked as a physiotherapist in Cochabamba:

 

What great time I’ve had in Bolivia! It was totally different from what I see in the Netherlands, literally everything. From my (volunteering) work as a physiotherapist, to the landscapes, the food, the people and especially Bolivians’ admirably developed alimentary canal ;).

This is why I needed some time to adjust. Though I could always rely on my caring host family and the BeyondSouthAmerica-ladies, which made the time pass by very quickly for me.  

As I would say in Dutch.. I biked through time. As well as I biked literally, because it is even possible to buy a bike on the market in Cochabamba! I have to admit that it was of lesser quality than the ones I’m used to, so I recommend you to befriend the local bike repairer. Makes life easier there ;).

Being active in Bolivia while at the same time learning the Spanish language and going on nice trips from Cochabamba was an amazing experience for me. Beyond South America definitely contributed to making it so amazing!

Lorena tells about her work, life and leassons in Cochabamba

What a great time I have had in Cochabamba! Laurie picked me up on arrival at the airport and made me feel at ease right away in the new city. She has always been an important supports person during my time, cause she would always be there when I needed her. Besides that, we often had a lot of fun and could also have conversations about all kind of stuff. I did volunteer work in a daycare for children whose mothers work in prostitution. The place was very nice, safe and heartwarming, where I had a good time. Together with the children and other tías (aunts), we had a lot of fun and created close relationships.

The Spanish classes in Juntucha were amazing and very personal: I laughed a lot with the teachers but at the same time learned a lot about the culture and life in Cochabamba. It helped to study the language by doing games and having interesting conversations. Also the excursions to for example La Cancha (the beautiful, endless market), the botanical garden and museums were a good way to use my newly learned vocabulary in practice. Besides classes, I also just talked a lot of Spanish in daily life, which made me learn even more quickly.

Cochabamba is an amazing city that got a place in my heart. The city is lively and colourful with a mix of different cultures. I made friends with local Bolivians as well as other international people. Most foreigners that are in Cochabamba have been living there for a longer time and are also active in social work. The locals are furthermore very accessible and will make you experience how warm and hospitable the Bolivian culture is!

During my first month in Cochabamba, I stayed in a host family. The family was very welcoming and they took me to all kind of places. It was very fun to experience daily life the Bolivian way. I also felt totally at home and often went out with my ‘little sister’. Because of the places I visited and other activities that I undertook, I met a lot of people. Examples are the cookery-class of Adelante Mujer and climbing the Pico Tunari (the highest mountain of Cochabamba), which I found absolutely amazing.

For my second month, I stayed in a volunteers’ house in the center. Here I’ve had a really good time with roommates of different nationalities. We often ate together and went to Tandem every Tuesday for a language exchange night. On the weekends, we often went for a trip. We visited the city of Sucre and went to see the beautiful mountains in Toro Toro on another weekend, and did other trips to surrounding nature. Bolivia is beautiful, divers and still unspoiled! It is furthermore not really touristic in the region around Cochabamba, which makes it even more adventurous. The ‘Bike Art Tour’ is something I would really recommend you to do. The tour is on bike and passes by a lot of street-art of which its meaning will be explained, often related to culture, society or politics. During my time in the volunteers’ house, I also still visited my host family regularly.. just like a real family!

I could go on for hours, but to tell you shortly: my time in Bolivia via Beyond South America was amazing. The only difficult thing was to leave the city, but hopefully I will be back..