My experience in Bolivia has been very interesting this far. I arrived just over three weeks ago from Vancouver, Canada. During that time I have been working for Yo Voy a Ti and have learned a lot about myself as well as getting a great firsthand look at life in Bolivia. Through Yo Voy a Ti I was connected with two external organizations for my volunteer placements. Between the two organizations I work five to six hours a day, five days a week.
My mornings are spent working at EIFODEC, a center for disabled people. It’s such a great center, their main goal is the respectful integration of disabled people into society in such a way they are fine equal opportunity to contribute and be a part of the community. My work there is mainly in a support capacity. I assist the professors during classes, both physical and academic. My favorite part of this position is the dance classes. As I have a background in dance and with these classes I feel I am able to make the greatest contribution to the participants. These classes are aimed at improving general motor skills as well as balance, focus and team building. In addition to the dance and academic classes, the participants are strongly encouraged into sports with the ultimate goal of preparing them to participate in special ‘Olympic’ game events. It is really wonderful group of people to have the privilege to be a part of, even for a short while.
My afternoons are spent at the largest women and children’s hospital in Cochabamba. There I work for an organization called “Movimiento Sonrisa” who provides volunteers to the hospital’s child surgery ward. I have to admit this is my favorite placement. Here we get firsthand hospital experience while working with wonderful children. My afternoons are spent either playing with the young patients in the arts and games center or on the wards with the babies. We feed and comfort them. It’s a really fulfilling placement where you are really able to see the impact you’re having right away.
Overall my experience working in Bolivia for Yo Voy a Ti has been wonderful. I wish I had more time here but sadly I have to go home soon.
All I can say is that I will be back and I will definitely keep making time in my life to volunteer and give back to others.
The basket project
Yo voy a Ti foundation in Uganda has a basket project it is implementing together with EvaMia Interiors in Norway. The organization is helping young girls in the slums of Kampala to create their own employment and equipping them with skills in basket making. Some of the girls already know how to make the baskets but have initially been challenged with costs of materials to make them and finding markets for the baskets.
Yo Voy a Ti Uganda is providing the skills training and EvaMia Interiors will provide the market to support these basket makers. The baskets will also be sold within the region with Yo Voy a Ti providing assistance in looking for market so anyone that wants high quality and beautiful baskets please support our girls. Most of the girls are thrilled to be learning a new skill with a potential for creating their own income generating projects.
Word from the trainer
I think that Yo Voy a Ti Foundation in Uganda is giving a lot of young people opportunities to grow economically. The skills that you are giving these young girls are going to help them become self reliant. I am glad to work with the girls because they are eager to learn and are very motivated by eventually selling their baskets even on an international market. It is a good thing for them because most have been idle and doing nothing yet they have responsibilities like taking care of their children.
Word from one of the girls (Mary)
I have no job and yet I have a child, I need some sort of skills to help me make some income in order to feed my child. Getting this training with Yo voy a Ti Uganda is helping me with that. I thank them because I see a future where I can make these baskets and sell them to make a living. Of course it is going to challenge me to look for market for my baskets but I know I will have to do it in order to benefit. Also Yo Voy a Ti will be helping. The beginning is not easy but I am learning.
About the baskets
These baskets are made using natural materials such as dried banana stems, banana fibers, reeds and millet straws e.t.c. It is interesting to learn that the different materials used represent the different regions of Uganda where the basket originates. The colors used are all natural dyes. The baskets are made for different purposes which determine their shape and size. They can be used to store food stuffs, fruits or as decorations and wall hangings. It is also possible to for instance make them in various shapes like jewelry boxes to keep one’s jewelry or small pieces of cosmetics.
Some of the baskets
I started with Yo Voy A Ti just shy of six months ago. Having worked previously in a centre for disadvantaged children in homework support, I was ready to sink my teeth into a bit of responsibility and a bigger challenge (not that simultaneously attending to a room of boisterous children and their sometimes futile homework was not difficult).
Project coordinator was a title I’d never held, having never worked professionally in community development before. Would my combined studies, volunteer and intern experience be enough? Was my Spanish up to scratch? Did I know what I was doing? Would I disappoint the people who hired me? Would I help, really?
Before any new challenge there are always these swarms of doubt. Now, six months later, I hold the answers to these questions in memories and solid experience. What I needed was, more or less, the following:
The desire to do good. I’ve learned over and over that this small wish entails a high demand of patience, time, effort and perseverance. This is no miniscule task. Doing good is probably one of the easiest things to want and one of the hardest things to accomplish in a community development sense. How do you measure it? How do you know? How do you prevent harm from being done?
This leads to humility. A project coordinator, volunteer or employee in any NGO needs no small degree of humility. The desire to do good does not automate the capacity to do so. We have as much to learn as we have to teach. Personally I’ve learned so much by focusing and promoting what others know and want to share. From quechua phrases to street slang, how to make a bracelet to being taught the rules of a game made of chalk and stones. The resilience, strength and innovation of people who live on the street – who are survivors despite police violence, discrimination, isolation from society and histories of family break-down is a lesson I will not forget; nor the ceaseless energy of children, the affection and admiration they give so willingly and the creativity they show in making the street or an empty marketplace their playground.
Another challenge these past months has been the balancing of volunteers wants with the needs of the populations we are working with. Although a volunteer may express a desire to work in a certain area, our end goal is to help the populations we are working with over satisfying preferences of volunteers – which, albeit important, does not take priority in this instance.
There is the need to be flexible, to adapt to the rhythm of the children and youth we work with. They live and exist often by their own rules and the core philosophy of Yo Voy A Ti is to literally go to them and not have them come to us. On a practical level this means we enter their space, their community and their lives. Sometimes they’ll be there, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they’re interested in the mobile school, English school, football school and sometimes they simply are not. One needs to be flexible with this and not force participation. There needs to be flexibility in the planning of activities, themes, objectives. Like Regina George from mean girls, sometimes you have to stop trying to make fetch happen, it’s not going to happen! Rather, adapt, evolve, learn, keep going.
And certainly not the least of all is joyfulness. Not a characteristic you ever seen written on job descriptions but essential if your job demands that your levels of energy and positivity affect the people you are meant to lead and the population they are meant to help. A smile, a sense of joy, a light-heartedness when volunteers are tired or populations are distracted or disinterested. Joyfulness ensures that you are a light, a starting point, a smile amongst many stern faces.
As my time here wraps up, I will not forget all that I have learned here and will surely bring all of the memories home with me. I pass the torch to Fernando the new coordinator who goes above and beyond all of the requirements for this role. Unlike a foreigner passing through (myself), Fernando was born and grew up in Cochabamba. Already he has taught us the magical power of a clown nose to make children laugh, how to make balloon animals and figures, how to laugh at ourselves and how to give responsibility to a child, praise them, remind them to use manners, impart a message and always, always everything with a smile.
There is such great relief and comfort in the knowledge that Yo Voy A Ti is in good hands. Congratulations Fernando and a big welcome to the YVAT team!
Kjetil here, the Norwegian volunteer.
In almost 5 months I have had the privilege to be the football coordinator of the Yo Voy a Ti in Cochabamba. Apart from being in charge of the football trainings I have also been helping with the main project of the mobile school. Since January I have worked with kids in Takoloma and Mercado Campesino. Now I have recently started with the new opened football school in Quillacollo.
There are few things in life I love more than football. It is a game I have played since I could walk, and I still remember kicking the ball into the wall of my house, dribbling in the primary school corridors and pissing my neighbor off for kicking my ball in his car several times by accident. Upon the years I have had so many great memories with football, the feeling of teamwork, sharing ups and downs, and all the tears and cheers we have had. As it all have gotten more serious now I have started to enjoy other sides of the game, such as watching games, experience football culture and most of all the coaching part. I have had some very good trainers over the years, and I have also learned to take out the best from every one of them. But to take it out on the boys and girls down here is something different.
Takoloma, Mercado Campesino and Quillacollo are all neighborhoods filled with potential and coming youth, and I feel lucky to spend some time with them during the week. Here is a little explanation of what’s going on.
Takoloma is a place where the kids are in the risk of ending up on the street due to their conditions at home. Because the differences among the kids are so big and because there is no obligation for the kids to come it is pretty difficult to do coaching or train them to be better footballers. So therefore the focus is as simple as having fun and just plays with them.
Mercado Campesino is suffering high poverty, and it is a slummy area seen from my point of view. It is a marked place where the kids don’t have the resources to have a very good education and where the parents work as fruit sellers. Here the focus is the same as it is in Takoloma. But here there are mostly boys playing. And it is all about having fun.
Quillacollo is one of the suburb towns to Cochabamba and it is a good 30 minute ride out there. Out here Bolivia is getting real. Everything is more crazy, louder and more out of control, except from the football school. This is a football school that was developed together by the local church and religion has got an obvious influence on the work that is done over there. David is the leader of the school, and he is doing such a great job. He’s getting help from some mums, and me and some other volunteers from YVAT. It is just getting better to work with these kids. That’s it because the level are higher, and I am able to do more of a training session and improve their football abilities and make them smarter soccer players by teaching them how to play. And after just a couple of session I can already see progression in terms of keeping possession and talking to their teammates.
In Quillacollo there is another mayor differences that does not exist in the other places. The Christian influence. Carl Marx once said: “Religion is opium for the people,” and here you can see what he means of it. From Norway where I am from, we live good lives, live in safety and an overflowing wealth. In Norway, the religion is not as important as it is here. In this area they really respect God. I personally believe that this is helping them to get a better life, in terms of hoping for something better or that they one day will meet Jesus.
In 3 weeks I will take off to the World-cup in Brazil. It is a very bittersweet feeling that in 3 weeks my Bolivian adventure will be over, but at the same time, it would be a massive lie to say that I am not excited about going to the World Cup in Brazil. My time here has been an unforgettable experience but as it all comes to an end, I’m also excited about seeing my friends and family again. It is an adventure I will never forget, to see a kid learn from you, and take advantage from your teaching or your actions are indescribable. The rewarding smiles, honest questions, their innocence, or simply just watching a kid growing up is moving. It has only been 5 months, but for sure I’ll be back one day.
Can you do volunteer work if you are already over 40? Is this not the kind of thing for youngsters and students having just finished school? Have I still the proper attitude to do such work? Where can I find an organization to do the right thing?
These are some of the questions I have been thinking about when planning my sabbatical from my profession as a teacher in a German secondary school. My name is Michael and I wanted to travel around the world this year, but also do some volunteer work that is somehow related to my regular job. So first I was considering some kind of internship in a school in Bolivia but then I got to know via “World Unite” the project of Yo Voy a Ti in Cochabamba and found it very fascinating.
After travelling for about five months I stayed eight weeks in Cochabamba volunteering for Yo Voy a Ti. The first impressions of the life and environment of many children we are working with have been kind of shocking sometimes, but soon I got to know their great openness and cordiality.
Some particular experiences at CAICC, a home for children whose parents are in jail, and on the “Día del Niño” (Children´s day) has been very memorable and showed me the very different realities in the lives of Bolivian children. Of course, many kids grow up with love and care of their families and go to ordinary schools. Many others, however, live on the street or in very poor neighborhoods and get very little education.
Working with the mobile school in public is so different from teaching in a school and has been therefore very inspiring for me and my work as a teacher. And furthermore the good relationship and teamwork with the other “younger” volunteers at Yo Voy a Ti has been a very good experience I will miss. Working and travelling with them has been great fun.
So if I had to answer the questions I had before starting as a volunteer I must say: yes you can volunteer at any age but maybe you should be prepared to spend more time than I had, let’s say at least three months. And you will learn a lot about life and people in Bolivia and of course about yourself, too.
This week I’m going to finish my volunteer work in Cochabamba and will go on travelling a little bit more through Bolivia. But I’m sure I will do that with a lot of more understanding of the country and its people than if I had been here as a tourist only.
This blog post was written by Alex from the UK, our first volunteer at Yo Voy a Ti in Kampala, Uganda.
So far I have been in Uganda for about a month. I visited here on holiday about 10 years ago, but it was a different experience to living here. Kampala itself is an amazing city, the whizzing and winding of so many different types of transport all somehow fitting together. People are always keen to help you out (as in most times you don’t need to ask, they will come to you) with any kind of touristy problems you have as a newbie to the city and because they all speak English it makes the process a lot easier. Yet with the local tongues, Kampala’s being Lugandan, there is still the enjoyment of learning another language. The fact that all Kampalan’s are bilingual is very admirable. There is a lot to take in, the traffic, the food, the weather etc. but certainly none of it is over-whelming, just exciting.
I found Yo Voy a Ti from searching for volunteering in Kampala online, I was already coming here due to my partner’s job in Kampala. I was very impressed by the quality and organisation of Yo Voy a Ti and having a Skype conversation before coming over was comforting and helpful. My background before coming to Uganda has been in business studies and IT, since I have been here I have been helping with looking at help with micro-financing online, seeing what resources already exist on the web to help our cause. The future plan is to help train women who have just passed vocational courses in a range of different areas, such as hairdressing, tailoring and catering to help them set up a new business. Learning the basics of running a business will be a critical element in the success of their new businesses and so I am looking forward to being able to see how I can help them.
As well as helping with the micro-financing project I am also helping in the football training that is near Mulago hospital in Katanga. These sessions are very fun, although I did get badly sunburnt in my first week! I am now going to be wearing a cap each week for sure… These are kids with sadly very little prospects in life, but you wouldn’t assume that from the eagerness they show every week and these sessions help give them the belief that such eagerness can be translated into productivity and success in life. This makes these sessions more than just about football training, but they are getting better at playing week after week!
I feel very privileged to be in a position in my life where I can provide this volunteering help. I know that Yo Voy a Ti has been established in a manner which can make a genuine difference to those they are looking to help and I feel lucky to have been selected by them to help provide this help. I hope during the time I am here I can experience the success the organisation is aiming for.