Written on Thursday 5th Feb 2015
Overview of ICS Bolivia structure:
There are 24 short-term British volunteers (one who is Polish actually) split into four teams who work with different project partners: Childhood & Youth Empowerment (with Childfund); Volunteer for Inclusion (with Best Buddies), Urban Agriculture (with Focapaci) and the project formerly known as Zebras for a Silent La Paz (although they’re no longer working with the government’s zebras scheme as far as I know).
Each team has two team-leaders, one “Bolivian” and one “British”… I use “” because the team leaders are actually from Spain, Italy, El Salvador, Peru, Bolivia and the UK but are all based in the UK or Bolivia. Each team also has two long-term local volunteers, who are mostly from La Paz, who are students around our age. They are called “coperantes” and they play leading roles in the projects. Since the start of this cohort, more Bolivian volunteers have joined the ICS programme, including my host-cousin who lives in my district, Bolognia.
Every week, one member of each of the four project groups has to create a blog. This week is my turn! In our introductory week, an Oxford educated journalist from Bolivia Express came to the office to give us a communication workshop to help us make better blogs. It was very interesting and inspiring. He said that writing methodically about what you’ve been doing may be interesting for you, your friends and your family, but it isn’t really going to make your article stand out. He said you should think of a subject and write about that. I thought of many interesting topics. Here are a few:-
Blog idea 1: Is the image of a socialist and green Bolivia, projected by Morales´s government, correct?
“Suma K’amaña” is an Aymara saying which roughly translates as “live well”. Some people have attributed socialist and ‘green’ ideas to this phrase, suggesting it means to live in a modest way that doesn’t take too much from the planet or from your fellow humans. The other ancient idea that goes together with modern environmentalist thinking is the idea of respecting “pacha mama” – mother earth.
The left-wing Bolivian government talk a lot about these ideas, but of course some people believe it is only talk and that the government doesn’t act on what they say, or they’re not honest. Others would say that they are doing all they can and that it takes a long time to undo the damage of the previous right-wing or neo-liberal governments. I cannot comment because ICS is impartial, and also I have no idea; it’s all perspective and opinion. But a good article could be written discussing these points:-
–Is Pacha Mama being respected in modern Bolivia, in reality? Most of the country’s income is from selling natural gas (unsustainable), and people rely heavily on cars to get around the city (there are virtually no pedal bikes).
–The Bolivian government claims to be socialist, but how true is this? There is very high inequality, and unfortunately there isn’t a decent affordable public healthcare system (so I’m told). I was interested to learn that there is a new class of wealthy Aymara who live in colourful mansions…once you’re rich, do the “traditional, indigenous” ideals of living well but not too extravagantly go out of the window somewhat (did the ancient Amerindians even have these ideals or has it been attributed to them later)? After-all, whatever our ethnicity, all humans are pretty much the same.
I don’t know any of the answers, I can only speculate. I´d need to do research and interview people, and even then all I’d end up with are a lot of different points of view. And ICS is impartial, so it would be hard to write about this even if I had done the research.
Blog idea 2: Islam in Bolivia
There are two mosques in La Paz, and at least one in El Alto. At a time when a lot of Muslims are being attacked and discriminated against (by radical Islamophobic groups and ‘Islamic’ extremists like Daeash) I thought it would be interesting to find out how the small Islamic community in La Paz are getting on (and I’d conceived other questions such as “what disagreements led to there being two mosques in La Paz?”). But when I rang the bell of Mezquita As-Salam this morning, there was nobody in. So this is not the topic of my blog (but maybe a future blog).
Overview of the “Childhood & Youth Empowerment” group’s work
The team I’m in is working in three after-school education centres, funded and part-managed by the Bolivia contingent of the United States based charity, Childfund. After school, many children in La Paz have nowhere to go, and some are locked in their homes for safety. These centres provide a safe learning environment where the children can go after school for further classes, games and fun, educational activities. Some centres even provide day care for pre-school children.
The task of this cohort is to design learning modules for each centre addressing areas specified by the centre. These are: Citizen Security, Leadership & Empowerment, and Nutrition & Sport (this is the one I’m doing with Las Lomas centre). As well as delivering the classes, we should try and package & present them in a way that can be reused easily in the future. We’ve also been asked to do this for the modules that previous cohorts have designed. It’s not sustainable if it can only be delivered once by one set of individuals.
My group´s work so far (Las Lomas Centre – Nutrition & Sport)
I’m working with two young women, one Scottish and one Bolivian, and they both live very near me in our neighbourhood, Bolognia, in the Zona Sur of La Paz. Since we started, another Bolognia girl has joined our team, my host family’s cousin. She’s a vegetarian, which is a little tricky here in La Paz (most people seem to include meat/chicken in every meal, but there are some vegetarian restaurants, and I assume that, like in the UK, food consciousness is growing). It´s a good team and we seem to be quite productive (especially the long-term Bolivian volunteer who is a powerhouse – she studies for her University degree every evening on top of her ICS work).
We’ve written a script about a sweet potato who gets bullied in school by the other potatoes for being different. But she’s helped by a friendly carrot. In episode 2 the carrot gets kidnapped by some gangster onions. This is a puppet show to teach 4 – 6 year old children about “peace culture” values and the benefits of different fruits & vegetables. We made the puppets from card, foam and other bits & bobs. We also came up with some songs, and there will be a dance which the children will perform in a final event. The theme song is currently “Me gusta la [verdura], Me gustas tu” – a new fruit & vegetable version of the famous Manu Chao song. We are focusing on fruit & veg because they are the foods most lacking in people’s diets.
The final event will be a sports day, “The Hungry Games,” which the 8-12 year old group will help plan. The 15-18 year olds will be in charge of preparing healthy snacks and smoothies. The lessons also include games, talking about sports people, drawing activities, planting vegetables, meditation & stretches, and of course practicing sports for the sports day.
We were supposed to deliver our first class in Las Lomas on Monday afternoon but there were only two children so the centre said there was no point giving the class. It was the first day back at school so families were only just enlisting, and there will be more next week. They told us to return the following day and deliver a special two our session. The very productive Bolivian girl in our team planned the session and we arrived on Tuesday afternoon to deliver it, but again there were not enough children – only four and they all had other things to do. So we will have to cram our five sessions into four or just drop the last session. The sports day is going ahead though!
Other than the classes, the whole team finished off a mural done by the previous cohort in Las Lomas on the Monday morning. On Wendesday I went with some of our group to the Avance centre in Chasquipampa (even further out than Bolognia) to draw a mural about citizen security on an inside wall of the centre. I had help from a fellow artist who we drafted from the Urban Agriculture group. He also lives in, guess where: Bolognia! He stays with the other Welshman and the mother of my host-father, in the same complex as our host-cousin who I mentioned before. She helped with the drawing too, and so did a little girl from the centre.
On our Action Friday, coming tomorrow as I write this, volunteers from all four project groups, and lots of local kids, will attempt to paint my wall sketches. The other artist(s) and I do our best to ensure it turns out well, and I’ll try not to be too much of a perfectionist! It´ll be good fun.
And that´s what I wrote for the official blog, although I edited out the "blog ideas 1 & 2" in case they were too political.
On Friday 6th, after I wrote the blog, we had our team's action Friday. I was the master-painter of the Citizen Security mural in the Avance Centre. Lots of children and volunteers took part. Everyone came to me to ask what colour to use and where they should paint. I was mixing colours and assingning parts to different children and volunteers. Everyone did an excellent job, and they were very careful and thorough. Their bits were better than mine to be honest!