On July 2nd, 2016 our group of 12 high school students, 2 adult mentors, and 2 staff members embarked on a 26-day experience in Bolivia and Peru. Each ambassador was tasked with recording the day’s adventures and learning experiences throughout the program. Keep checking back for more posts, this is just part 1 of our YAPSA 2016 blog series!

The Youth Ambassadors Program with South America (YAPSA), a program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by Amizade. This exchange program offers a unique opportunity for a diverse group of young people from Bolivia, Peru, and the North Central Appalachia region of the United States to travel, learn about another culture, develop their leadership skills, and become empowered to make positive changes in their communities.


07-02-16

written by Sead Niksic

Starting on July 2nd, our eccentric group of 12 youth ambassadors, 2 adult mentors, and 2 staff started off our month long journey through Bolivia and Peru. Immediately, we could tell that this year’s YAPSA group was going to have fun (to say the least). Of course, the day started off with American Airlines having to call headquarters to confirm the visa situation for the minors of the group; but, after that was dealt with we quickly departed Pittsburgh heading south towards Miami!

2016 Youth Ambassadors
2016 Youth Ambassadors

Arriving on time in Miami, many got food in anticipation of the “wonderful” food awaiting us on the flight to La Paz. Soon enough, we were on our way to Bolivia, and while the seating was a bit cramped, everyone seemed to have handled the flight well. However, landing at the highest altitude international airport in the world doesn’t lend itself well for youth ambassadors – or anyone for that matter. The altitude affected Teona and Dae the worst, and after the few bouts of sickness, coca tea, and a few hours of rest we were ready to fly to Cochabamba! While we were all very tired, the majestic scenery of the Andes didn’t allow for much sleep and before we knew it we were in Cochabamba, wonderfully awaited by the Amizade site directors in Bolivia, Jean Carla and Ariel!

After loading the bus for the hotel, we were all struck with a newfound level of excitement and energy as we passed through Cochabamba for the first time! Awestruck, we checked in to the hotel, went to lunch and then had a few hours of well deserved rest before having a group meeting/orientation and then heading out to dinner!

After effectively putting the restaurant on standby with the size of our order, we had enough time to gaze in the glory of our new environment…and soon enough we had our first YAPSA family dinner!

All in all – a wonderful first impression of the city of eternal spring!

07-04-16

written by Nicholas Naumov

The early morning haze clouded our weary eyes as the monotonous alarm pierced through the relatively undisturbed silence of a Cochabamba morning. I reluctantly swung my legs over the threshold of the sheets to regain the silence once again, save for the jovial tweeting and chirping of unknown birds fluttering through the vegetation outside. I laid in bed once again before my conscience forced my body through the motions of dressing and preparing for the run about to take place. The destitute weariness of the previous day’s travels had dissipated overnight; since replaced by an air of vigor and excitement for the new day. Exercise club! Michael and I crossed through the lush courtyard into the breakfast area, where upon we were greeted by Anne Marie and Christina eagerly awaiting the remaining ambassadors. Following 20 minutes of light jogging, Anne Marie exercised her executive powers and soon we found ourselves in the midst of an exotic Mormon palace, La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días. The modern church lay atop lush gardens and steps. After our quick tour and discourse with Maurice, an employee of the church, (the trumpeter atop the central tower points to the east f.y.i) we gallivanted back to the hotel, embracing the morning jostle and wonderful idiosyncrasies found in the streets of Cochabamba.

After a light breakfast, the entire group met for an informative orientation (hosted by Jean Carla) involving general host family etiquette; as a preparation for the 7:30PM host family pick-up. We then headed to a delicious buffet-style lunch near the hotel, and filled up on marinated chicken, steak, pork belly, rice, noodles, and so much more. Once we had refilled, the sightseeing commenced. We observed general Cochabamba street life, as well as visited Globos, an ice cream/arcade/playground extravaganza (and ate tons of ice cream). Back at the hotel, game time began, as we played a colorful variety of team building games including the “look up” and “find the bottle”. After a brief rest, we embarked on a trip for the final meal of the day. A light portion of empanadas and eccentric local drinks made for a tasty post-lunch meal. Finally we greeted our welcoming host families in the hotel lobby and initiated the exciting adventure that is to come over the next 10 days!!

07-05-16

written by Teona Collier

2016-07-06-12-11-37Today started with everyone getting into the vans. Everyone was so excited talking about their host family’s similarities and differences. Families varied a lot. Some were very big, some were very small, some had Wi-Fi, and some didn’t, but we all agreed that they were very conscientious. We got out of the van and arrived at Cristo de la Concordia. We all got into cable cars that took us up in elevation. So help us Cristo. When we got to the top we are all amazed at the beauty of the famous Statue. We explored for about 20 minutes then Ariel explained to us some of the history of Cochabamba including the politics/ government, the economical issues, and also explained some of the geography to us and why the Cristo statue was put here in the first place. The statue was finished in 1894 and took about 7 years to build. We then explored the area a little more, taking pictures, buying key-chains, and really just admiring the view.

We all had lunch with our families. Most having potatoes as a side. We arrive at a school and daycare for children with different needs. Some of them are just normal kids that need a positive place to go in the day time. Some whose parents aren’t active or are in jail. The daycare is open to the whole community offering food, and education. They learn different things like gardening and behavioral training. This is for the betterment of the children when they grow up. The organization is called OESER. We met Marco, the administration director.

It began with a small church. People were kicked out of their homes for different reasons. There was a public dining room to provide food for these people. It snowballed into education and that’s how it all began. It’s not just a daycare but a building used for betterment of the children to become good people. There is an energy bar company that powers the organization called Mikuniy. This also generates more jobs for the community. Organization also stands against HIV aids and helps inform about sexuality, safe sex, etc. This section of the organization is called PAT-SIDA. The organization was founded in 2009.

We visit the factory that makes the energy bars. It is said to us that only 3 people work here. Although we can not go inside the factory for hygiene reasons, we did try some! They have 3 flavors which are almond, chocolate, and orange.

After another short bus ride we rode into the city to visit a friend of Jean Carla. Her name was Alejandra Dorado. She is a famous artist in Bolivia and has a merchandise line called Santita Design. The group really admired her work. Many of us either bought or ordered T-shirts and many other things like water bottles, glass coasters, and wallets and bags. After spending much time and money in her store we decided to leave and get food. We arrived at a grocery store called hyper maxi and they had a food court there. Many had chicken and fries and others tried something new. Towards the end we were all pretty crazy and needed rest. We all had false energy because of the long day that we had. After a short discussion of tomorrow we boarded the buses to head back to our host families for the night.

07-06-16

written by Jazmine Singleton

To start off our third day on this amazing journey through South America, we all gathered at 9:30AM to be a part of a Bolivian folkloric dance class. While waiting for our teacher to set up her computer and projector many of us kept busy by “stretching” and just fooling around. This specific class was taught at a studio founded by Natalia Loma. There she gave us a presentation about the different regions of Bolivia, and the dances that these regions helped influence. For example the highlands have a dance called Saya afroboliviana (around La Paz), the valley a dance called chacos, and the lowlands a dance called oriente (Santa Cruz). All of these dances are very sacred to the areas in which they are from. Although some dances have changed throughout time along with the music, dance groups like the one Natalia founded try to stay true to the most traditional form of music, dancing, and clothing.

We were shown many pieces of multiple costumes and Jaylin, Christina, Autumn, Madison even got to wear a skirt from a particular dance to get the full experience. While All the boys took turns wearing the male version of the costume. After about two hours of dancing and learning we returned home for lunch with our host families. With lunch being the most important meal for many Hispanic cultures, many families have multiple courses, including lots of meat and potatoes!!

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After lunch we all gathered back at a museum/ palace for some Bolivian education on the successful Simón Patiño. After a switch up with the schedule we ended up having a group reflection on our move to our host families, and our time overall so far in Cochabamba. We talked about what made us uncomfortable and what our experiences were like individually. During reflection Dana told us to really appreciate and think about why we are here because many people will not receive a chance to do what we are doing, and we all agreed that it was something very sacred to cherish and remember throughout our time here and after we arrive back home. Later in reflection Robert asked us a very important question “how could you be more present in this trip” and the answers varied and it was great to hear what we could do to help people with what their answers had in them.

After reflection we started our tour through the palace. We learned throughout our tour about all the different architecture styles that were incorporated into this space, and it was amazing to see SO many influences in one house….or should I say mansion!!!! After our tour we all looked through some art that was in an exhibit below the house, and then we were off to dinner. At dinner we all had a traditional Bolivian sandwich that was AMAZING, along with some French fries( more potatoes!!!). After eating for 45 minutes to an hour, we all set off to go back home and get ready for the day tomorrow. Overall it was a great day, and I can’t wait to see what else this trip holds for us!

07-07-16

written by Dean Garland

Today started off with Sead and I eating breakfast with our host family like everyone else. We quickly gathered our stuff to go outside 10 minutes before the 9 am bus. Patiently we waited 45 minutes until it’s arrival. In the van we saw all of the members of YAPSA 2016 and we were off to the CEOLI organization. At CEOLI we watched 3 trailers telling what the organization is and some people in it. Immediately after,we divided up into painters and tilers. The real work lay ahead.

Some of the work included sweeping, mopping, cutting tiles, and of course painting. For about a half hour everyone worked hard before lunchtime. Afterwards, the group enjoyed lunch at a local buffet in Cochabamba. Everyone was delighted when they saw the many foods of Bolivia all in one spot. I was one of the people that randomly grabbed food and placed it on their plate. The group quickly ate their food and was ready for another round of service at CEOLI.

Later, the group went back to work with only 3 more hours remaining. This meant hard work for everyone. Sitting down and relaxing was good for about 0 minutes during the entire project. It was a great thing. The painters finished the job of giving the kitchen a brand new look, while the tilers removed the cracked old ones. Henceforth, everyone was treated to dinner in a food court. In my opinion that’s one of the greatest ways to end a day. Overall, everyone worked really hard. The group showed teamwork making the dream work.

P.S. today was a good day.

07-08-16

written by Madison Augustine

Cochabamba, “The City of Eternal Spring”

Our day started extremely early this morning. The buses began arriving at roughly 7:45 to pick up all of the (tired) ambassadors. The first objective on our agenda for the day was to visit a women’s center to watch a presentation. After a short and quiet bus ride, we arrived at IFFI, a comprehensive, non-profit, feminine training program. We were introduced to a great man named Rolando who would be presenting to us. We learned that their mission and vision for their company is to propose change by challenging political, social and economical rights that women face. IFFI wants to do this by having women be trained for local development by learning skills to be successful. These women are shown technical training so that they can generate their own income and make smart financial decisions. There are several different branches of this program that teach different skills that will help to better the women’s existing skills, such as cooking, weaving, and literacy. One of these branches is called Munama, which is a weaver’s association that exports jewelry and many other products. Branches like these help to create a national network of women who are entrepreneurs. It was very interesting to hear about economic and political issues that these women face. The presentation was very eye opening and informative about the problems that people of different countries face that don’t happen in the United States.2016-07-05-11-21-28

After giving our thanks and saying our goodbyes to the people at IFFI, we all departed on the buses to head back to our host families homes to eat lunch. My host family prepared an incredible meal and we talked for a long time about their daily lives in Cochabamba. I loved hearing their stories and what they enjoy to do. Eventually, I helped clear the table and headed upstairs to get my things together to prepare to go to our evening activities. This evening, we would be visiting La Cancha, a very large market, where you can buy almost anything. The experience of visiting La Cancha was incredible because I am not used to seeing such a busy environment crowded with person after person trying to sell items. The lines of vendors was endless and there was so much to choose from. Anything from key chains to a stuffed llama toy.

After a very hectic shopping trip, we all went back to the buses to go get dinner before we went back to our host families. For dinner, we went to a very delicious restaurant called Mad Mex. There was a very wide variety of Mexican foods to choose from and we all enjoyed our meals and were ready to get home.

The bus ride home didn’t take long at all and we were dropped off at our host families in no time. My host family was mostly asleep so there wasn’t much opportunity for conversation. So, Teona and I prepared for bed and are ready to take on the day tomorrow.

Go to YAPSA Journals Part II