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 part 2 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.

07-09-16

written by Jaylin Ciccone

The day started off like any other day. I told Christina at 7 in the morning to turn her alarm off while still continuing to lay in our beds for the next 20 minutes trying to wake ourselves up for the day. We both got dressed and went downstairs to eat our usual breakfast of bread with jelly and some tea. Today’s pick-up time was around 8:00 am. While waiting for the bus to roll around the corner, Christina and I usually browse around our host family’s small but yet very cute grocery store.2016-07-17-08-27-34

As soon as we got on our bus, we were happy to see we were the first ones to be picked up so we got to pick our seats. Soon after that, all of the students /adult mentors were on the bus and ready for our day to start. On the way to our first activity for the day, we picked up three of the Bolivian YAPSA participants from last year; Natalie, Miguel, and Andres. Everyone was so excited to meet them and had tons of questions. The first activity of the day took place at where Andres did his CAP project ( community action project). When we got there, the three participants from last year all explained their projects that they had going on while giving us advice for when we do our projects. All of us found that talking to them made us more clear about what we want ours to be about.

After we were all done talking, five of us went to go get water while everyone else started emptying the little plastic tubes of dirt. There was so much dirt that it took us all about an hour to empty all of it. Yes, emptying tubes of dirt may sound boring but when you’re with the right group of people you can make anything a good time. We were all just enjoying the fact that we were able to help someone. When all of the dirt was finally emptied, we gathered back together in a circle and played one of our games from the meetings. While the game was going on, we also surprised Dana with a birthday cake (Happy Birthday Dana!!).

The bus dropped us off back with our host families around 12:00 so we could enjoy lunch with them. Christina and I´s host family yet again made another delicious dish for lunch. We had the most tasty spaghetti that you could ever ask for. After lunch, Christina and I decided to take a nice stroll to the park all because we wanted to go on the see-saw.20160709_174523

The bus was a little early to pick us up, but of course we were both ready anyways. Our next adventure took place at the Convento Museo de Santa Teresa. When this place was up and running, families would drop their girls off here when they were 15 years old to live as nuns. Little did they know, they would spend the rest of their lives in this building. There were 21 rooms for 21 nuns. Each room had locked doors and thick, cold, concrete walls so that they would feel trapped with no way out. Each room even had its own little ¨self punishment¨ table for when the girls committed a sin. The girls would self-punish themselves with small whips and other devices. Furthermore, the women and girls were forbidden direct contact or view of their relatives, including their mothers, fathers, and siblings. They were physically separated by two fences and a dark curtain. Many of these poor women died in the covenant. When the tour was over, a lot of us realized that this hit a soft spot in our hearts. We all felt for these girls and couldn’t imagine having to go through that.

We walked to the central plaza in Cochabamba. It was absolutely beautiful. There were many unique shops and places to eat but most of them were closed because it was getting late. But of course, being the girls that we are, we went into the shoe store first to see the same shoes we’ve seen a thousand times. We ate at a restaurant where they only served silpancho. Everyone got either beef or chicken; beef seeming to be the more popular one. We ended the day by singing hits from the early 2000´s on the bus going back home to our host families.

07-10-16

written by Jazmine Singleton & Autumn Baker

So today started off as any other day, me and Autumn had breakfast with our host family which consisted of empanadas and a purple corn drink, which we didn’t like at all….After breakfast, we had a little time to get ready before we had to leave. Today was a free day with our host family so we got to do whatever we wanted.

Frida Candia (our host mom), her daughter Rebecca, Frida’s sister and brother in law took us to this little town south of Cochabamba called Tarata. It was very interesting because this town had lots of buildings still standing from the colonial times. There was a little street fair today so we walked around, tried (chirimoya) local fruits, and then sat down so Frida and her sister could eat chorizo.

After we left Tarata, we went to this restaurant on Eden lake, and had fish. It was very good!! The restaurant had paddle boats, and a zip line swing, along with the coolest bathrooms we have ever seen! After we ate, Frida took us and Rebecca for a hike up to the train tracks that is connected to the dam to get a better view of the water. After we got back down to the table, we got ice cream to go and made our way back home. Once we got home we gave Frida our gifts that we brought her from WV and she was so grateful. Overall it was a great stay here with the Candia family in Cochabamba and we’re thankful to have met them!

07-11-16

written by Christina White

Without my over-sized, plush comforter, or my collection of face washes and tropical scrubs, or certainly my unlimited local data plan and home wifi, how could I survive the day? I am proud to announce that we have not only survived the day or week, but we have prospered. I hope I can speak for everyone when I say that we have adapted, and furthermore, learned to love the Cochabamba lifestyle. The morning began with a steaming hot shower and an energizing breakfast. Our host mom, Wally, greeted us with her familiar smile and inquiry if there was anything else she could do or get for us. Jaylin, my roommate, and I washed the dishes as a team, one of us scrubbing and the other rinsing. Only this time, our usual routine was cut short. No more lounging around, playing volleyball in the street, or walking past the rose bushes of the neighborhood park; we were leaving Cochabamba for Vinto!

Rushing from our bedroom to the bathroom, trying to pack away our things while cleaning the messes we made, the two of us somehow managed to erase all evidence that messy teenagers inhabited the area. I found some time to write three post-cards to my friends and Spanish teacher, who was also responsible for motivating me to apply to the YAPSA program in the first place! Once all the bags were packed, we stood outside with our host dad, Johnny. He told us about the past students his family has hosted, which included a South Korean, who was also an excellent artist, multiple North Americans with no Spanish knowledge, and a Japanese student as well. He explained the difficulty of communicating with non-Spanish speakers, but also the value and adventure of hosting kids from all over the world. Before the bus came, Jaylin and I took a last glance around the small grocery store in their home- the shelves of candies and chocolates, refrigerator of Coca-Cola and papaya Fanta, and the grey marks on the ground from opening and closing the small gate. I felt so at home, so nervous and hesitant to leave. I wanted to watch Moisés y los Diez Mandamientos and drink hot tea with Wally and her daughter, Paola. Yet I also felt an excitement to hop in the bus and say goodbye to phase one, we were trading one type of adventure for another.

Rolling through the city and towards the mountains, I was fascinated by the change in landscape. The crowded buildings and paved sidewalks gave way to open expanses of dry land, with large industries such as chemicals, ceramics, and hardware outlets. One piece of graffiti especially caught my eye: “Sin miedo tu ganas” or “Without fear, you win.” This was an interesting message, since I was definitely scared to leave the comfort of my host family and urban living. Maybe I just need to relax a bit more, enjoy the ride, and let go of fear to truly “win” in this experience.

After organizing at the Casa de Retiros, we traveled on a small, gravel road to visit previous and ongoing Amizade projects in a rural village near Vinto. The first stop was an elementary, middle, and high school of about 1,500 students. The school also had a total of 40 teachers. Amizade built eight classrooms, with the intention of one day removing the roof to add more levels to the building. Such a large number of students require many more classrooms, and the government only recently complied and built larger buildings to accommodate them. However, the issue of sanitation and sewage drastically affects the locals. The 1,500 students use the bathroom outside, preferring to have more classroom space than bathrooms. The area’s hygiene suffers as a result and many infants die due to unsanitary conditions.

20160711_164822Following an even windier road, the bus grumbled to a stop at the foot of a rocky valley. We climbed down boulders and dirt, took photos of bleating sheep, and jumped across a small stream to find the most enchanting view of the trip. The mountains in the distance stood at crossing angles, forming a small valley in between them. The fading sunlight fell in the valley and caressed the hills with a warm, golden glow. One moment, the yellow light fell upon my face. The next, it was gone and I was left in the shade of the mountains. Sitting in bed now, I wish I put down my camera and enjoyed the sunset.

Returning to la Casa de Retiros, we had a wonderful dinner of potato, green bean, and beef salad, chicken and rice, and a chia seed applesauce for dessert. We talked and calmed ourselves at reflection, and now I am typing the last words of this never-ending document. Until the next adventure!

07-12-16

written by Zac Mcalexander

My morning as well as two other YAPSA members start early that brisk morning. Today is the first full day the group spent at Casa de Retiros, in Vinto a small town that is located one hour outside of the city Cochabamba. Where the biggest grocery store is a corner store that sold your typical sodas such as the endless supply of Coca Cola and Papaya flavored Fanta, and they had various snacks but the group’s all-time-favorite is chocolate covered crackers otherwise known as ChokoSoda in Bolivia. Most of the group was thrilled to also know the campus had wifi and three dogs that we could safely pet. We all came to eat breakfast at different times but by 8:30AM we were all lined up at the gates ready to board the bus to go and work at one of the local government funded public schools called Cohachaca. Upon arrival there were many jobs to be done and we greeted by the smiling faces of Felix and his brother. Today we had the options of laying bricks, painting, or preparing an area for cement to be laid. As we all worked Felix and his brother went around and told everyone muy bien or bien even though or work can not compare to there’s as they have been practicing for decades . Around noon we left to go and eat lunch back at Casa de Retiros, where we would be delighted by a bowl of beef soup with potatoes and then a main course of rice and chicken. With an hour of rest after lunch until we would go back to 2016-07-12-10-54-48working some of us spent time napping, showering, using wifi, or play our new favorite sport soccer. Around 2:30 we left the Casa de Retiros and went back to the work site where we would work until five, because we needed to be back in time to get ready for a guest speaker at six. At six most of us discovered that the guest speaker was Vivian a professor at one of the local universities, who had come to talk to us about the water war that happened in 1999 and ended in 2000’s. A water company had came to Cochabamba and wrote a contract with the government stating that they would begin managing the water supply with the intents to improve the water quality (because in Bolivia you can not drink the water) and also extend the pipelines to more rural areas as at the time and now Cochabamba is an ever expanding city that also has experienced a very dry raining season an only provide a couple of hours a water a day to houses and buildings. Well this water company seemed like the deal they made was to good to be true and sure enough in a few months, the company had began to jack up the water prices by three times as what they usually where. Well the people of Cochabamba began to question the why the water prices had began to increase and the water company would not give an answer. That is when the protesting began people began not to pay the bills and eventually a box was built in the main square in front of the government building where people brought their bills and burned them as form of rebellion. That is when the water company realized the needed the government’s help to pressure people into paying their bills. As the hell bent citizens of Cochabamba continued not to pay their bills and the protest became more frightening the military police of Bolivia where deployed to maintain the crowds and were referred to as Dalmatians. Eventually the people stopped protesting as much as they were before because they realized it was not effective and the military police would be withdrawn from the area. But this is when the bravest act of rebellion was committed. The local bus drivers planned to close down the whole entire city by barricading the only two entrances and exits to city which would not only put their economy and government at a stand still but daily life. This when the government finally changed their mind and canceled the contract. All in all it was a great first day in Vinto.

07-13-16

written by Autumn Baker

2016-07-12-10-55-30YAPSA 2016 is coming up on the halfway point of our journey and the end of our time here in Bolivia. This bittersweet checkpoint for the group has been accompanied by waves of homesickness and frustrations with being so far removed from our everyday lives. The events and hurdles of today’s full work day have highlighted the strength of our team in bonding together and functioning as a hardworking family to get each other through this rough patch. We really began to get into the swing of things at the retreat center at breakfast this morning. Though we had a full hour to eat, we began to trickle into the dining room as early as possible so we had time to sit and leisurely enjoy our tea and coffee while checking in on one another. (And yes Sara, the pink liquid they were serving was indeed strawberry yogurt…and it was delicious!) Once we arrived at the work site, we jumped into our tasks with more confidence than the day before and the enthusiasm to make a difference in the small community of Vinto, which has stolen our hearts over the last few days. We were once again accompanied by some new Bolivian friends from a local high school and last year’s YAPSA team. Amidst greetings and laughs between the two 2016-07-12-11-18-50groups, most jumped back into work on the new brick wall or continued with the fabulous paint job we had begun on the primary school building. A determined few took to the back wall to chisel away small holes to prepare for a reinforcement layer of cement. The work was tiring but the community kept us all going and inspired us to do the best job possible. Not only were we thrilled to be doing some good for the students, but the other volunteers displayed a persistence that impressed everyone and kept us moving forward. Even when we returned from a nice long lunch, the ladies of Vinto were still there working tirelessly in sandals and skirts to move rocks and dirt under the hot sun. When all was said and done at the end of the day we all had something to be proud of and a lot of great reasons to keep going no matter how much we missed home. Though sometimes we let the small things get us down (like orange stuff coming out of the shower head or the well meaning dogs accidentally giving one of us a good scratch), each and every one of us can rely on each other and be empowered by a new appreciation for everything we have and the power we have to make a difference in this world.20160714_104820

07-14-16

written by Dae Collins

So, the day started off with me waking up at 6:00 then going back to bed till 7:00. I left my room to be greeted by all my YAPSA friends who were eating breakfast in the dining hall. We had a great meal and I got the usual tea I always do, so the morning was pretty normal. After we finished eating we got on the bus and picked up an archaeologist named David Pereira then headed to some Incan ruins. We learned some information about the ruins and how it was the largest containing 2,400 silos. After that we met a woman named Silvia who we bought items off of, she blessed the items and the group for Pachamama (Mother Earth).

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We then later returned to the hotel where we ate lunch and had some time to ourselves before we left. Later we went to the bus where our Bolivian friends Jesus, Natti, Natta, and Angie were waiting for us to head to work at the school. We worked at the school for about two hours cementing, painting, scraping and etc. It was a day of work well done and more to come. We returned to the hotel with our friends with time to hang out.

Before dinner Nata did a presentation on her community action project working with Masa Critica (Critical Mass) which we have in Pittsburgh. The project was to make biking safer in Bolivia. After that, she headed home and the rest stayed to eat and joined us for reflection. We all shared thoughts and opinions before our Bolivian friends had to go. I spoke with one of my friends for a while after reflection and we got to know each other more before I called it a night. I can gladly say today was a good day.

Go to YAPSA Journals Part III