On June 21st, 2015 our group of 12 high school students, 2 adult mentors, and 2 staff members departed for a 3-week experience in Bolivia and Peru. Participants were each responsible for writing about each day of the program, keep checking back for more posts, this is just part 2 of our blog series! (find part 1 here)

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.

June 27

Today we visited the elementary/middle school and daycare founded by an organization called OESER (Organización para la Educación y Servicio a la Comunidad) in Villa Candelaria. This Organization started when two women began teaching basic life skills in a neighborhood stricken by poverty after the tin mining industry collapsed and the ex-miners and their families were relocated there. These women then started a small business making and selling dolls, and finally decided that the best way to make a long lasting change in their community was through education. The organization now consists of an elementary and middle school, an all natural energy bar factory which employs many of the women in Villa Candelaria, and a daycare that accepts children up to age 5. The daycare provides a warm and nurturing environment for around 150 children, some of whom live in the jail with their parents who have no outside support in terms of child care. OESER focuses on working with the community and puts an emphasis on the importance of the family unit. Thomas Sutherland (Presidente Misión Pioneers en Bolivia) encouraged us to allow this trip to open our minds, come up with new ideas, and remind us that lack of opportunity does not mean lack of capability.
After lunch with our host families we toured El Convento Museo Santa Teressa. There we learned about the lives the nuns led in the convent from the 18th century through 2006 when it became a museum.
Although not a YAPSA facilitated activity, many of us went to the gay pride parade later that night, a perfect way to show our support of the LGBTQ community after the US supreme court ruling! ~Elizabeth Kinnane Smith

 

Free day with host families!

Tarata, Angostura, Huayculi, and Arbieto ~ Anne Marie Toccket

Yesterday Carson Blodgett and I went with our host family to an area decently outside of Cochabamba to a fish restaurant on “Lago Angostura,” my incredible host sister Patricia made me both lentil and zucchini cakes, knowing I don’t eat fish. After, they went to an empanada place and got many empanadas and ice cream. We couldn’t even imagine eating any more, but they did. Great way to finish off the time with an incredible host family. Now going to eat a final meal together and give our gifts. ~Crede Strauser

June 29

Today was an exciting day for us (as usual)! This morning everyone said goodbye to their host families and headed to Vinto, a more rural area of Bolivia that is on the outskirts of Cochabamba. The group checked in at Casa de Retiros just in time to explore the surrounding areas and eat a hearty lunch in the dining hall. Then we all had time for an afternoon siesta (one of my favorite parts of South American culture) before leaving to visit a few schools, including the one we will be working at for the next couple days. First was Cohachaca Chico School, which supports around 860 students each year ranging from pre-k through high school. This is a place Amizade has previously partnered with, so we were able to see some of the handiwork already completed including the tiling of floors and stucco walls. Following this we visited another school Amizade has partnered with in the community of Viloma. There we ran into some cute puppies! Afterwards the crew made a pit stop to a river basin that is currently dried up, but there were a bunch of cool rocks that we climbed over! And finally to finish up the day, some of the group stopped by the local market in Vinto and checked out the fresh produce and clothes that were being sold. Now we have finished dinner and are preparing for the day’s reflection! Ciao!  ~Rachel Murphy

June 30

Hello from YAPSA’s finest Bob the Builders. Today the YAPSA crew joined with the Vinto community, as well as fellow Cochabamba high schoolers to take on the task of building a wall at the Cohachaca Chico school to keep people from freely wandering in and out of the property. Not only was this project significant for the Cohachaca Chico school, but also it had significance in the cultural exchange aspect of our trip. Specifically, we were able to work alongside fellow high schoolers and compare notes on life as rambunctious teenagers. But most importantly, we were able to work alongside the Vinto community members, and despite the language barrier we were still able to work together as a productive team, which speaks for itself. Nevertheless, the YAPSA crew have been whipped into your finest cement mixers, rock carriers, and rhubarb [rebar] sawers. Last but not least, today we celebrated the birthday our Bolivian guide and amigo, Ariel, who we are all super thankful for! ~Carley Clontz

July 1

Hola from Vinto! Today marked our second day of service at the Cohachaca School. Throughout the day we tackled various tasks including brick stacking, cement mixing, cement pouring, rebar bending and cutting. All of this mounted to the foundation for the protective wall to border the Cohachaca school. However, we were not alone. Thanks to the guidance of our masons, Felix, his son Milton, and his brother Crecencio we worked alongside Cochambomban high school students and the people of Vinto. As we made many new friends today we realized that geographical and cultural differences become dulled when people come together in hope of accomplishing a common goal. We all learned a lot today and made new international relationships. ~Sam Cahill

July 3 (and July 2)

Goodbye Bolivia! Today we left Bolivia but yesterday, our last day in Bolivia started with a traditional breakfast. It consisted of api, a warm, sweet, blue corn drink and two types of pastries. One puffed and hollow with a layer of cheese and a crunchy pastry served with a honey syrup. After our traditional breakfast we accompanied an archaeologist, David Periera, to the ancient Incan ruins of Collqas outside of Vinto. In the specific area we visited there were over 2,000 silos for which food was stored. Along the 11 rows of silos some remains were replicated into brick and plaster, but historically speaking, the original silos were made of weaved vegetation for air flow. The Incas strategically placed these silos on the hill because of the permanent lake making continuous breeze for the maize. At one point these silos could supply food for 22-25 percent of the state of Cochabamba and was transported to multiple areas around the empire. The maize would be transported by llamas to Lake Titicaca and to Cuzco (we flew there today!), the capital of the ancient empire.

After lunch we went to the site of the Virgen de María Urucpiña which has the largest catholic celebration in Bolivia. Outside of the site the group learned about the mixture of traditional Andean religion with Catholicism common in the area and had a blessing consisting of blessings health, home, future travel, business success, luck, and fortune. During the blessing a pan of scented charcoal and incense was burned and we all took in the smoke for our pockets. The blesser chanted with multiple group blessings and we were all suddenly supposed to catch beer in our hands. Strangely enough we were also advised to put it in our pockets and then encouraged to appease the virgin by offering some beer on the ground and then finishing the glass. Later we transferred back to Cochabamba and had a reflection on all of our time in Bolivia. For our farewell dinner, we went to Muela del Diablo to cast our thanks and appreciations for Ariel and Jean Carla.

This morning we woke early to fly to Peru! The sun rose slowly over the snowcapped mountains of the Andes with several shades of red, orange and yellow. We arrived in Cuzco and for about an hour transit to Ollantaytambo. We all had a traditional Peruvian lunch of fried rice or beef stir-fry (Peru has many Asian influences as well as Spanish). The group participated in a scavenger hunt across the town in order recognize the landmarks and the town. Buenos Noches Ollanta. ~Dannial Cardillo