Volunteering in Bolivia

Maya Lapp

Bolivia, here I come!

My sister, Zena, graduated from college last spring, and is spending this year volunteering at an orphanage in Bolivia. The organization she is working for is called Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH), which means “our little brothers and sisters” in Spanish, and the orphanage is commonly called el Hogar (“the home”). NPH is an organization with orphanages situated throughout Latin America, and NPH Bolivia is one of its newest outposts, with barely over one hundred children. Zena is in charge of fundraising through an online site called My Goodshop (http://www.mygoodshop.org/int_en/home-bolivia), where she posts items that the orphanage needs funding for so that donors can choose what items to put their money toward.

Friday, March 6th I head down to Bolivia with the rest of my family for two months, and I’m going to send home a weekly blog of my travels for my wide following. For those of you that don’t know, Bolivia is in the middle of South America, bordered by Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru. It is one of South America’s few landlocked countries, since it lost its coast to Chile in 1884. (Chile’s always hogging the beach. Haven’t you noticed?) We’ve also been warned to prepare for some altitude sickness. Oh, joy.

For some reason, it also is a country that has escaped notice in many of our history books. It follows much of the typical Latin America story: Spanish colonization, Indian uprisings, fight for independence, a few wars here and there, Liberals vs. Conservatives, you get the idea. Weirdly enough, it also has two capitals. Sucre is the official capital, recognized by their constitution, but La Paz is the seat of the government (the highest one in the world). Don’t ask why. Or, better yet, take Mr. Miller’s advice and use the “Google Machine”.

Let see… anything else interesting about Bolivia? It has several dozen official languages (many of them indigenous), and although most people speak Spanish, it is a country known for its weird accent and slang, so even fluent Spanish speakers often take at least a week to acclimate to the language. One of Bolivia’s most famous artists is Mamani Mamani. It’s named after Simon Bolivar, credited for much of the independence of Latin America. That’s about it!

My brother is in college, so he will only be with us for the first week of our trip, during his spring break. During that time we plan to take a few day tour of Bolivia’s most famous landmark— Salar de Uyuni, the Salt Flats. One of the things I’ve been looking forward to most on this trip is getting a break from the icy weather we’ve been experiencing these past few days, so of course, we have to choose to visit the coldest region of the country (although a low of 24 degrees will probably feel like summer, at this point). We almost decided to nix visiting the Uyuni for this very reason, but over and over we were told we couldn’t visit Bolivia without taking a ride down to see the Salt Flats.  Hope they’re worth it!

After that we’ll travel to Santa Cruz, the nearest major city to NPH Bolivia. My dad will be volunteering at a medical office not far from el Hogar for much of our time in Bolivia. My mom and I plan on hopping between the two places, helping out wherever we can. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be doing while I’m there, but half the fun of traveling is making things up as you go along. My mom has a few projects planned, like making a beanbag toss, and I’ve been told I’ll also be put to work with my dad, so we’ll see how things turn out.

Our last week or two we will be traveling again. I don’t think we have that completely planned out either, but I’m pretty sure it involves a trip into the Amazon, Lake Titicaca, and a short stay in La Paz. We’re the kind of family that plays it by ear, but I’ll keep you posted! 4066995-LAPP-MAYA - Copy