This past fall, Jane and Bolivia Kids board member Lydia Hill travelled to Bolivia to visit and work with the Project Sariry team. Following is a copy of a message Jane sent out while she was there. It's a great read and captures the essence of what Bolivia Kids is all about.
Hola Friends of Bolivia Kids,
I'm writing from Bolivia! I'm 5 days into my bi-annual visit to Sariry, which is the community-based education project that Bolivia Kids supports.
As I sit here sipping my coca-leaf tea, watching a crazy electrical storm from the window (the rainy season is just starting), I can't believe I've only been here 5 days! It's been jam-packed with activity and super long, tiring and rewarding days. It's been a roller coaster of tons of highs and a few lows too.
A highlight upon arriving at Sariry was seeing Helen, a 12-year old girl that I met last visit, confidently welcome Lydia and I to Sariry as the new President of the student council. (Lydia is a Bolivia Kids board member who has come with me to check-out Sariry). Helen became a great pal of my girls when they came with me last time. She was so shy and reserved, and Elisa (the director here at Sariry) told me that she'd been sexually abused by a relative. To see her so capable and full of life brought tears to my eyes, even before I'd said hello! It was an incredibly heart-warming transformation.
The mothers prepared 'aktapi' for us, which is an Amyara tradition - kind of like pot luck except that you put blankets down on the ground, dump the food on top, and eat with your hands. It's a very communal way of eating and sharing, and a very important part of their culture. (I've attached some pics). It was great to see some familiar faces and catch up with mum's I've known for many years now. I've actually come to enjoy eating chunos, which are a dehydrated potato that taste like dirt. (The black ones in the photos).
After we ate, some of the mum's spoke about their experiences at Sariry. Then a mother that was new to the program stood up and spoke about how grateful she is for the hot lunch program. As she spoke, you could feel the emotion welling up in her, even though she tried to suppress it. And then it overtook her. With tears streaming down her cheeks she explained that her family is going through a rough time because she's sick and can no longer work, and so there is very little food for her children. She is also illiterate and can't help them with their school work. She looked at me and said that Sariry is "helping me with the enormous stress I carry, and I'm so thankful for that."
I'm emotional now as I type remembering it. I've always connected with the kids here and fretted about their challenges. This mother really connected with the mother in me, and I was overwhelmed by acknowledging the privilege I have to provide my kids with their basic needs without thinking a lot about it. The things I worry about providing for my kids are so far beyond the basic ingredients they need to thrive - I tried to truly imagine what it would feel like to not be able to meet my kids needs, and it hurt so much, I didn't want to think about it anymore. All that was left for me was to hug her.
And so it goes, the first few days are full of excitement and I'm always lifted by the progress being made between my visits, and then I always experience a slump because the complicated and far-reaching implications of poverty get me down. The responsibility I have feels like a weight, rather than a gift. I don't sleep well at night because of the altitude, and it all becomes quite grim and I feel like packing in, and going home.
Good news. I'm back on the upswing! Today we went on a huge field trip with a bunch of families to a park 2-hours away in the Zona Sur, where the wealthy live. One of the activities we did were skits. About 5 groups made up of parents, kids and teachers created their skit and then presented it to the group. The theme was "machismo." The teachers at Sariry are working hard to create awareness and behaviour change around equality. It is an extremely male-dominated culture here. And so they chose this game to build relationships among families (have fun!) and build a collective understanding amongst parents and kids of their power to change entrenched discrimination against women.
The skits were super clever and hilarious. In one, they acted out a world where men had women's roles and vice versa. All the men had coats stuffed up their shirts because they were pregnant, and the women were truck drivers etc. (male jobs) and bossed them around. At the end of each skit a Dad spoke to the group and explained the message they were hoping to convey. They said things like: domestic work and child-rearing are not women's work - they are couple's work - and by working together as a team we can make a better life; men should be on the frontline of fighting for and protecting women's rights; and, we can change the future by raising our sons and daughters differently. And there you go. I was blown away. It only takes a moment like this to realize that it's all worth it!!!
As supporters of Bolivia Kids, I hope these little stories make you feel like it's all worth it. The great things that are happening here are happening because of you. I would have nothing to offer without your support. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be this connecter that links two truly amazing and inspiring communities of people. I'm super blessed. A huge, huge thank-you for that.
I always like to spend a few days connecting with the families by doing some kind of adventure with them. It creates an avenue to hear from them about Sariry, and let's me get a feel for things. It also fills my soul because their courage, determination, strength, humour and enormous hearts can only leave a person feeling inspired by the best of humanity. It's a good antidote to the US election! I'll be turning my attention to "work" for the last four days. I have a planning session with the staff, a meeting with the accountant to review expenditures, and hopefully a trip to the bank to knock down the fees (wish me luck with that one). And then I'm home! I can't wait to see Paul and the kids.
Thank-you again for your incredible support!