Thursday, March 27, 2014

10 months later....

I can’t quite believe it has come to the end of 10 months here in La Paz. It has been a tremendous journey for the project, and for me personally. I have had the pleasure of working with lots of brilliant and inspiring people. From my volunteers and Bolivian colleagues, who have made the project as good as it could possibly be; to the families of the children we work with and the educators, who are amazing and work so hard in often very difficult circumstances. It has been both a real challenge and an invaluable and enriching experience at the same time.

I didn’t really know exactly what I was letting myself in for when I accepted the job as team leader in Bolivia, as International Service don’t reveal which project you will be working on until close to departure. When I found out I would be the team leader for Strengthening Families with Aldeas Infantiles SOS I was very excited. On arrival in La Paz I felt incredibly out of my depth, as my Spanish was lacking, and for four years I had been working in supporting people with disabilities so I had no experience in managing projects, monitoring and evaluating or organising workshops, let alone an induction (which was my additional responsibility). I was apprehensive about whether I would be able to pull it off and it certainly has been a rollercoaster of emotions, challenges and achievements, and highs and lows. But, ten months later, I have learnt a lot and feel proud that I have done all of these things to the best of my ability (and it hasn’t been a total disaster!). In fact, the last induction I organised, with the help of my fellow team leaders, was a great success and we had very positive feedback from the volunteers. Also, my Strengthening Families and Ludoteca teams have made some significant developments that we can all be proud of. 

Throughout the 10 months, three cohorts, Ludoteca has run workshops with parents on creative recycling (making things out of recyclable materials), which was really appreciated by the community. We have also carried out a lot of research into how to teach young children science and maths and are now developing modules with the children, which has worked really well in this cohort. With Ludoteca we now also focus on behaviour management in the centres with the use of behaviour charts and, through an in depth research project by one of our volunteers in cohort 6, Steph Hovey, we have booklets on behaviour management techniques which we have distributed to all the centres we work in and will continue to be distributed to the centres we work in in the future.

The Strengthening Families team have expanded from awareness about PAP and PAP testing, to prostate and breast cancer, HIV and other STD’s as well. We have developed from carrying out presentations on awareness about cancer and STD’s, to more of a workshop/ discussion technique, which has been very effective. We now promote the local health centres around the outskirts of La Paz as well as CIES (a private sexual health clinic), to make sure people are aware of the range of health care options available to them. And for a more sustainable approach, in the last cohort we moved from organising PAP days at the children’s centres, to accompanying the mothers to the health centres to get tested. Unfortunately in this cohort we had a great challenge; the centres didn’t open until the middle of February when the volunteers had already been here for 5 weeks. This meant we only had 5 working weeks in the centres so we didn’t have time to organise the PAP testing, but the workshops were a great success.

In this cohort the Strengthening Families team have also been carrying out activities on nutrition with the children, including fruit, vegetables and plants, and providing information for the families on nutrition as well.

Finallly, a fantastic addition to the project was working with ‘Associación Voluntarios Contra el Cancér Infantil’ who are a charity who organise volunteers to go and visit children with cancer in the children’s hospital. Every Thursday afternoon we organise activities and refreshments to go into the children’s hospital to put smiles on their faces! This has been incredibly rewarding and both the volunteers and the children have really appreciated it.

This ten months has been a lot of hard work but incredibly rewarding and I could not have done it without the support of a great team. Favio and Mirna, my corperantes, thank you for being amazing. My fellow team leaders; Naomi, Sarah, Zoe and Karina have been the biggest support every day and I couldn’t have done it without them. Eric my manager, and the whole IS team, thank you for being so lovely and supportive! Bolivia will always have a very big place in my heart. 

Written by Melanie Jenkins

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