Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Time is running out but what changes have any of us actually experienced, not only in regard to personal growth but the relations with the partners, the children and the families we work with?

Personal Development

Have I seen any development within myself? Of course, but it has been a difficult path. Illness proved to be the main hurdle in getting involved in my projects. Since arriving in La Paz I have experienced long-lasting stomach complaints which have had an impact on my work; most importantly to my visits to the Hospital del Niño, which have been limited while at the children’s centres of Andeas Infantiles I end up leaving feeling exhausted and desperate to lie-down only to find myself with an hour journey back to the office.

While this has had an impact on my mental state I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this experience has been worthwhile, not only due to the joy one gets from working with these two groups of children but also the opportunity to develop skills in a supporting environment. It would be easy for me to reel off a list of skills I have developed that could fill this whole page so instead I’ll mention just a few. My confidence has skyrocketed. For instance, whilst many would consider my Spanish intermediate, I came into this programme believing that it was not good enough.

How was I going to interact successfully with the children? Develop a relationship with the teachers in the centres? What about the other national volunteers within the hospitals or my own in-country team?  All this worrying was unnecessary, as all contact I have had with these people has been positive and welcoming. My Spanish has improved significantly, not simply through the Spanish classes that are provided but also with the host family I have had the luck of being placed with.Confidence in working independently has been achieved through the belief the whole team has in each other. 

Being placed in a children’s centre on my lonesome has given me the opportunity to manage classes on my own and really step up my game. I am not babied, but instead I have been given space to pursue my own ideas and themes whilst always knowing there would be a helping hand when things do get stressful. As mentioned in the previous blog by Martha, working with two partners has its own set of challenges, but has pushed us all to achieve greater success as we see the valuable moments of joy and support we can provide for the children and families in our projects.Organisation skills have been of paramount importance, for example when dealing with conflicting deadlines and priorities. I have found lists to be the easiest form of getting this sorted in my head, and the satisfaction when scratching one off is great.

Finally, communication, communication, communication. Within our group we have different strengths and weaknesses, as well as so many great ideas that is it important to keep each other up to date to make sure everything gets done and we are all on the same wave length. At the beginning we found ourselves stumbling, not in planning our activities, but in preparing the materials and getting everything together, communication was low and we didn’t know what had been done or what needed to be done. By the end the activity was great but it was a wakeup call for all of us to really get together and organise ourselves properly.

Partner Relations

On arriving in La Paz my first part of advice would be - Be Patient! Relations with partner organisations are always changing, for the better and for the worse; you can’t be sure what sort of impact the previous cohort may have had on the project you have been placed with. The first few weeks are about getting to know the real needs of the projects; the reality of the situation is that you are there to prove your worth. What can you offer? Will you prove to be a hindrance? Are you unreliable?

These partners provide valuable services for the communities, but they have their own priorities and workloads. You have been allowed into their world but they do not owe you anything. The process will be slow, and you will need to gain their respect and trust but, once you have and are able to give your lessons, spend time in the wards and develop workshops for the parents you will realise that the experience is priceless. The blood, sweat and tears have amounted to something incredible. Working in Cinco Dedos, (my children’s centre) I have been lucky enough to develop a positive relationship with the teacher. Naturally, this has come at some cost - I have spent extra time working in the centres, helped prepare materials for her lessons in my own time and actually spent time getting to know what she wants to achieve and the classes she needs help with if any.

The Association of Volunteers Against Children’s Cancer has been very enthusiastic and welcoming of our plans and ideas, despite a slow start again getting everything organised. We have been volunteering in the wards for 5 weeks now providing the children with time to have fun and mess around, forget about their treatment and be children again. This was always going to be the main aim. Furthermore, as negotiations have proved to be so positive we have been able to get more involved, and in the coming weeks we will begin to provide workshops for the parents of these children on two themes, Nutrition and Emotional Support.

The research has been crucial and we have spent many long hours in cafes – pretty much the only places in La Paz that you will find internet – to make sure that we have the right information and techniques that will provide the greatest impact in the short amount of time we have left. Beyond our time here, I would of course love these workshops to continue into the next cohort.

The impact

In cases like these it is often difficult to measure the impact that our activities are having on the children the parents we will be working with. At the children’s centre we see the children paying attention in our classes, getting involved and asking questions. But how far does this go? Does this only last until they end of the day or will the exposure to new people and a different culture have a lasting effect on their lives. This I am unable to provide an answer for, the impact cannot be measured within the three months that I find myself here.

In regards to the Association of Volunteers Against Children’s Cancer, the question of impact is different, our task is to give them the opportunity to behave like children again. We have played board games with them, helped them write letters the Santa Clause, and allowed them to forget about their treatment for a brief moment. To me this respite is significant enough, the impact can be seen simply by the children enjoying themselves, smiling, laughing, asking you to come back so they can continue playing the next week.

 With regards to a longer-term impact which would, I imagine, involve more educational activities including maths or science, is perhaps more difficult to judge. The reality is that we do not know the lifespan these children will have. Our time with them is both fleeting and priceless: they should be enjoying life and that is what we are able to provide. Once we begin the workshops, the impact can potentially be evaluated more comprehensively. But I am hopeful that they will provide a safe space for the parents to learn both about important nutritional information for their children, and also offer a forum in which they can discuss their emotions, worries and struggles and find support. 

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