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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Awareness Raising and Action Friday

It’s already week 8 of our volunteering programme here in Bolivia and the time has flown by. Our project is called Volunteering and Inclusion and we work alongside national organisations Best Buddies Bolivia and AVCCI. AVCCI is an amazing organisation set up by a mother and her daughter to help children and the parents of children with cancer. Our work with AVCCI consists of volunteering at the oncology ward of a local hospital and celebrating events with the kids such as their birthdays and national holidays. Throughout the programme each individual project is asked to carry out an Action Friday, in which they invite the other projects on the programme to take part in their activities for an afternoon. Last Friday was our Action Friday and we decided to work alongside AVCCI for this event. Against all odds we set up a fair at the Hospital full of music and healthy treats for the kids from the burns and oncology wards. The day did not start off as planned however as the director of the Hospital refused to give us space in which to carry out the fair due to complicated political affiliations. After much persuasion by the children’s parents and national volunteers the director allowed us to carry out the fair in a small corridor. When we had finally set up the director reversed his decision and threatened to kick us out of the hospital entirely. However, thanks to persistent parents and determined national volunteers the event went ahead in face of the director’s objections and was a massive success. In fact, by the end of the fair the kids in the burns ward were doing the moonwalk to Michael Jackson as we sang and played guitar with them, it was a truly magical moment.

Kids enjoying Michael Jackson

Our project also works alongside Best Buddies Bolivia, an organisation which empowers disabled people and focuses on their inclusion into society. It does this by establishing long-lasting friendships between disabled people and volunteer peer buddies who help them to achieve their goals and to carry out day to day activities, offering them the same opportunities as everyone else. We currently have 16 buddies with intellectual disabilities who form the group here in Bolivia, which is one above the target for these three months! As we are the first cohort to work with the Best Buddies Bolivia we have not yet organised peer buddies for the group as our focus has been to introduce the disabled community to the scheme. In order to recruit volunteers to act as peer buddies we recently held an awareness raising event at a local university in which the buddies took part. Part of the event consisted of performing a flash mob to Pharrell Williams’ song Happy which the buddies thoroughly enjoyed. Other activities were handing out flyers, the buddies delivered speeches about the organisation and inclusion, and we painted a mural and got people to write messages about Best Buddies and volunteering. At the event we gathered the contact details of 26 potential volunteers, which is a great success! In order to gather more contact details we are scheduled to carry out another awareness raising event this week at another university, and hopefully we will have peer buddies soon!
Flashmob at Universidad Central

The work these organisations do is so admirable and worthwhile, especially here in Bolivia where disabled people are often excluded from society and the workplace and are even seen as a curse in certain rural areas. In terms of AVCCI the work they do is also hugely worthwhile since the health care system here in Bolivia is private; therefore parents are forced to pay for their children’s chemotherapy and other expensive treatments, part of what AVCCI does therefore is to fundraise to help cover such costly treatments. Also a lot of parents don’t fully understand the implications of their child’s illness or the consequences of the treatment that their child is receiving; therefore part of what AVCCI does is to help the parents understand what their child is going through.
To conclude even though there is a realistic limit to what we can achieve in 10 weeks we are part of a much bigger process and it’s easy to look at your project’s work individually and get disheartened but when you look at what’s already been achieved and what the cohorts to come can achieve it makes everything worthwhile!

Florence Coombes


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