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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Anna tell us her experience working with children

Celebrations
A couple of weeks ago, on the 31st October, the holiday of Halloween fell. For many of us English volunteers the celebration conjures up memories of trick or treating as children, the excitement of knocking on neighbors doors and being rewarded with sticky sweets or chocolate. Halloween has always struck me as a selfish celebration; asking people for presents and ‘tricking’ them if they do not give you anything. I was surprised to find out that it was celebrated in Bolivia, but it seems probable that it would have trickled down from the USA, where all holidays are marked in typically extravagant fashion. 
I caught my first glimpse of the upcoming celebration in my local hipermarche, where an enormous paper snake hung twisting and glaring open-mouthed from the ceiling. In the Inclusion team, we have been planning two halloween themed nutrition workshops for AVCCI, one of our partners. AVCCI works with children suffering from cancer, offering support to their families and working to raise awareness in the community. In Bolivia, 80% of children who get cancer will die, compared to rates of around 30% in richer countries such as the UK or USA. This is due to low availability of advanced medical care; a shocking example we were told about is the fact that many cancer victims who receive radiation therapy here end up sicker than they were before having the treatment. The goal of our workshops were twofold; one to give the parents useful information about healthy recipes and foods they can prepare for their children to give their immune systems the best chances when fighting the cancer, and two to deliver a fun and healthy workshop for the children where they could be like any children having fun and learning about healthy foods in an entertaining way. This all seemed daunting to me; I felt incredibly nervous about being an English volunteer who barely speaks Spanish with, (something which I am very grateful for), no experience of a loved one with cancer. How could I help these people who were suffering with the worst thing a parent could have happen to them, an ill child? Many of us felt similarly, and it was agreed that the Bolivian volunteers would do most of the speaking so that the parents felt more comfortable. Feeling out of place and overwhelmed is a sensation that I have found occurs quite frequently, but has to be controlled. If you let it control you there is no way you can help or make a valuable contribution to the work we are doing, and we owe it to the people we are working with to try as hard as we can to make a positive impact despite our own uncertainties. 



When the day of the workshop arrived we took all our materials to a nursery building to set up. 

The team working on the childrens workshop, (Cami, Katie, David, Josh, Roger and me) got started carving fruit into various ghoulish creations; an apple monster, banana ghost and orange pumpkin. The children would be making their own in the session. We also made a giant watermelon monster with fruit salad coming out of his mouth. The parent group were giving out recipes and samples of pumpkin soup which Stuart had made the previous night. When the children arrived we gave them name badges and started by playing games. At first we were concerned that there were very few children, however as the afternoon progressed the tide turned and we suddenly found ourselves with far more children than we had expected. We had planned for 25 children to swap between three different stations during the workshop, but many brothers and sisters had also come along. This is where being adaptable becomes a key necessary skill. Realistically there were too many children for the three groups, and we weren’t very quick to think of other activities we could do with them on the spot. This bothered me at first, but after a while it became apparent that the children were having a really good time and enjoying themselves despite the slight chaos. All of them had big smiles, and it was then that I realised that even if we couldn’t do much to help them fight their illness, we could make sure they had opportunities to enjoy themselves and be children once in a while. Although halloween seems like a silly celebration to me, I was grateful for the opportunity it gave us to realise the importance of fun in a world where how successful something is too often measured by facts or figures, or quantities. Sometimes it is disheartening to see people, especially children, in such sad situations, but the nature of volunteering is to do as much as you can to help, even if this only results in a small positive change or gain. I have to admit that it has been quite tough learning that sometimes this is all that can be achieved, however seeing the smiles on the children’s faces has helped me to realise that not all success can be quantified, and that even the smallest things are worth striving for. 

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