Monday, July 22, 2013

Community Spirit

Last September I went to a debate held at the Barbican about whether or not community was dead. After hearing a tirade of testaments from Londoners, some opposing and others reinforcing the ideal of community, I left adamantly convinced that community was a thing of the past for the nostalgic and naive.

However, the sceptic who remains unconvinced need look no further for community spirit than the tranquil village of Jupapina in the south of La Paz. In contrast to most major cities, such as London and perhaps La Paz, community here is not dependent on an active decision to be part of a group, such as a particular religion or sporting association. In Jupapina, you become part of the community by virtue of living and being an active citizen of the area.

As a British national, it can be difficult to get over your innate sense of reservedness (though I cannot personally lay claim to this quality) and greet each person you meet in the shop or on the street with a kiss on the cheek or a “Buen dia!”. However, after a short time interacting with the kind-spirited people of the area it is easy to be quickly influenced by their overwhelming warmth and accommodation.

Unlike it’s somewhat sexier cousin Mallasa (a village 10 minutes down the road where most of our projects are based), Jupapina does not have much in terms of economic outputs other than a few shops and a couple of inviting restaurants. However, the unique and endearing quality of Jupapina is not only it’s picturesque location amongst the low valleys of the Andean mountains, but also the colourful and vibrant murals which cover a fair amount of the walls across the village. Most of the murals capture the quintessential aspects of Bolivian culture, with various depicting brightly coloured cholitas and children. This week, the Up Close Bolivia volunteers painted a mural which sought to encompass ‘comunidad’ and other qualities which are at the centre of Up Close Bolivia ideals. The mural depicts the Bolivian national flower, the ‘cantuta’, and the fundamental values of volunteering, such as ‘comunidad’, ‘paz’ and ‘amor’.

                                                    (street view of the newly painted mural
                                                       in Jupapina)

We had not started for even an hour when a woman rolled down her window to ask if we could paint another mural further down the calle near to her house! We managed to create a beautiful mural under the baking sun (which Lee insisted was no more than 15 degrees) in just under 5 hours, stopping halfway through to refuel! Although I spent most of the day painting the sky blue background (we cannot all be artists!) there was a great sense of achievement when we stepped back and looked at what we had created in such a short space of time for the community.

As an Up Close Bolivia volunteer, work cannot be regarded as the regular 9 to 5 job. The volunteers live and work together with the founders of the organisation, and the relationship between the volunteers and the family is one of friendship and reciprocity. Up Close Bolivia places volunteers in response to where the community expresses that they need support, and develops the ideas of the community.

                                          (Up Close ICS Volunteers Emma, Lee, Lauren and
                                           Miriam painting the mural in Jupapina)

The locals in the village do not treat us as ‘gringos’ which may often be experienced by volunteers in other areas of Bolivia. Up Close Bolivia volunteers are accepted as part of the community with a mutual sense of respect by the native locals of the area. This is because of the fantastic reputation which Up Close Bolivia has established over the past years which does not patronise the locals, but it is also a reflection of the friendly and warm nature of the community of Jupapina.

Written by Miriam Malek
Edited by Sarah Cassidy

1 comment:

  1. What a joy to read a blog post so full of warmth, passion and an underlying excitement and commitment to your life in Bolivia

    Thank you

    David Black