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Thursday, January 30, 2014

UpClose Bolivia - Cohort 7


Up Close Bolivia 

Up Close Bolivia is a social entreprise that receives volunteer from all over the world. Based on ‘Reciprocidad’ – a concept at the heart of the Andean culture, Up Close is all about giving back and contributing in a way which enriches both the person who is giving and the person who is receiving equally. 

Our projects are community-led; our volunteers work with the community for the community with the aim of strengthening and empowering some of the most vulnerable people living in La Paz, above all children, young people and women, so that they become the protagonists of their own development.

Up Close is a grass-roots organisation and our projects are always changing and adapting to respond to the changing needs of the community.  Our greatest resource is our volunteers whose ideas and enthusiasm help to shape the projects. ICS has been working with Up Close for a year and half in which time we’ve seen many promising developments. 

Keep reading to find out about our current projects: 

The Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre

The Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre is unique in that it is the only children’s centre in La Paz to be run by the local mothers’ club. Founded in 2004, the centre now looks after over 80 children from the ages of 6 months to 4 years old.  The children are looked after by 8 wonderful educators or ‘Tías’ many of whom are from the Mallasa community.  

Through quality community-based childcare, the centre allows children to learn and develop in an environment that respects their rights, helping them to grow up to be healthy and happy so that they can fulfil their potential.

Normally there is only one Tía to around 16 children. Our volunteers provide invaluable support to the Tías in looking after the (often very boisterous) niños y niñas.  Through planning and delivering extra-curricular activities the volunteers support the children’s development and also add value to the Montessori routine that the Tia’s follow. 

Nuestro Espacio

In Bolivia, children either go to school in the morning or in the afternoon, meaning that half the day children are often left to their own devices to roam the street, hang out in internet cafes or watch TV.  This is why Up Close decided to start up an after-school club for children aged 6 – 12, a space in which they could continue to develop their social skills and explore fundamental values through play. The children named the club ‘Nuestro Espacio’ which means ‘Our space’ and it has been running for about a year.  

Unlike other Up Close projects which are run by the community with the support of volunteers, Nuestro Espacio is entirely volunteer-led. Every volunteer team brings new ideas to the club which means that every version is different: we have had clown workshops, capoeira classes, Halloween mask making, silly Olympics and much more. 

Football

Bolivia, like so many countries, is football crazy. Every week over 50 children attend the local football club in Mallasa where they get the opportunity to play with their friends, work on their footwork and practice their goal celebrations.  

Coach Rodolfo sees football not only as a sport but also as an effective tool which can be used to teach and reinforce values that the children can use both on the pitch and in their day-to-day lives. With only 2 coaches for 50 children, the volunteers’ support is greatly appreciated and really adds value to the football sessions.  

Over the past 6 months volunteers have written the first part of a manual with activities that teach values through football, they have run 2 parent-child workshops with the aim of bringing families together through sport, supported in the running of workshops on self-esteem and assisted the coach in weekly training sessions.  

Sustainable Tourism

Mallasa is known as the green lungs of La Paz and attracts hundreds of visitors every weekend. However, locals do not always know how to interact with tourists and often do not make the most of the economic opportunities that the blossoming tourism industry offers. 

Up Close Bolivia is not a language institute and does not aim to teach everyone how to conjugate the verb ‘to go’. Instead our aim is to help increase people’s confidence to speak English, to improve their ability to interact with people from other cultures and to help them take better advantage of the economic opportunities within the tourism sector. 

In the past volunteers have taken students on ‘school trips’ to local  tourist spots to try and see them through the eyes of a visitor, students and volunteers have shared ‘apthapis’ (an Andean buffet) whilst discussing the differences in their cultures, and they have learnt English through playing games. 

This cohort we are going to start 2 exciting pilots: our volunteers will be giving regular classes to teenagers from the local school on English and World Cultures as well as giving monthly workshops to young people from Chiaraque (the community at the base of the Devil’s Tooth). 

Zoo

The Vesty Pacos Zoo is less of a zoo and more of an ‘animal refuge centre’ that cares for jaguars that were once kept as pets, monkeys and bears that were rescued from the circus and a whole hoard of other Andean animals.  

The zoo is understaffed which means that the volunteers’ support is welcomed. It is through the support of the volunteers that the zoo has been able to develop new programmes such as animal enrichment. 

On the weekend the zoo is packed with visitors from La Paz, El Alto and further afield. However, local children rarely go to the zoo, even though it’s right on their doorstep. In this cohort our volunteers will be focusing on strengthening links between the zoo and the local community by organising excursions. 

Up Close volunteers will also be working to promote the image of Vesty Pacos as an Andean animal sanctuary through telling the animals’ life stories. 

Murals

Before Up Close moved in to Jupapina the walls were bare, now they are colourful patchwork of ideas. Up Close volunteers work with the community to design and paint murals that brighten up people’s day and make them proud to live in Mallasa. 

Up Close Bolivia Pub Quiz

A fairly new initiative, the Up Close Bolivia Pub Quiz was set up to raise money for the Valley of the Moon Children’s centre, make links with local business and recruit volunteers…….and have fun while doing it! 

In the pipeline…….

2014 promises to be a busy and exciting year with new projects that include a community greenhouse, animal therapy for children with disabilities and a high school talent show.
So watch this space!

Written by Naomi Martin
 

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