Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mallasa - Mi Communidad

My experience in Bolivia has been unique and it has been next to impossible to separate work from life. Up Close has taken me in as family and I’ve learnt so much from the founders of the organisation, Emma and Rolando, who throughout these ten months have been my mentors and friends. 
Warming up for the Parent-child football event

The word that has followed me throughout my time here is ‘reciprocidad’ a concept at the heart of 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. Everything I have given to the projects I feel I have received far more in return. All the time spent coordinating the English lessons is forgotten when the students turn up with a whole Bolivian Christmas Dinner for our class on how Christmas is celebrated in different countries. The amount of meetings and planning it took to set up the ‘Parent-Child’ football events feels completely worth it when over 20 parents turn up to play with their children. And all our work with the community feels valued when they invite us all to dance with them down the streets of Mallasa for the annual Fiesta.
Volunteers dancing in the local fiesta

Whilst one of the main challenges of working with Up Close is balancing the ever-growing number of projects, this is also what makes the job so rewarding. At first it may be hard to see the connection between all the projects, but then you see the children who used to take part in the after-school club Nuestro Espacio grow up and move on to the Up Close English classes, or you talk to our most loyal English student, Armando, and realize that he is the husband of one of the Tías at the children’s centre. In a community like Mallasa everyone is connected and all the Up Close projects are working with the community to support them in becoming protagonists in their own development. 

Working in a community like Mallasa is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Coming from London I’m not used to having people stop me in the street and ask me about my day or being waylaid by a gaggle of children on my way home.  Getting to know the individuals that make up the community has been my biggest highlight and I think that I will be leaving a piece of my heart in Up Close and with Mallasa. In every goodbye with the friends I have made here - at the Children’s Centre, the Zoo, Nuestro Espacio, English, the list goes on – everyone has said the same thing ‘but we know you’ll be back’…….and I think they may be right.

Written by Naomi Martin

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