Wednesday, March 4, 2015

‘Half Way There’

By Silvina Frisso

We have just passed the halfway mark of our three month volunteering placement here in La Paz and it feels like only yesterday that we arrived! Our project, Ciudadanos del Mundo, has developed from solely raising awareness of noise pollution to incorporating this into the wider concept of 'cultural citizenship' - the right to be different and to belong (Rosaldo, 1994). We are currently in full-swing of delivering workshops to the four Acro Iris centres, a foundation that was set up by Father Neuenhofer in 1994 in order to reduce the number of abandoned children who are forced to live on the streets - it is estimated that over 3,700 children and adolescents live on the streets of Bolivia's largest cities (UNICEF). The foundation thus provides a home for these children: a place of sanctuary where they have a roof to sleep under, food, health, clothing, education, technical training and psychological support.

Although challenging at times, delivering these workshops brings a sense of fulfilment. It is an amazing opportunity for both the children and ourselves to grow and learn as individuals as well as experience a cultural exchange. The last two weeks have been extremely busy; they have been jam-packed with a variety of workshops focusing on sports and leadership, arts and human rights, motivation, and relaxation and recreational sessions for Casa de Paso, Refugio and Casa Esperanza. Last week was our last workshop with the young mothers at Refugio. We delivered a motivation-themed workshop, in which we emphasised the importance of self-motivation and setting and working towards long-term goals. The girls thoroughly enjoyed this workshop and have in fact invited us back for tea!! This week we started the first of our series of workshops at Casa Esperanza - a home for boys who have come from violent families or whose parents are in jail. We kicked off with the sports workshop, teaching the boys the basic skills needed to play touch rugby. Despite it being a ridiculously hot day, the boys' willingness to participate and their eagerness to learn was admiring, in particular, seeing the boys use tactics in order to win the mini-game of rugby.

In addition, this week we have started planning our Guided Learning session. As part of our placement with International Service, each project group is required to facilitate and lead a discussion on an essential topic in international development. In doing so, we are able to enhance our understanding of the sector academically as well professionally. For the Zebras, our topic is on the root causes of poverty and how this interlinks with inequality.

Contextually, Bolivia is a lower-middle-income country with continued economic growth and gross national income as well as abundant mineral and energy resources. However, in spite of this, poverty is deeply widespread and engrained across Bolivia; in particular, among the nation's indigenous population who constitute the majority of the population. Bolivia is in fact one of the poorest and least-developed countries in Latin America. The World Bank (2011) estimated that 45% of the population live in `poverty. The United Nations Development Programme's Multidimensional Poverty (2011) estimated that 7.8% of the population live in extreme poverty and that 15.61% of the population lived below the poverty line of $1.25 per a day. As a result of the underlying widespread poverty, Bolivia has pronounced income inequality between different population groups and geographical areas. In addition, access to benefits, health services and education is limited, especially in rural areas. The existence of poverty therefore not only affects quality of life, but hinders a person´s ability to practice and assert their human rights, such as the right to exercise – this is what our project works towards changing.

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