Monday, June 15, 2015

This is the End

This is the end.

This is it: week 10 and a few days before we head back to the UK. The 70 remarkable days spent in the extraordinary, bowl-shaped, bustling city of La Paz are almost over.
Before I took part in the ICS program, Bolivia was a mystery to me. Despite browsing the internet for endless hours before my departure, I remained puzzled about Bolivia`s situation. I could clearly remember the unfriendly blog posts, the negative impressions and most importantly the fact that Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America. Understandably, my expectations of Bolivia were skewed and biased.
Thankfully, my nescience did not last for long. Everything changed as we landed at the world`s highest airport in El Alto (4,061m). My breath was taken away, owing not only to the altitude, but also to Illimani`s stupendously high summit (6,438m).

My perceptual changes continued as I entered the home of the Gonzales located in a cosy suburban neighbourhood (Bolognia) hidden between the rock formations in southern La Paz. Welcomed by my host-mother Cecilia and sister Daniela, I instantly felt at home. By then, all my worries and concerns about my life in Bolivia were gone.
And here I am 68 days later, reminiscing on my first impressions of Bolivia and the impact of the ICS (International Citizen Service) program on me and the community. It has been an incredibly enriching and life-changing experience as well as a great honor to be part of the Ciudadanos del Mundo (Citizens of the World) team which worked on raising awareness about noise pollution and lowering its levels in the city of La Paz. Working for International Service gave me a great insight of what it is like to be part of an international development organisation. Moreover, it gave me the independence to discover the roots of the development issues in Bolivia as well as critically evaluate the aims of development in an international context.

Photo exhibition by Ciudadanos del Mundo of La Paz in peace

This is the end.

On the other hand, my cultural immersion in the plurinational state of Bolivia has showed me the importance of inclusion of different nations and multiple political communities. Bolivia has the largest representation of indigenous people which accounts for 62% of the population with the biggest groups being Aymara, Qechua and Guarani. Bolivia`s political situation has also helped me understand how different political systems influence the course of development and most importantly - people`s lives. Living in Bolivia reminded me how important it is to work towards minimising the disparity between economic and social inequality which are still present here. Although classified as having ‘medium levels of human development’, according to the United Nations Development report from 2002, Bolivia ranks 114th of a total of 173 countries which brings it closer to those with low human development. The disparities in Bolivia could be easily observed as soon as you leave the city center and head down to the southern part of La Paz where you feel like you are in Europe. On the other side, a visit to El Alto- the fastest growing urban center in Latin America- would take you a few decades back with its unpaved roads, red-brick unfinished houses and the lack of good sewer system.

Working in Bolivia was a challenge. Despite the numerous workshop cancellations, difficulties in organization and facilitation, the ‘Ciudadanos del Mundo’ project, referred to as the ‘Zebra Team’, did its best to bring about a positive change within the community. We not only worked on noise pollution but also on the empowerment of the Zebras- young adults who come from difficult backgrounds. Hired by the La Paz Municipality, every day they dress up in a zebra suit and go around the busiest streets of La Paz to raise awareness about noise pollution, active citizenship and last but not least- spread the zebra love by helping people escape from their daily routine. They were one of most amazing individuals I have met during my stay in Bolivia. None of them spoke English and only a few were attending university. Every Tuesday morning they came curious and excited to learn. Working with them was an extreme honor to me. These Tuesday mornings I could not stop reflecting on the different access to opportunities we have around the world and how they influence the course of our lives. They also made me think how sometimes it is the small things which make the big change. Thank you Zebras for being part of my ICS experience!

 This is the end.

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