La Paz, Bolivia, is haphazardly settled in a basin the Cordillera Real. It is beautiful, rugged, and oftentimes, quite cold, despite its nearness to the equator. At 21,122 ft, Mt. Illimani towers over La Paz, watching all 2.3 million inhabitants of varied social, cultural, and economic status. This city, originally named ‘Our Lady of Peace’, is the opposite of what my idea of ‘peace’ looks like. It’s fast-paced, busy, and always bustling with visitors, ideas, and challenges. Much like the city, my DukeEngage experience has been a similar go-with-the-flow-whirlwind.
I have been in La Paz for 6 weeks. During that time, I have seen 5 political demonstrations that back up traffic so dramatically you’d have to get out of the minibus to walk home. I’ve learned how to use public transportation by myself using a language I barely know. I’ve kicked muddy soccer balls and braided hair at orphanages and schools. I’ve inventoried (probably) a billion and a half crayons and stickers and bubble wands. I’ve cared for babies and old women in a rural communities. I’ve shared so many laughs. I’ve given and received countless smiles. I have had incredible interactions with people I’ve been working with but also with those who I am serving. This project has really expanded my ability to serve by teaching me new things about my character, work ethic, and true love for humanity.
I designed this project to include a little bit of all of my passions: medicine, social-work, and education. The most satisfying part of this DukeEngage is that this project has been just that — well-rounded and fulfilling work. Six weeks in, we have just finished two major medical and social campaigns which was the bulk of my project. The medical campaigns included 4 rural communities, two of which were located on the Rio Beni deep into the Amazonas region of Madidi National Park. That medical team (which included three Duke doctors, myself, and a few other volunteers) assessed and treated 300 indigenous children. The social campaign in tandem with the medical component including encouraging, teaching, and playing with those kids as well as providing educational parenting resources for the parents. We also spent 3 days at a K-12 school organizing “fun days” of activities, puzzles/coloring, and sports for 400 kids. On top helping to execute the medial and social campaigns, I also helped to create reading activity curriculum for future social programs, reorganized my community partner’s new volunteer orientation program, and altered their social programs evaluation plan.
With two weeks left of my DukeEngage, I still have to wrap up the reading plan curriculum and there is one more volunteer corp remaining to be completed. The deliverables I’ll leave behind include repairing an orphanage, cleaning up a school and repairing their library, reorganizing my community partner’s new volunteer orientation program, creating reading activities for future park days, and helping to pull off a successful pediatric campaign. I hope these next few weeks bring time to reflect and tidy up loose ends of my project. With so much going on I have had to consistently remind myself not to miss a moment. My nearly 8 weeks in La Paz has opened my eyes and my heart to the people of Bolivia. These are moments which are apt to hold my attention for quite some time.
Some photos from my time in Bolivia …