Tessa Henwood-Mitchell - General Care Projects in Bolivia
I went to Cochabamba with Projects Abroad in July 2008, for what was meant to be a three month care placement in an Orphanage called Ciudadela Sedeges. My first week was such a huge shock to the system, with so many new tastes, smells, sounds, sights, words, people, and experiences. I was thrown in the deep end at the orphanage, as I was the only volunteer there. And as if this in itself wasn’t hard enough, I then had to change a nappy on my first day!
But I soon got used to the way things worked, and fell deeply in love with everything about the children, the orphanage, and the city of Cochabamba within a matter of days. Ciudadela Sedeges is a government run orphanage which houses just over 80 children, aged between 0 and 14 years old. During my time there I worked in the pre-school area which a previous volunteer had initiated, and worked with the different age groups of younger children. I taught them colours, numbers, writing, drawing…you name it, we did it!
The majority of my time was spend with the ‘bebes’, the littlest children, and this was one of the most distressing parts of everything that I had seen thus far. The kids who I was working with, who were all almost 3 years old, could not even talk, other than to say one or two words. As a social work student, I knew that this was nowhere near the level that they should have been at by then. Also the water system was a huge problem, as there was no running water in any of the houses that the children lived in, and they were constantly getting sick due to bathing in cold water, and also drinking unsafe water. It was at this point that I started wondering if there was something more I could do which would improve things for these kids.
I then visited another centre where Projects Abroad send volunteers, a blind rehabilitation centre called Manuela Gandarillas. I was lucky enough to spend some time with these inspiring and determined children, who won’t let something like their vision impairments get in their way. I met the director of this centre, Nico, and we spoke about the idea he had about a music programme for the children that would provide them with skills that could lead to future employment and independence.
Before this point I had already been seriously considering finding a way to fundraise money for the orphanage which I had been working in, and after visiting the Manuela, I decided that on top of fundraising for the Ciudadela, I would also try to finance the music programme which Nico had spoken about with such passion. So when I returned from my 6 months in South America, (4 of which I ended up spending in Cochabamba), I took the steps to initiate a non profit organisation.
So now, after 8 months of (very) hard work, I can proudly say that Tia International Aid (Tia means ‘auntie’ in Spanish – and is what the children at the orphanage call all the volunteers) is successfully funding the music programme at Manuela Gandarillas, and is also funding the replacement of the water system at Ciudadela Sedeges, as well as providing much needed medicines to improve the health of the children. I have already been back once to Cochabamba this year, and am hoping to go back again next year to develop the work I am doing further, and to make sure that there is a lasting and significant change for the good in the lives of my beautiful Bolivian babies.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Programme Advisors.