Volunteering in Bolivia: Virgen de Fatima - Para los Niños - Vikingess Voyages

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Volunteering in Bolivia: Virgen de Fatima - Para los Niños

The reason why I traveled to Bolivia was that I wanted to work as a volunteer and learn Spanish at the same time. Thanks to my good friend Camilla I discovered the Norwegian organization Misjonsalliansen, which gave me the opportunity to come here and work with orphaned children. 
So for the last one and a half month I have been working five days a week at the orphanage Virgen de Fatima Children's Home, which is a part of the organization Para los Niños (For the Children), and today I had my last workday here.

At Virgen de Fatima I have been working with the kids that are from 2-8 years old; there are 5 little houses (called casitas) and there are up to fifteen children living in each of these houses.
But in addition to the kids there are also 5 salas where babies which are between 0-2 years live.
The orphanage in itself is very nice; the kids have a playground and a lot of toys etc to play with.
But for me, it has been very clear that even though the kids has got "everything" they need when it comes to material things, they do have lack the possibility of attention and care from adults. As I mentioned earlier there are up to 15 kids in each casita, but there is only one mamita-lady for each house.. And the mamita not only have the responsibility to look after the children, but at the same time she also have to do the cooking, the laundry etc etc for all the children living in her house. And she needs to be strict, as it can be hard to keep all 15 kids under control..
Part of the playground and some of the casitas. In each of the houses there are up to 15 kids living together with one mamita.
  Not to mention that even though the orphanage has nice playgrounds, it isn't often that I've actually seen the kids outside - I guess they can't let the kids play out by themselves cause they are afraid that the kids would get injures or something. Which is understandable. But at the same time this results in the kids spending most of the day inside their small houses, only watching TV.. They don't get a lot of creative stimulation, not a lot of time to run around and just be kids.
Also, because there aren't enough people to look after the kids they apparently only get to leave the orphanage a couple of times a year. They do have a little school-building in the orphanage, which the older kids go to every weekday, but besides this there aren't much out of the ordinary for these kids.

Volunteers ready for work!
And that is where us volunteers come in. Those of us who decide that we want to work with the older children have the opportunity to help planning and carrying out afternoon activities for the children. Every day has a different topic; there is a day for sports, one day for art, one for music etc.
All of the volunteers brings 2 children each to the group, and during the afternoon we are having 3 different groups with kids. Which means that the more volunteers there are, the more children gets to play in the afternoon. Some days we are many, but there has also been some days where we have only been a couple of volunteers, and then only a few of the kids gets the chance to leave their casitas to play.
There are great outdoor areas, but few kids that get to use them
In the corridors Disney figures has been used to decorate the walls
We always start the day by singing some songs together with the kids, and then the normal questions we ask all of them in turn is ¿Como estás? and ¿Qué has hecho hoy? ("How are you?" and "What have you done today?"). Unfortunately the answer to the second question is almost exclusively he comido papa y carne, which means "I've eaten potatoes and meat". I mean, we usually start working from 2:30 in the afternoon, and all the kids can tell us about their day is what they've had for lunch!?
Some of the kids even answer "I've eaten potatoes and meat" to the question "How are you?"..
And although all of the kids are more or less content with their daily life, I think this truly shows the problems these kids are facing when it comes to their lack of stimulation.
I have to point out though, that this is not the people working at the orphanage's fault. Imagine the mamitas responsible for 15 kids well-being in addition to all their other tasks. And the other people working at the orphanage is doing a great job too, with the limited time and capacity they have.
One of the playrooms in the orphanage where the walls are decorated
One of the leaders of the orphanage told us one of the first days that they do get a lot of toys, clothes and sometimes also money donations to the orphanage. Getting material things is not the biggest problem here. The problem is that there are many people who gives away things they don't need anymore, but there are few who actually are willing to give a little bit of their time for these children.
For the kids it is so important that they have some grown ups to look up to, someone who can give them love and affection, somebody who can play with them for only a couple of hours a day.
I really wish that there would have been more people there for them, they are such sweet kids and it is sad to think about them sitting alone in the orphanage all day.

One thing that is important to remember when you feel sad for the kids and their limited possibilities in life, is that after all if it weren't for the orphanage most of these kids would have been living in the street, and that some of the kids also comes from homes where they have been treated badly in the past. Even though some of the children do have scars, a terrible reminder of their past, they still face the day with a big smile on their face, and all of them are so happy when we come to play with them.

For me, being a volunteer is an opportunity to bring a little bit of sunshine into their lives.

The orphanage looks quite nice
Para los Niños doesn't charge you anything to volunteer - they only require that you work there for 4 weeks or longer. This is because it gives a little bit more stability to the children's everyday life. You can read more about PLN's work at their website.

Finished for the day after 2 1/2 hours work at the orphanage
¿Cómo están los chicos cómo están?
¡Muy bien!
Este es un saludo de amistad
¡Que bien!
Nos harémos más amigos
Siempre más a conocernos
¿Cómo están los chicos cómo están?
!Muy bien¡

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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  1. hi,
    I know this is rather out of the blue, but i could't help expressing an interest in this article as i used to be at virgen de fatima. I was there within the first few days of my life and was adopted when i was nearly 3 by a french/english couple and we now live in france. I don't really know what to say, it's just that i have started trying to research all i can on the orphanage, i left bolivia when i was adopted and have never been back. i was wondering how long ago the mamitas have been there. i have been trying to gather the courage to contact the orphanage to try to find out anything i can on my origins, and i was hoping that maybe someone who used to work there from 1989 to 1992 might still be there now... did you hear of a association called australian caring for children , they helped my parents with the adoption..
    sorry for the intrusion, but i have to try anything,
    Margarita ruiz canaviri

    (email: louve_mfe@hotmail.fr )

  2. Hi Margarita! i have sent you an answer by email, so please check your inbox.

    1. Hello,
      thank for you blog, it's great. I want to go for one month this summer and I was wondering it you could give me some tips, like where to sleep, the budget for one month, what level of Spanish is necessary. Thank you very much for your answer.


    2. Hello Isaline!
      Thanks, I'm glad to hear that! :)
      For cheap places to stay I can recommend http://www.studentuniverse.com/, I've used this a couple of times during my travels in Asia. In Bolivia, however, I mostly stayed in an apartment with the Norwegian organization I worked for, so I didn't really try out any of the hotels near La Paz. On my weekend-trips I did spend a night at a salt hotel in Salar de Uyuni, and I also spent a night in Copacabana + at Isla del Sol.
      Since I mostly stayed in an apartment where I cooked myself almost every day it is hard to make a decent example of a budget. But Bolivia is really cheap, for instance you can get alright lunch for about a dollar some places. I can add that I've heard you shouldn't eat pig's meat though, it might have some kind of virus..
      For Spanish, i think it would be wise to at least know some phrases.. Personally I almost only spoke Spanish with the locals, and I got the impression that most people do not speak that much English either. Just a couple of phrases can get you a long way though!
      Also, another advice you might already know is that you should be aware of thieves.. I never had any problems, but there are a lot of stories out there.. A classical one is that if a stranger spill something on your clothes, he or she usually have a friend hiding not to far away who will try to steal your belongings as your attention is diverted.
      Also, if you want to take a taxi you should only take the official ones (they have the company telephone number on the roof), since they are safer to use.

      I hope you'll have an enjoyable trip!


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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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