An FSD Staff On-Site Reflection, by Brandon Leonard

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March 3, 2010: Making Connections with Service Learning and
NGO Visits in Bolivia

During the first three weeks of January, I had the opportunity to visit FSD’s program in Cochabamba, Bolivia. I had an amazing time and would like to share a little bit about my experience.

For the first two weeks, I worked with the organization Infante exploring social issues in Bolivia with an SLT group of 18 students from UC Berkeley. Working with incredibly dedicated educators, staff, and volunteers who have devoted their time to helping women and children who have suffered abuse, we constructed several new toilets for the women’s home as well as a new roof. The women and children hailed from all areas of Bolivia, and through the sharing of stories and activities we created a strong connection; more powerful than the work we were doing were the relationships that formed through simple activities such as dancing, gardening, baking, drawing, theater, and games. Our new friendships made leaving very difficult. The kids did not want to let us go, yet I am comforted knowing our work will have lasting impacts on the organization.

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I spent the last week of my trip visiting our partner organizations and host families, gaining valuable insight, and making a personal connection between the work I do in San Francisco and our programs in Bolivia. The organizations we work with are dynamic and resourceful in responding to a variety of needs in their communities, and I was continuously inspired by the individuals I met. In addition to the support interns provide on project work, one of the biggest benefits that was voiced was the cultural exchange that occurs between the organization, those it serves, and the intern, as well as the familial bonds that form within host families. Although I already realized this from many phone conversations, chats, and emails, I came back with an even greater appreciation for our amazing site team because of all the hard work they do building and maintaining relationships and coordinating activities for all of our volunteers.

All together it was an amazing experience. The thriving and unimaginably huge La Cancha market, the beautiful views from the top of the Cristo de la Concordia statue, the seriously delicious fruit juices from the Chapare, and most importantly the friendships created and the valuable work completed made the too few weeks I spent in Bolivia a life-altering and inspirational experience. I have returned with a better understanding of our volunteer experience, a taste of some of the rewards and challenges of community development work, and an undying desire to go back to Bolivia as soon as I can.