U4C Service Abroad 2018: Banding Together in Quime, La Paz
By Bob Reid, Ph.D.
Over the past several years, United4Change Center has partnered with the Hobbs and Lovington Rotary Clubs in an effort to comprehensively and sustainably help women to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and violence in rural/mining Bolivia through access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. This article describes a recent visit to Bolivia by a group of volunteers/Rotarians in the furtherance of this work.
Last month, ten American volunteers/Rotarians, most of them Rotarians visited Bolivia to work on this important project, which is financially supported by nine Rotary Clubs from New Mexico and Bolivia and three Districts, and four individual donors. Our ten volunteers/Rotarians included Carey Beamesderfer and Doug Borrett of West El Paso, Dr. Del Endres of Taos, Audrey Buglione of Philadelphia, David Sadler and Bob Reid of Hobbs, Dr. Sonia Murillo-Branin of Lovington, Pete Sheehey and Naishing Key of Los Alamos, and Ximena Murillo of Houston. Our team was joined by several Bolivians including Nacho Vera, Victor Hugo Garcia, Carla Murillo, and Ivan Montano (2nd year medical student).
This team really worked really hard with community members to set up a Women Support and Training Center despite the high altitude of the Andes Mountains and extremely cold temperatures. While our team had little prior experience working together, there was a strong sense of Rotarian comradely, enthusiasm, and an unequivocal commitment to serve others. We quickly evolved into a cohesive team and succeeded in completing needed construction in the creation of the women’s support and training center, fed and provided orientation to 160 women who will eventually participate in skills and entrepreneurialism training as well as the development of microenterprises. The team participated in different activities from painting a magnificent mural peppered with personalized hand prints evidencing a commitment to the project, trained twelve local healthcare providers in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, home visits to families in extremely difficult circumstances with essential food supplies, and we furthered the goodwill established with locals over the past several years.
We had an opportunity to observe a young woman, Jimena, who could not read or write before our work last year, confidently and capably stood up and read out loud before elected officials, hundreds of citizens, and our group. Her new abilities have changed her forever. Our new focus on economic development and independence will further build upon literacy skills developed through prior efforts.
It’s important to find ways to expand and sustain impact from our efforts, but it is also appropriate to respond to exceptional human need, even when to do so provides only temporary relief. Our team made several home visits, but I want to report on one that deeply affected me. My group visited a 102-year-old woman who lives by herself in a three-sided rock shelter. Her name is Asunta. Asunta was desperately lonely, cold, hungry, and in severe pain. Half of her face had been eaten up by cancer. It was difficult to make time for the home visits given all that needed to be done, but I believe our visit to Asunta was as important as anything else we were doing.
We talked with her, took turns holding her, and provided essential food supplies. When she saw the food supplies her response was, “now I can survive.” Later, we sent our incredible medical team to see Asunta with pain medication and blankets. As moving as this particular visit was, reports from other groups suggest their visits were just as meaningful.
We are already planning our next Service Abroad to Bolivia in 2019 (End of September). Please sign up here if you want more information.