Mixing concrete, building mud brick churches, and doing thousands of dishes a day may sound like grunge work. Braving altitude sickness and freezing temperatures, speeding along mountain roads also known as “The Highway of Death” (and for good reason), and eating unidentifiable food may not sound like enjoyable ways to spend a summer, but I loved every minute of it.
This summer I spent a few weeks in La Paz, Bolivia with a group of other high school students. We visited the Children’s Hospital of La Paz, helped fix broken down homes and regularly spent time with the countless street children of La Paz. The time I spent with the children is something that I will remember and treasure for the rest of my life, as I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to make a difference in the lives of the people I met there.
Wherever we went in the city there were kids anxious to start a game, and to show off their “fÃºtbol” skills. At 14,000ft, we struggled in the thin mountain air, and the Bolivians put us in our place on the soccer field (or street) as they darted by us scoring goal after goal while we lagged behind gasping for whatever air we could get. Despite our humbling, and numerous losses we had a blast playing with them. It was amazing to see the change that occurred in each of them as they forgot about where they would find their next meal or get their next high, all because someone took the time to get to know them and care for them.
Visiting at the children’s hospital was both heart breaking and an enriching experience. We came prepared with skits, games, crafts and songs, but had to quickly alter our plans upon arriving. Although we had been told to prepare activities for the children, we saw that the majority of the children were bed-ridden, and that any excess noise would be a nuisance to both the doctors and patients. We spent the day visiting individually with the kids at their beds, reading to them, making jewelry with the girls, and trying to provide some reprieve from their long, dreary days. The children were so excited to have visitors, and as I spent time with them, and got to know them using my limited Spanish, I saw how incredible the children were despite the harsh realities that they faced every day.
I would like to think that I some difference in the lives of the children, that I helped give them some hope. If nothing else, maybe that they had a little fun beating me in a game or two and they made a new friend is enough. But as I look back, I realize it was not enough for me. Yes, I was blessed by the experience of knowing them, but more than anything else I look forward to the day I can return to Bolivia, once again play “fÃºtbol” in the streets with the children, and work to improve their lives.
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