Friday, September 26, 2014

And now for the Meat and Potatoes

I bet some of you are wondering what exactly I'm doing down here in Bolivia, since the term "lay missioner" doesn't really explain all that much...  Well grab a comfy chair and something to munch on (preferably something gluten-free...) because you're in luck: this post is focused on just that :)

First I'll quickly explain the process I went through of choosing a ministry site.  After my three months of language school were finished, I was allowed up to two more months to explore potential ministry sites.  During this time I was encouraged to not only look at places where I could see myself working, but really take this time to look at any and all ministry sites of the people who are a part of and associated with the Maryknoll "family"--ie Maryknoll Lay Missioners, former Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Maryknoll Priests and Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, Maryknoll Affiliates, etc. And due to the wonderful abundance of Maryknoll people in Cochabamba, I got to see a lot of really interesting and inspiring ministry sites.  And I mean A LOT.  Highlights included a day-long trip into the surrounding more rural area of Cochabamba, getting my hair done in a local women's prisons, and spending a day in a clinic adamantly refusing to give immunizations to small children...no joke :) 

In the end, I chose two ministry sites--both working with children (lets be honest, adults were never my thing, wouldn't you agree Wayne??) and both loosely using my skills as an RN.  I have found it tricky here to work in a "regular" or "full-time" RN position largely due to my lack of Spanish fluency, but also very much due to my lack of Bolivian culture fluency.  It will be interesting to see how my jobs change or morph with time as I become more comfortable in both the language and culture of Bolivia. 

Ok.  Enough already. On to descriptions of my ministry sites:

First off we have...wait for it...NIÑOS CON VALOR!  This wonderful organization, which means "Kids with Value" in English, runs two homes--one for girls and another for boys--for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or removed from high-risk situations.  What peaked my interest from the beginning was their further emphasis on providing loving and safe environments for children with HIV/AIDS and other health issues.  HIV/AIDS is HUGELY stigmatized in Bolivia, making a home that strives to provide a "normal" loving experience for children with this disease incredibly important.  I'm at the boys home one and a half days a week, and at the girls home just one day a week.  And although I'm currently *just* hanging out with the kids during this time (and helping the "Tias" as the kids call them, aka employees, as much as I can), the potential for assisting with small health-related projects such as taking heights and weights of kids, improving disease control measures, and helping to create and update medical forms is very much there.  Also, humorously (?) enough, I might end up teaching PIANO LESSONS to some of the older girls!  Never did I ever think those words would be written by these hands (which have not played piano seriously since senior year of high school)...  If this in fact does happen, I will try my best to channel my inner Lynn Najem and hope and pray that none of my students act even remotely like me :)  Here's the link to the Niños con Valor website if you want to learn more:


They also have a FACEBOOK page for those of you who would like to "like" them and follow what they're doing!  Click on the link below the picture to go directly to their page:


For the other two days of the week, I spend my time at ministry site number TWO: a foundation called "Fundación San Lucas," or the San Lucas Foundation in English.  This foundation is run under the Archbishop's office here in Cochabamba and focuses on improving the quality of life of the "most excluded" communities in the department of Cochabamba--with a special emphasis on integrative and preventative health.  There are many programs that are run under this foundation, including a mobile hospital which some of you may have seen pictures of on Facebook from my recent excursion with this hospital into the Bolivian countryside.  However, that's not something I do regularly!  My "regular" day job with this foundation is helping a doctor (named Ariane) use a screening tool (called the Denver Developmental Screening Test) to screen children ages 0-6 for potential disabilities--be those cognitive, behavioral, or physical.  Let's just say that for about the first month or so, this was incredibly difficult seeing as you have to ASK many questions in SPANISH in order to give this test...  The best is when we're in pretty rural areas and the children only speak Quechua, which means I'm in double trouble and am pretty much useless unless I can snag one of the teachers or childcare providers to help me translate :)  Who would have thought that I would need to learn TWO languages living here!  But that's a topic for a future blog...  

If and when we find signs of potential or very apparent disabilities, Ariane refers these children to appropriate medical specialists and/or supportive organizations in Cochabamba.  The foundation then pays for the costs of further needed testing AND provides a medical escort (sometimes Ariane, but they also have another RN and MD on staff to help out with this part) so the parents know what the heck's going on when they attend these appointments!  It's a wonderfully thorough process and one that they are finding really works.  However, as always, the problem is funding.  The grant that supports this work allots 100Bs (a little less than $15) per child to cover all medical testing expenses, which sometimes is not enough, especially if expensive tests like MRIs or CT scans are needed.  They are working on this though, and I hope a solution is found very soon!

Here's their website if you're interested in reading more about the foundation--sadly it's only in Spanish, so I apologize in advance for those who find Spanish as daunting as I find Quechua...


And they (like Niños) also have a Facebook page that you can "like" if you so desire.  Below is the link:


And that's my work in a nutshell :)  However, before I end this post, I want to take a second to talk about why I'm loving both of my jobs so much right now--the same reason I loved my job (at times... :)) on P4 back in Madison--it's the PEOPLE!  At Niños con Valor, the staff and volunteers are just incredible--very dedicated to the children, friendly and warm with me, and overall wonderful people.  And of course the CHILDREN are the reason why I'm pretty much hooked for life with this organization.  You wouldn't believe some of the back stories to some of these children, but you typically wouldn't know it by looking at them or interacting with them.  Talk about loving and fun spirits to be around (most of the time!).  It is a pure joy to spend time with them, even when they do find it hilarious to make fun of my Spanish...all.the.time :)

And with the San Lucas Foundation, I seriously couldn't love Ariane any more than I do :)  She just turned 25, so is very new to her medical profession, but she is incredibly knowledgeable, professional, and kind and is an absolute pleasure to work with!  Also over the past couple months, she has a lot more than just my "co-worker" and I think I can safely say, that although I have many Bolivian acquaintances, she is my one true Bolivian friend down here.  I'm scheduled to go with her and a couple friends to Sucre at the beginning of November to help her pick out her wedding dress :)  Here she is below:


And that's where I'll end.  Now that I've posted about the broad overview of my ministry sites, I'll be sure to start giving more detailed stories about what I'm experiencing on a day to day basis in future posts, so STAY TUNED :)

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