One of the great things about Alpha is that the whole course can be downloaded in Spanish! We started our very first Youth Alpha course in Cometa last week for the boys and for the girls. They loved it! Most young people in Bolivian culture don’t get a chance to voice their opinions at school; the teacher knows all the answers, and to question the system is not advisable. Youth Alpha gives our young people the chance to tell us what they think and feel about God, faith and the meaning of life in a safe and fun environment. Many of the young people are starting to enjoy group discussion for the very first time. Our Church here in Cochabamba have been so impressed with the material that they have also started Alpha for adults and young people at a mid week group.
Through the week
Our Saturday afternoon sessions are gaining momentum and we have a new worship leader from a well known church called Kairos (it’s like the South American equivalent of Soul Survivor). Caleb brings another dimension to our meetings, with his very laid back attitude and reggae style worship. When his work is done he swings his guitar over his shoulder, jumps on his chopper motorbike and rides off into the sunset. Only in Bolivia folks!
Many of the leadership team at Cometa (youth prison) and Camino (rehab centre) have changed as they are only contracted for one year at a time. This can be quite problematic as we need to start building relationships again from scratch. However, some of the staff have been there since we started our ministry in 2014 and this helps with the transition. Last week we were given permission to keep the work going so we started a fresh drama/discipleship group for ‘sentencia’ (those with longer sentences). It was so encouraging that some of last year’s group wanted to come along to help. They remembered the material and began to encourage the less able boys. What a treat!
We try to meet up with as many ex-offenders as possible and it was such a privilege to meet with Lucy again this month. This time she brought her mum and two children and with her. Before we met Lucy 5 years ago she had been living on the streets and sleeping in a disused railway station. All family relationships had been broken. She is now living back with her family and seems genuinely happy. We also had a meeting with ‘California’ who left Cometa in November, whilst we were in UK. He now has a job and is studying in the evenings to finish his last year of high school. He was very impressed with the Watford football shirt we brought from England. Mainly because it has a South American player’s name on the back! (Thanks Charlie!).
Rumble in the jungle
We had some spare time after New Year so we took the opportunity to visit Hali in Santa Cruz. Hali runs a programme for children and families in some of the poorest communities in Bolivia. We have been Hali’s mentors for a few years now and it was good to have some quality time together. It’s always an adventure when we visit the low-lands of Bolivia and this trip was no exception. The plan was to take a 4×4 trek in search of waterfalls. Crossing 25 rivers and navigating jungle tracks that just didn’t exist on the map was great fun, though slightly worrying at times. But the pay-off was breathtaking. A double waterfall cascading over a 70ft over-hang and our own private inland beach complete with a natural pool. We had found paradise! But paradise only lasted 10 minutes before Miguel spotted one of the deadliest scorpions known to man (Two Tailed Arizona Bark Scorpion). We kept our shoes firmly attached to our feet for the rest of the day, and we were surprisingly very grateful that we had only been bitten by mosquitos.
Thank you for your continued support and prayers in 2020.
We can’t do this work without you…
Merry Christmas… We hope you are enjoying the Christmas season: mince pies, Christmas carol services, nativities, watching ‘The Holiday’ warm fires and cozy evenings.
However, it is almost summer here in Cochabamba and it is hot (about 25 degrees most days but sometimes up to 30). It is the beginning of rainy season too, so there are lots of lovely flowers in bloom. We arrived back on the 4th December after our stay in the UK. We have been trying to ease back in gently to the drama and activities, but we do seem to have been very busy straight away.
The political situation is currently calm, with a temporary President calling for new elections in March/ April next year. Many people have been effected by the three week blockades, but transport and life has returned to normal for now.
The boys at Cometa and Camino were so pleased to see us. There have been a couple of boys who’ve been given early release and we are trying to find a way to get in touch with them. One young person, Gabriel, who we’ve nicknamed California gave us a call this week and we are meeting up with him on Monday. We hope to be able to find out where he lives and put him in touch with a pastor in his neighbourhood who can help him to find some work experience in the New Year.
We only had two sessions to finish in our twelve week drama course, so we managed to squish those into December and we are able to present certificates to about 24 young people. Each person will get a certificate outlining the course, a printed T shirt, all their work and a discipleship booklet designed for teenagers asking questions about their identity in God. Wish we could take photos of the presentation but the rules don’t allow us to take cameras into Cometa.
Christmas here in Bolivia has gained a bit more of a Western edge in the past few years. We see an elaborate mismatch of lights twirled around the palm trees and various nativity scenes with cartoon characters… Imagine Olaf the snowman with baby Jesus and the Grinch standing around a Coca Cola train! Most families will wait until Christmas Eve to buy a gift for someone in the family and they eat a spicy chicken and pork soup at midnight on Christmas Eve followed by a type of Panatone with chocolate milk. We will celebrate with our church family on the 23rd December with a ‘drama extravaganza’ and have a quiet relaxing day on the 25th. Will be thinking of you all as you enjoy your yummy turkey and pigs in blankets watching repeats of the Downton Christmas special.
On Tuesday we helped run a special Christmas party for the girls at Mosjo Yan, which is a girls refuge we worked at a few years ago. The volunteers were hosting a tea party for them at the mission guesthouse (the only place we have found a good Christmas tree!). We presented some short drama sketches, which they loved and we played some silly Christmas games, like dressing up whilst passing a balloon along the line and drawing picture on each other’s backs. These are all girls who have been victims of abuse from family members and are in the home for their own protection. It literally breaks your heart to see them and hear their stories. One girl, who is now over 18, came back as a helper and recognised us from a few years ago. We are looking to start volunteering there in the new year.
So this month has been a month of drama workshops and visitors. Our work in the youth rehabilitation centre has continued to be fun and to be well received by the young people. Our sessions always involve a game, a drama and an interactive activity. We have had many great conversations and questions from the boys. It feels encouraging to be able to communicate a bit better each week, as our Spanish improves and they gain confidence in us.
This month we had a ‘friend of a friend’s niece’ stay for a week and also two girls, Lauren and Jessie, from UK who were backpacking around South America. We took the girls with us to Camino and were able to take a few photos of the boys playing with the parachute and getting involved in our activity.
It was the 10th Anniversary of our mission organisation, ‘Serve Abroad’. We joined with Mauge in celebrating how much has been accomplished by having a party with all the mission partners here in Cochabamba. We presented a drama to everyone there. Our first contact with the mission was through the language school back in 2007. We have lots of happy memories of our first visit, staying with a lady called Dona Carmen – eating green soup! and walking past the smelly bins on the walk to school everyday. Dean designed the original logo for Serve Abroad and we were there to encourage Mauge in the very beginning to set up a volunteer program for her language students. This blog has all the old photos archived from those days… we look so young!
We have also had a number of training sessions for the team of volunteers who work in the youth rehabilitation centre on Saturday afternoons. We have been trying to show them that an alternative to preaching is to teach with interactive activities to encourage the youth to think and talk about their ideas. This is quite different to how school operates here, where the emphasis is on rote memorisation.
Many pastors who are keen to receive young people when they are released from the centre, also came to a training session this month. The first church is preparing to start their transition visits this month and are ready to begin their discipleship with ‘E’ who will be leaving soon.
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Something we think about regularly is that we are not doing this on our own. We obviously have each other… and spending every day together is something we will never take for granted, but we know we are not on our own. We so appreciate your support and continued interest in what we are doing. We have a great support network of friends and family back home who we know are praying for us. Our church is amazing and particularly our fabulous care group who keep sending regular updates and messages to us. We feel certain we are in the right place at the right time. God has confirmed our calling to this work and this place at this time. We cannot do this on our own. Thank you for all who support us and those who are praying for us. We love you…
This month we have continued to work in the youth rehabilitation centres, both with the boys and with the girls. We also visit the drug rehabilitation centre once a week to lead drama workshops. These are being very well received and we are enjoying getting to know the young people and staff. One change has been that we have been asked to work with the boys in ‘senetencia’ rather than ‘preventiva’… Basically the older boys who all have guilty sentences rather than the ones on probation or warning sentences. This was rather intimidating the start with, but we are fine. Most of the boys in our drama group are aged 17- 19 years old and are there for between 3-6 years.
We took the 14 hour overnight bus to visit Hali in Santa Cruz. We wanted to see her work and encourage her. She obviously got us working straight away! We ended up showing drama sketches in the Aorero community and playing with the children whilst she met with community leaders. It was probably the most extreme poverty we have seen here in Bolivia. We also helped run a holiday club – as children here have just had two weeks off school for winter break.
Please keep in touch. We love hearing your news and messages from home. We keep checking for parcels at the post office. We know there are some on the way. Ruth and Dean Such. C/o Conexiones enter Mundos. Casilla 15. Cochabamba. Bolivia.
If you would like to support our work financially then please click on the button to link to our Stewardship account.
So after the initial flurry of being back in Bolivia, things have calmed down a bit and we’ve had a fairly normal month. The temptation to take photos of everything and carry cameras with us has passed and although things surprise us from time to time… Basically we are just settling into our work routine.
The mural we’ve been painting is now all but finished. The children’s centre are really pleased with us and showed if off at the annual Mother’s Day celebrations, (and Teachers Day too).
We moved into our new flat here in Cochabamba. It feels nice and safe and we get a view of the mountains around the city.
Our main project here is working with young offenders. We have always thought that finding a support network for them when they leave is crucial for their chances of surviving and living a better life. So we are really excited to be involved in the Transformation Project. This aims to link churches with young people as they leave the centre. We have had a number of meetings with church leaders building up a program and training churches to receive the young people. Interdenominational stuff isn’t very common here. But the potential is amazing and it’s really exciting to be part of.
We received an anonymous donation for equipment for the boys centre. So we ventured into the cancha with our friend Milenka who acted as our guide and chief negotiator. We bought loads of supplies for our sessions and some board games. The staff are keen for the kids to play games such as Rummikub and Chess as it teaches them patience, strategy and a bit of resilience. Whenever we play you have to keep your eyes open as they love to cheat and are a bit sneaky. They even gang up on us and work as a team to take our pieces. Our friend Hali is working with a poor community and she loved playing Qwirkle so much that she is getting the men to make their own version and sell them on the market. We’ve put in an order for three sets!
We also went to a youth camp with our new church near Cochabamba. It was great to get to know everyone and have fun. We have also led a drama workshop at church for the young people.
We were so happy to receive some post this month. The chocolate and decaf tea bags, jelly tots and buttons were such a treat. We are rationing them. Thank you for the other packages that we know are on the way….
If anyone wants to send something we have a PO box. Dean and Ruth Such, c/o Connexiones enter Mundos. Casilla 15. Cochabamba. Bolivia.
Thank you everyone for your continued support and interest. You can leave a comment or send an email. It’s always great to hear your news.
If you’d like to donate financially to our work can click on the button.
Life in Cochabamba is never dull….. We say ‘yes’ to most things and are willing to get involved with so many different projects. Some are ‘riskier’ than others!
The boys and girls at the youth rehabilitation centre have responded really well to our drama presentations and we feel that we have developed some great relationships already. We visit regularly and have started to lead some sessions and Bible teaching. Just having time to talk to them and for them to share their stories has been a real breakthrough.
(More information on our Newsletter). Due to new restrictions we are not allowed to take photos in either the girls or the boys prison/rehabilitation centres. Sorry.
We have had Nick and Naomi visiting us from the UK this month. It has been so much fun to show them around and get them involved in our projects. We took them into the youth rehabilitation centre to meet both the teenage boys and the girls. We played sports and games with them – an interesting England vs Bolivia football matchas well asteaching them ultimate frizzbee. We also taught them a drama to illustrate a Bible study which went really well.
Nick and Naomi were keen to work with children, so we went back to help at Amor and Amistad, which is a children’s centre for kids who live in a very poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of the town. Many of the children live in a local orphanage because their parents are in the prison and others are left alone in the afternoon because their parents work. The centre provide them with a safe space to come and do homework and a daily Bible study and a healthy nutritious snack. Nick was asked to run sports classes and Naomi was leading art classes. They also asked us to paint a mural on a new wall they had built around the steps of the playground. Naomi is a fabulous artist/set designer… so we took up the challenge (Nick and I were chief paint mixers, brush washers and background painters). See below for some idea of the progression and nearly finished result. We were so pleased to see the mural we painted back in 2009 still looking great.
We love hiking and try to get out of the city and see parts of Bolivia in our time off. One weekend we decided to organise a hike along the ‘Choro trial’ which is an ancient Inca footpath between La Paz and Corico. It starts at El Cumbre at 4400m and finishes in the jungle 1350m. It is a difficult trail as it is mostly downhill on slippery steps and crosses a number of rivers. Not many people do this hike and on our three day walk we only saw three other people the whole time. What we didn’t know when we left the summit was that three out of the four bridges had recently been swept away and had been replaced with makeshift ‘bridges’; which were basically logs tied together with pieces of flimsy wire and string, balanced on the rocks, jammed together with pebbles and branches. To say it would not have passed the ‘Health and safety risk assessment’ is an understatement. We did survive and we did have a wonderful time with our mission co-ordinator Mauge and friends.
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We have been busy over the past few weeks. We were asked to present a drama on the plaza alongside the team of Bolivian volunteers who we started training three years ago. It was amazing to see how the team has grown and now there are about 20 people involved with the drama and an additional 30 who go to help and talk to people in the audience. The team range in age from 14 – 80! Everyone gets involved and there was a fabulous crowd of about 300 people.
Hali, who is a dear friend of ours from when we were here last, came to visit us for the weekend. She works with young girls in Santa Cruz who are at risk of entering the sex trade. We have been supporting and mentoring her for the past few years and it was great to see her again. Every Sunday before church we try to climb the steep steps to the top of the hill where there is a statue of Christ. We only just made it… partly due to the altitude. Life at 2500m above sea level makes your heart race and its hard to breathe.
As you can imagine, it is quite hard tracking down some of the young people who leave the rehabilitation centre. They often have very chaotic lives and do not have a permanent place to live. One special person who we have managed to keep in touch with is Lucy. We knew her for two years in 2014 – 2016 when she was in and out of the centre where we worked. She has a baby now and we saw her yesterday to catch up on how she is doing and what has happened since we last saw her in 2017. We gave her a knitted hat for her daughter, made by a lady from our church. She loved it.