It’s all about the food

The Kewina drama team

We love the Bolivian culture very much, but there are some differences that are just so hard to deal with when you’re a Brit…


Last month we were asked to lead a night of drama and evangelism for 120 prison children and their mothers at Camp Kewiña. The prison system here in Bolivia is quite different from England. Whole families are expected to live inside the prison whilst the husband/father serves his sentence. The camp is an amazing opportunity for mothers and their children to get away and have some quality time together.

We had organised our team, practiced most of our dramas and we all had brand new T-shirts. All we had left to do was run through the programme and a few more practices before the event. Being typically task orientated we didn’t really understand what was coming next… Bolivians normally arrive within half an hour to an hour of the allocated time so we were very pleased to see our team arrive a few minutes early ready for our 2 hour journey into the mountains. 

Ten of us squashed ourselves into the truck and greeted the driver who had just turned 18. We were also introduced to two totally NEW members of the team who we had never met before? hmmm… 
The Bolivians were armed with bags full of food, ice creams and drinks and were up for a full on party atmosphere that was to last the whole two hours. Any notion of organising the programme literally flew out of the window with the orange peel and banana skins! I remember thinking that it’s amazing how fun and laughter so easily comes at the top of the list in Bolivia. Maybe we have a lot to learn?

We were very thankful that we had made it to the first police check point, as the driver had been compensating for the lack of front wheel tracking for the last 15km and he also seemed a bit worried that he wasn’t allowed to carry this amount of people. This became more apparent when he asked his passengers if anyone had a licence he could borrow to show the police! One licence was handed over as though this was a normal everyday request. (As there is such corruption within the police force here, many Bolivians find it easy to adopt a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality).

We arrived at Kamp Kewina in the pitch black and it was to stay that way until our presentation. Apparently there is no electricity until 7pm in these parts! Our practice session began and ended in the dark with a few cell phones as spot lights. The programme itself was scrutinised beyond belief as each team member insisted on adding another drama to the list. Dramas and skits that we had never heard of until this point and were never mentioned in any of the eight rehearsals beforehand. Trying to explain that we didn’t have time or that this was totally unprofessional was weighed against the teams enthusiasm and spontaneity. Unfortunately professionalism was lost somewhere along the way and chaos ensued! 

Dinner by candlelight was a welcome  break at this point as we filed into the dining hall to meet the happy campers. As we were chewing on the food that we couldn’t see before us, the camp leader told us that we may not have electricity at all and that we should only choose the dramas ‘without music’ to perform by torchlight. Once this was agreed in a frenzy by the team a miraculous event occurred. The lights came on and then suddenly went off again. One of the prison lads gave us a cheeky grin with one mischievous finger on the light switch… We showed him as much love as we could before escorting him to his seat at the table.


The performance was back on. Two hours of non stop drama and evangelism – nothing else could go wrong…
Apart from the leader of the camp forgetting to tell us that we were to be judges for a gladiator competition and that there would be a 20 minute movie: the evening was a great success. Seeing the amazement on the children’s faces somehow made it all worth it. Most of these young lives had never seen  drama before and were hearing about God’s love for the fist time. Bolivians have this amazing ability to pull it out of the bag at the last minute and it would seem they live to enjoy the whole chaotic journey along the way. It guess it gives them stories to tell, like I have told this one… and life is most certainly lived to the full. 

Even though at times we feel frustrated and completely out of our comfort zone as Brits, I just know we will be doing more of the same sometime very soon.

Prison Break
As we will be travelling over August the staff and inmates at COMETA decided to give us a farewell party until we meet again in September. The afternoon’s activities revolved around food yet again. We were able to provide each person with some cake, empanadas, yuca cuñapes and drinks. The young people performed  dramas and gave speeches. 

One lad thanked us for coming in every week to spend time with them. He said that they are the forgotten ones, young people that no one likes to hang out with and he thanked us for loving them. After lots of tears and hugs we were presented with hand made cards and a certificate of gratitude from the prison staff. We have been overwhelmed with their reaction to us and this was an awesome end to our first term programme.
 
The bus party… all about the food.
  

Drama face paints
      
Thanking the Lord for electicity as the crowds gather
  
Explaining the message of our dramas

  

The children frrom Casa d Amistad
   
Milenka ready for our “Superhero sketch”
  
Recent snow in the mountains, with palm trees
  
all the hand made cards we were given. and the slabs of cake they made for us.
  
Translated as, “We have you in our hearts, with lots of love from the Communidad group.” or maybe. “We will have you in our hearts”…. it is the subjunctive…. i think?

  

After our trip to the Camp we were asked to run another training course for their young leaders and volunteers. This was a great success and over 50 students came to the Camp Headquarters just in front of our house.

  

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Prison mural updates

It’s not quite time lapse photography, but we can now proudly show what we’ve been up to with the boys in CAMINO for the past few weeks. Cannot really show photos which identify them. So apologies for the lack of happy faces. Trust us when we say they were all happy to participate and were really pleased to be included. The team included the boys who had moved into the communidad section. Which means it they have shown improvements in attitude and consistent behaviour. Painting has a lovely calming effect and super opportunities to chat.

One boy, whom we have nicknamed “tough nut” but we now know is called JL, told me that in the future he wanted to teach people how to make good choices. I asked him what advice he would give to himself if he could travel back in time to talk to himself 5 years ago. What he said was; choose your friends carefully, do not follow others when you know it is wrong, study and listen to your elders. 

I guess it is the same all over the world. The challenges young people face. 

   

End of day 1

      

End of day 2
 

Using the data projector to trace the outlines

 

 

   

End of day 4
The dream team

  

End of day 5… with all those who “helped”

 

  

 The finished mural…  They are now thinking of using this space for kids to do their homework and study. At the moment they have a really dark, gloomy room. The only trouble is they don’t have any money to buy tables and chairs. 

Return to Sucre

There are times when words cannot express how you feel. You feel like your voice has just evaporated and your vocal cords have been paralysed by some strange force.

That is how we felt last week. When we saw Yolanda and Alvaro.

When we were here in 2007-2009 we spent a lot of time in a district of Sucre called Horno Casa. We painted, we cleaned, we built paths, we taught Bible stories, we helped with homework, we taught them about healthy food and basic health, we pushed our way past the piggies, served a healthy snack and bought them some books, which they proudly called their “library”.

So last week we went back to visit the project with Phil and Jan Train. Although the project has moved locations numerous times, they still provide a place for the kids to go and do their homework and study every day. Our little collection of books has grown into a bookcase full of study aids. The tables and chairs we bought have survived. They now have their own cooker to prepare a healthy snack every day. We were blown away by the sheer resilience and faithfulness of the two volunteer workers who serve this desperately poor community.

Then it was one of the double take moments… One of the young people smiled at me and in an instant we recognised her as one of the little kids we worked with in 2007. Her name is Yolanda. She has been using the education centre every day as a place where she can do her homework. She is now in the last but one year of high school, having passed every year. (Here in Bolivia you are held back a year of school if you do not pass the end of year exams… So some children can be 7 or 8 and still be in kindergarten, if they do not get the support they need.)

Yolanda then took out a photo from her backpack. It was a picture of us that she had kept from 2009 and the children’s Bible we gave to each of the kids when we left. We both had tears in our eyes as we looked at her, then read the message we’d written in the front cover, then looked at the battered and dog-eared pages of this precious book. She was so happy to see us. So proud of what she’d achieved and we were overcome with emotion. At the time, with our limited Spanish and resources, we were never sure how much of a difference we were making. But Yolanda showed us another photo of her group of friends and was beaming as she told us that one was at university, one had graduated from school, another had a job. It was amazing.

Then another teenager, came and gave us a massive bear hug. Alvaro. He told us he is still at school, wants to be an engineer, loves maths, has ambitions to be a professional footballer – maybe for Chelsea- and remembers the dramas we used to do. 

We also had the chance to see old friends at CCE church. We tried explaining that we were there on ‘holiday’ and were aiming to have a bit of a rest, but nevertheless we spoke at the church on Sunday morning, did two dramas at the church on Sunday night, led a group for university students and did two drama workshops for the youth night. Busy but fun. We also managed to see friends for our favourite Bolivian snack, saltañas, and climb onto the roof of one of the oldest churches. Don’t be fooled by the blue sky and sunshine. Sucre was pretty chilly. In fact we wore thermals the whole time. It was so nice to catch up with our dear friends Phil and Jan Train who totally spoilt us rotten with their generous hospitality and kindness.

We then had a slight change of plan and decided to go to a small town called Corocio for a few days. This is the place at the end of the famous Death road which Top Gear drove up on their Bolivia special. We have heard too many stories of people falling off the edge to cycle or travel down that one. Instead we went in a local minibus with a coca leaf chewing driver hurtling around the corners of the new multi-million dollar tarmac road. Marginally safer.. But only just. We stayed at a hostal which had individual bamboo cabins and treehouses. It was lovely. Proper bathrooms and glass in the windows to keep out the bugs. Dean decided to go all Bear Grylls and we hiked through the jungle and he started a campfire each night with just his flint… No matches allowed! The views were spectacular. But again pretty chilly. It is middle of winter here at the moment.

  With Yolanda in 2015, holding our photo from 2009 and her Bible.

 

Yolanda in 2007 with her Christmas presents.

  

Yolanda with her little sisters in 2009

  With tears in our eyes… The library can be seen in the background.

  At Horno Casa where the children do their homework every day.

  With Phil looking at the new plot of land they have bought.

 

   The friendly youth group at CCE church.

  Our lovely friends Elenir and Hugo

  

On the plaza. Shamelessly posing as tourists.

 I love the central market. My old casera was there, but didn’t recognise me.😥

   

  With Daniel Arostigi… Seriously upping of coolness for the day!

  Banny, who used to teach us Spanish, was very impressed how much we’ve improved. Or was she just being gorgeously kind as usual?

 Jan. What more can we say…. We love you!

   

   

  

  Happy wedding anniversary meal. XX

  

 A few pictures from our break in Corocio. It was cold. But the views were spectacular.

We are self funding our trip here this time. We are able to give any donations directly to the projects we work with when they identify needs. If you would like to make a donation please use the bank details below, which is specifically for this purpose.

Barclays Bank Mr D J Such. Sort Code 20-39-07. Account number 50163678

Postal address. Casilla 15. Cochabamba.  Bolivia. South America