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.
After a 22 hour journey we arrived in Bolivia on Thursday 21 March…. Thankfully with all our cases and luggage intact. It already feels like we have been here a month! It has been lovely to see friends and enjoy some delicious Bolivian hospitality.
At the moment we are living in a mission guesthouse, which is very comfortable. It is just round the corner from where we used to live, so it is nice to be in familiar surroundings. We went to the Saturday market and were recognised by some of the sellers and have already bumped into people we know in the street.
We were invited into the youth rehabilitation centre on Thursday afternoon and Saturday night. It was a great atmosphere. Most of the boys are new, but a few remembered us from our visit last summer.
Over the next week we will be starting our visa application and also try to find somewhere to live. We will be re-visiting all the projects we have been involved with and seeing how things have changed.
Our postal address here in Cochabamba is: Dean and Ruth Such, c/o Conexiones Entre Mundos, Casilla 15 Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Things can take up to a month to get here. Best to wrap it up well in plastic and declare anything as ‘household items’ Anything valuable or interesting goes missing.
So… After feeling like we have been in ‘limbo’ for a few months, we are now incredibly excited to say that we have decided to start planning to return to Bolivia in March! Ruth’s dad is still poorly, but he is much more stable than he was in the summer and we are pleased that he is responding well to all his medical treatment. We feel strongly that we are supposed to return to Bolivia to continue our work with the children, youth rehabilitation centre and the drama ministry. God has been working through us in this time of waiting. Our hearts are full with an amazing amount of love and compassion for the young people, and we are preparing ourselves for how He is going to work through and and use us in the future. We say ‘Yes’ to most things… So watch this space!
We are busy booking things and packing boxes, as well as doing all the reams of paperwork and police checks that are necessary. We know the system (although in Bolivia the system can change week to week.. So we are holding our breadth) and we are trying to get everything we need together.
We have a little wish list of things we’d love to take with us: a play parachute, some reusable nappies, some frisbees and bible story cubes…
We are still a little short of our fundraising target, but are so grateful for God’s provision and faithfulness. Our Stewardship account is the easiest way to support our work if you feel able. We would also like you to be involved and pray for us, both in the next few weeks and also over the whole time we are away. We will be updating this website and also posting pictures of what we are up to.
We are now registered recipients with Stewardship, who has set up a support fund for our ministry. You can support us by making gifts to Stewardship for our fund. Where applicable the value of your gifts may be increased by using Gift Aid (worth 25% if you are a UK taxpayer). See attached pdf form, or go directly to our page by clicking on the icon below.
We arrived back in the UK on April 12th after a whirlwind of goodbye parties and sad farewells. Our last few weeks and months were really busy; trying to hand over and finish the various projects that we had been involved with.
The Expressions team arrived from the UK and we used their 3 weeks to forge links with existing projects and a few new ones. It was amazing to have them with us. Even though it was a little bit squashed having six people living in our little apartment. We managed to get to Sucre, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.
This blog will include more photos than usual with captions as a way of showing what we have been up to.
As you can imagine being back the UK is quite a strange experience. Can’t understand why the temperature is below 25° and we wonder why people run away from us when we go to hug and kiss them (as is the Bolivian way!). We are really enjoying seeing friends and family again, but will never forget the amazing adventure, privilege and community that we have found in Bolivia. We will be back…
A very big thank you to everyone who has supported our journey, through prayer, emails and packages, we are still waiting for 2 Christmas packages that seem to have been lost along the way! Thanks also to those that have sent donations which miraculously arrived when we needed them. It’s been great to share our journey and ministry with you.
As part of our work at the youth prison we have the opportunity to teach art. We just work with a small group each week, which is perfect for being able to chat and answer questions. Recently we drew portraits and it was amazing to see their self esteem grow as they realised their potential. The following week we went and they had all been practicing and showed us their work with immense pride. Since the New year there have been a group of Bolivian volunteers working alongside “Save the Children” following an educational program in the prison.
Knowing that we are leaving in two months we have been trying to encourage others to get involved in the work at Cometa. There are a number of local volunteers who are going to carry on the work of Transformations. We are supporting a group who teach basketball and volleyball on Monday and Friday afternoons.
A few of the young people we have got to know well have recently been released from Cometa. We have tried to keep in touch via Facebook. We have unsuccessfully arranged to meet up with a few of them outside… This often means waiting around for a few hours at a time. Many of them have had to return to family and friends and our worry is that without support they will fall back into their old habits There is no social safety net to catch these vulnerable young people. Please keep praying for them.
I had the opportunity to go to a Women’s conference with a large group of ladies here in Cochabamba (IF Gathering). It was a lovely day to listen and chat with people working here and sharing about our experiences. Carnival was, as always, crazy! Random water balloons and foam sprayed at you from any angle at any time of the day or night. There are bands marching around the streets and people dancing in national folkloric costumes. We actually escaped the city on the main parade day this year to go for a walk in the mountains. It was a nice route alongside a river in Tiquipaya.
There has also been a referendum here to see if the current president can stand for another term. This means changing the constitution. There have been lots of protests and marches. The voting took place yesterday so we will wait and see what happens. One of the loveliest things about Bolivia is how we feel part of the family. We get “collected” by people in the culture of “collectivism”. It means we are never without a lovely invitation to go somewhere and spend time with people. It is one of the things we love most about Bolivia, the most important thing is time. Time spent with people you love and time developing friendships. We had a delicious BBQ with friends who are part of a couples group from church. We cooked, ate, told jokes, laughed, sang songs and shared stories. We are looking forward to having a creative arts team of three people from the UK to visit us from 16 March for three weeks. We are planning to show them all our projects and take them to various youth centres and churches in Cochabamba, Sucre and Santa Cruz. Please pray for safety and for many opportunities to share the Good News.
If you would like to give financially towards our work here in Bolivia please use the following bank details.
Fundraising account: Mr D Such Barclays Sort code 20 39 07 Account no. 50163678
Rainy season in Cochabamba… Has not been that rainy! In fact we have been having record breaking temperatures of 35 degrees (too hot) and just a few thunder and lightning storm downpours. So still shorts and T shirts for us!
Due to our visa, we had to leave the country. We decided to spend a few weeks in Mexico staying at an Air B&B near the beach in December. We had a super relaxing time and celebrated Christmas and Ruth’s birthday with sandy toes, and few mojitos and a view of the sea.
A new year and a new flat. We sadly had to move out of our lovely flat which we have called home for the last 14 months. Luckily we have found another place about 15 minutes walk from the school. This time we have a view, rather than a brick wall and a tin roof. We thought we would miss the howling dogs, the 2.00 am Mariachi bands and car alarms going off all the time. But rest assured we have dogs, bands and car alarms here too! This is Bolivia after all.
We continue to help at the girls refuge home called Mosojyan. We have been teaching them dramas for them to practice and perform at their events. They are really talented and enthusiastic – always wanting to play the main parts and can mimic all our gestures. The next challenge is now to get them to create their own dramas and encourage them to express their feelings. We accompanied them on a “hike” into the mountains in Parque Tunari. It was, in true Bolivian style, a bit haphazard…. No map… No risk assessment ( what is that? ) no shade… But of course lots of food! After a long slog uphill we found a rocky patch to have lunch, sing songs and play some games. It was such a joy to see these girls having fun, retrieving some of their childhood and leaving their worries and experiences behind them – even just for a short while. We have grown to love them so much.
One 14 year old girl, said looking at a single wispy cloud in the sky, “Wow look, you can see the sky moving!”
Another replied, “No, it’s the Earth spinning”
She was not convinced that it could be the Earth spinning.
Both were rather confused when we explained that actually it was the wind blowing the cloud across the sky.
Whilst we were away, they had an end of year event at Cometa. We were both sad to miss it as it involved the boys and girls performing special things they had prepared and giving certificates for achievements. We heard about it from Richard and have a few photos to share. Many of the boys said thank you to the volunteers who go in to help and expressed their gratitude for what they learned. The Christmas boxes were a huge surprise! No-one expected anything and they really appreciated the basic toiletries and personal items. They are now all proudly wearing their new sandals and even wanted to prove that they were wearing their new boxers by showing me the elastic tops, which I politely told them was enough… I believed them!
Thank you to those who contributed to the cost of these. Along with local Bolivian churches we were able to buy boxes for 100 boys in Cometa, 12 girls and 20 boys in CAMINO.
Taking a slight break from doing drama in Cometa we decided to help teach basketball with three volunteers from the USA. Our skills are improving, but it is joining in and having fun that seems to speak the most. Even on one of those very rare rainy days here in Cochabamba. We also enjoy playing volleyball with one of the Spanish teachers from our language school, who is a semi professional player and has agreed to go in to help.
Some of the boys are allowed day release to go to college in the afternoon. They are on summer holiday at the moment, so we are doing some craft activities with them. We have made juggling balls from flour and balloons (thanks Youtube for the idea), friendship bracelets, threaded beads for necklaces, tie dye t shirts and drawing. It is wonderful to see them concentrating on something, focusing on a simple task and it gives us time to chat. One of our most valuable tools here has been our “story cube”. A book without words. The novelty and simplicity of being able to tell the story of Jesus in this way has been remarkable. Some boys want to see it every week and hear the story again and again.
We are busy planning for a visit from a team from Hemel Hempstead called Expressions who are coming out to Bolivia, from 16 March to 6 April. They hope to be able to teach dance, music and drama to the different projects we know here in Cochabamba. We will visit Sucre, where we worked in 2007-09 and co-ordinate with a church in Santa Cruz who do similar work to us in a youth rehabilitation centre. Please pray for them as they prepare for their trip.
Thank you for everyone who has sent us donations for the Christmas boxes we have organised for the kids in Mosojyan and Cometa. We have been shopping in the cancha and been busy wrapping gifts and essentials such as boxer shorts, flip flops, toothpaste and soap, knickers and hairbrushes along with a few goodies.
We know that we have a few parcels in the post, but nothing has arrived since August…so we can wait for a bit longer. But thank you in advance for thinking of us.
For example, when you look around the room and you realise you are surrounded by Judges and lawyers dressed in sharp suits and you are the centre of attention. No, we hadn’t broken the law, we had been invited to give an account of our work with the young offenders to the Prison Fellowship. A team of Christian Lawyers who want to make a difference in the city of Cochabamba.
I met Juana (the team leader) in 1996, on my first trip to Bolivia. She was heading up the Christian Union in those days and has since gone from strength to strength. She worked for the Government for a while and is now a trained lawyer, soon to become a restorative justice judge. She gives so much of her time helping others and trying to change a corrupt judicial system across the whole of Bolivia. The meeting was not something we would have chosen to speak at, but our Bolivian friends seem have a way of getting us involved! The meeting was a great success even though the intimidation element made us struggle with our spanish. In 2016 we maybe taking a few lawyers with us to see what happens in the youth prison at grass roots level.
Our time at COMETA has been eventful to say the least. Last Sunday whilst visiting the lads I was attacked by a dog. The dog had been there for sometime, and we had given it a wide berth. But without warning it launched itself out of the shadows and sunk it’s teeth into my arm and leg. The shock was like being hit by a baseball bat! After a few seconds of disbelief reality hit home, when I realised how many diseases a bite like that could cause. Not our best moment at COMETA. (We miss the NHS… )
Fortunately the wound was treated fairly quickly and the large dose of antibiotics should scare off any nasties.
It’s so easy to get discouraged when things like this happen as we feel our work is going so well at the moment. We have been impressing the girls with our cooking skills each Wednesday and teaching them about household budgeting and hospitality. We continue to teach the boys Biblical values and self esteem through our weekly drama sessions.
We now know all 90 boys by name and have developed some great relationships. Recently at the end of each session we have been able spend time chatting with them about their feelings, future and spiritual growth. One lad wanted to know how he could have a relationship with God and asked about local churches when he receives his freedom. Freedom and God sound like a great combination to me. These young people are starting to feel like family, and even though it’s great to see some of them leave it’s also difficult to let them go.
Community is a great part of being here in Bolivia, you don’t have to try that hard to feel loved or a part of a group. There are no age limitations and very often you will find 30-40 year olds attending youth evenings. This is great for me- being in my early 30’s!! There are many church groups that we are now very much a part of. One such group are the Brazilians. We have been friends with Rodrigo for some years now and he leads a church of 200+ Brazilian medical students here in Cochabamba. Unfortunately they have a bit a reputation of being a closed group and not integrating with their Bolivian neighbours. One of our latest challenges was to run a seminar on servanthood for the 20 leaders of Rodrigo’s church… nice easy one! This was an excellent opportunity to practice our Spanish and develop deeper relationships. We split leaders into groups and used drama to break the ice. We also discussed practical ways in which they could serve their community, putting Biblical truths into practice. The evening was a great success. The pastor lead by example by serving us all with huge amounts of pizza – I think he did all the clearing up as well. Little by little…!
As Christmas is fast approaching we are putting together gifts and essentials for the young people we work with. As many do not have parents to visit them, we will be sharing this task with the local volunteers and churches that support the work here in Cochabamba. We are hoping to finish before our visa runs out on the 4th December.
Our next blog will be coming to you from Mexico!
1 John 3:17
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
1 Juan 3:17
Si alguien que posee bienes materiales ve que su hermano está pasando necesidad, y no tiene compasión de él, ¿cómo se puede decir que el amor de Dios habita en él?
Thanks for all your support and interest in our work… If you would like to make a donation towards christmas presents for the young people in COMETA (youth rehab centre) and Mosoj Yan (support home for sexually abused girls) 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
Please take a look at the following link. We are now very proud to be ambassadors for Serve Abroad…
Time flies when you are busy…. We cannot believe we celebrated our one year anniversary here in Bolivia on 25th September.
We returned to COMETA to begin the second phase of our work there. We have been teaching drama and mime alongside team building/ self esteem games. A number of the boys have been released, which is great news, and we hope they will come to the drop in centre which is open once a month. Being here for an extended length of time has given us the opportunity to get to know some of the boys better and find out about their home situation. It is hard to see some of them return to their old lifestyle after being in the rehabilitation centre. It is like there is an invisible elastic band pulling them back. It just shows how much power their addictions have over them and the consequences of not having a structured or stable family life. We saw one of the boys from CAMINO named J, in the park sniffing glue in the middle of the day. He hardly recognised us, even though we had been working with him for months. What would you do? He was asking us for money, saying he was hungry. But we knew if we gave him money he would probably just spend it on drugs. So we went home and made him some soup, bought some bread and a drink. By the time we went back to give it to him – he was gone. The next day we got in touch with the social workers who said they were aware of where he was, but couldn’t force him to go back to CAMINO. Another girl, A, had been released, but had no-one to look after her, so she was sent to the half way house for girls, but escaped and has been caught being involved in a robbery. She is back in COMETA and although it is sad to see her back, she is probably safer there than in her life outside on the streets. Another boy, JC, who has officially finished his sentence, but no-one from his family will come to collect him, so he is stuck in limbo, every day waiting by the gates hoping his Mum or Dad will show up.
We were asked to run a family day at the rehabilitation centre one Sunday afternoon. This was supposed to create an atmosphere where the parents can spend time with their children and participate in games together, creating memories in a positive environment. So we created a fun quiz, got them to construct wobbly towers from spaghetti and marshmallows, played games and Richard took refreshments. It was lovely to see the parents join in, laughing and smiling with the young people. Often the atmosphere on visitors day is pretty painful, but the event ended with many parents thanking us publicly for our work.
Our neighbour here, Anna, is the country director for the charity Tearfund. She received a team of UK volunteers who partner with Bolivian young people on local projects. She asked us to run a drama training day. We said yes, of course! It was fun to work with UK volunteers (with the luxury of speaking English and having a translator for the Bolivian young people!) They will be working with HIV and AIDS education, abused women and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. By the end of two hours we had oscar winning performances and lots of laughter. Drama really is a great way of communicating a message – especially if you are willing to laugh and not take yourself too seriously.
After a lot of prayer and thought we have decided to stay here until March/ April next year. Even though our visa runs out in December, we have worked out that we can leave the country for a few weeks and come back as tourists for 90 days. This means we will have a bit more time to prepare for a team coming from Hemel Hempstead – Expressions. Please support them as much as you can…
We were really pleased when two new projects came our way recently. One was a girls refuge called Mosoj Yan. This is a place where girls can go to live if they have been sexually abused and have a baby. The girls are aged between 12-17. They have counselling and activities on site. They learn how to look after themselves and their babies. We have been invited to teach drama as a way of discussing principals from the Bible and self esteem. We can be much more evangelistic here as the organisation is run by Christians. So far they have been really enthusiastic and responded positively. By far the hardest thing for us is seeing the scars from self harm running up their arms – these girls are so young.
A small Christian school have partnered with our volunteer organisation, Serve abroad (www.serveabroad.com) and are interested in receiving teacher training. So I have volunteered to “Adopt a Teacher” which is basically being a mentor to a teacher. Her name is Belen (Bethlehem) and she teaches year 3. It has been interesting so far. I have been observing lessons and giving feedback. Now we are sharing some ideas and team teaching. It will also involve doing some staff training over the next couple of months.
Last weekend we went to hike the Choro trail from La Paz to Coroico. This is an Inca built trail starting at El Cumbre (4100m) climbing to 4900m and passing over the mountain summit then descending to Chairo at 1200m. We did this hike 7 years ago with our friend Caz, but this time we went with Mauge our Spanish teacher and a number of other students from the language school. So armed with our tents, water and supplies for three days hiking we set off. It was a real adventure. We only saw two other groups on the trail – apart from the llamas and condors. We remembered it all being downhill, but obviously we had selectively forgotten about the steep inclines and slippery steps aptly named the Steps of Diablo. After walking 21 km on day 1, 17 km on day 2 and 16 km on day 3 we finished feeling shattered with aching knees and a few blisters and bug bites to show for our achievements. The scenery was spectacular.
We now have a few weeks ahead to continue with our work. We are hoping to make up a number of Christmas boxes for the boys in the youth centre and the girls at the refuge, so if you would like to donate towards that then please let us know. Our account for donations is Barclays, Mr D J Such 20-39-07. Account number 50163678
Thanks for taking an interest in what we are up to here in Bolivia. We always love to hear from friends and family back home so leave a message to keep in touch. Our postal address is Ruth and Dean Such, Conexiones entre mundos. Casilla 15, Cochabamba, Bolivia. Packages take about 8 weeks!!