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My 2016 Bucket List

A delayed Happy New Year to everyone!! This post has come later than I would have liked, but I guess ‘better late than never’. 2016 has been nothing short of brilliant so far, so I have greater expectations for the rest of the year.

Now i’m sure you know already that I love to travel and experience new cultures, and of course taste the local delicasses. But travelling for me is more than just a holiday, or collecting stamps in my passport, it’s an opportunity for me to learn about myself and the way in which others live. However as much as I love to do this, I realised it can become a major distraction. There are a number of things I would like to accomplish within a specific time frame, and in order for these goals to be met I have come to the painful conclusion that some thing’s just have to give.

Now abstaining from travelling was never an option, nor was giving up other things I love and enjoy however, I’ve decided to be intentional with prioritising my future ventures, university, as well as my social life in order of importance. It’s funny some may call me dramatic, but I almost see it as a temporary loss. I’m a firm believer in deferred gratification and so I’m making a conscious effort to focus on the bigger picture rather than the now, whilst maintaining the stance that I must enjoy the present.

As a result I’ve come up with a bucket list of things that I would like to do this year. So as I complete each one I will be ticking them off.

Bucket list 2016:

Skiing holiday

Horse riding lessons

Volunteering: Liberty

Go to a music festival

Go hiking somewhere in England

Eat at a vegan restaurant

Learn to play the drums

Fly first class

Go camping

Driving a Formula 1 car experience

Visit the London Eye / Shard

See the Lion King in theatre

Learn how to use a sewing machine

Witness the birth of a baby

Go on a road trip

Go scuba diving

…Amongst a whole load of other things! You may be thinking this post is timely as my birthday is approaching very soon however, I’ve had my goals for the New Years set since December but decided to do a bucket list alongside my major goals.

‘The saying goes, work hard, play hard’.  If you’ll like to join me why not share some of the things you’ll like to do this new year!

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Now I’m not one to broadcast the specifics of my life, however this year has been a particularly good year. This is a brief overview of how I’ve been blessed beyond measure…

 

Since completing my undergraduate degree in May 2014, I graduated in November 2014. Throughout that time, I was applying for jobs, admittedly not half as much or as thoroughly as I should have been. So I guess the results were a reflection of my efforts, not many interviews were forthcoming and those that I did get I did not get the jobs. Now I told myself that regardless of how desperate I became I would not go back to retail (personal preference) and so in September 2014, I was blessed with a job working at a secondary school as a learning support assistant –  this is a job that I did not even apply for, the way in which I got this job was a miracle in itself.

 

Little did I know that all the skills and the experience gained during my time there would be what I would refer to at future interviews. The hours were awkward and the pay wasn’t great, for a 22-year-old who still wanted to have a social life, the pay wasn’t really cutting It and to be quite frank I never imagined finding myself in a seemingly hopeless situation. I refused to take things for granted because although it was a means to an end, whilst I was there I knew I had so much more to offer than what the job entailed.

 

Whilst working at the school, I applied for a masters in social work course through UCAS in January 2015, and received 4 out of 5 interviews of which I received a confirmation of my place at my first choice university in April 2015 (this is a blog for another day, God really had my back). In that very same month I was offered a job as a children and family support worker which Is the role I had wanted since graduating university. Now this is where it gets interesting, again in that same month I attended an assessment day for a volunteer project abroad of which 2 days after getting a new job I was offered a place with a charity called ICS – Tearfund to volunteer in Bolivia for 10 weeks. That month showed me the true meaning of “My year of open doors”.

 

Now all was going well, however something definitely had to give. Throughout this time, I had been volunteering with Victim support for over 2 years and also at a project run by volunteer matters in Croydon council working with families placed on a child protection plan/ child in need. I had to make the difficult decision of either not going to Bolivia or not taking up the job offer. Either way I knew I had to make a decision and make it fast. The first decision was quite simple I resigned from my job at the secondary school in March 2015 and so I was working at the family business for a few months before these window of opportunities came flooding my way.

 

Its funny because the very things we pray to God to bless us with is what he gives us, however we don’t pray for the grace to make the right decisions which I found paramount and relevant at this particular stage in my life.

 

In an attempt not to bore you, I decided to let the job know that I would not be able to take up their offer as my volunteer project abroad started in less than 6 weeks. The nature of the job required me to do at least 6 months as I would be given a number of cases and working with children and families. This was a tough decision because this is the very job I had wanted ever since graduating, as it would have provided me with invaluable experience leading up to my MA in social work. Anyway God came through again and I received an email just a few days before going abroad informing me that the job would be there for me upon arrival.

 

Fast forward to December 2015 I’ve completed my first semester of MA Social work degree whilst working flexible hours as a children and family support worker. I still help out occasionally at the family nursery, I’ll be interviewing and assessing future volunteers for ICS projects abroad, and I am starting my placement in February 2016 as a student social worker at a drug and alcohol recovery service and I can not wait to see what 2016 has in store for me. The only way is up!

 

I really feel like 2015 was the year that God revealed himself to me in ways that I could never imagine.  Yes there will be challenges along the way however continue to keep God at the centre of everything.

 

Wishing you all a Happy New Year in advance and I hope to be blogging more frequently in the New Year. xXx

 

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The complexities of articulating my experiences

I am mindful of the fact that there is a huge time gap between my previous post and this one, reason being because of all the change that has happened over these past few weeks.

I had not shared my Tv debut in Bolivia 2 days in a row or the wonderful surprise leaving dinner Team Patsida threw for me, nor did I mention the interesting journey I had back home (To London) by myself. Sorry about the brief passing statement but hopefully the pictures below will give you an idea of some of my experiences since the last blog. However not to dwell too much on the information I haven’t blogged about. My life has literally been super busy since arriving back home.

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My routine has completely changed, and I can say 5 weeks into my new postgraduate course I am fully settled in to uni life.

However, the most frequently asked question by far has been ‘How was Bolivia?’, ‘What did you do out there?’, ‘Was it life changing?’ All extremely relevant questions however I can’t express how difficult it is to answer them. I’m still trying to figure out whether it is the amount of time it would take for me to give a real and justified explanation that makes it so daunting to answer, or whether I haven’t quite come to terms with all my reflections about my time in Bolivia. I seem to result to the generic “It was an amazing experience, but extremely challenging!”

I hear you ask so really, how was it?

Well the highs definitely outweighed the lows, the highlight of my whole experience was my time at Camp Kewina (See previous blog post). I really enjoyed the experience of learning Spanish and being on a team with the most amazing Bolivians (shout out to Madre Jackie, Tia Abryl, Laura, Princess David and Daniel!) and of course Brits 😀

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That begs the question why?

Looking back, it is fair to say the whole experience exposed a huge amount of my weaknesses but also built on my strengths.

What did you do out there?

We worked with Tearfunds partner project PATSIDA – in the capital of Bolivia, Sucre. PATSIDA signifies ‘Practicando el amore en tiempo de sida’ (Practising love In times of (Hiv) Aids. My group consisted of our team leader, 5 British volunteers (including me) and 5 Bolivian volunteers and we ran workshops on HIV/AID prevention and awareness as well as a number of olympiadas for local school in order to educate them about the risk of HIV. We also ran weekly sexual abuse prevention workshops for children aged 5-12 years old and in sub groups ran skilled based but empowering sessions with teenage girls who have been victims of sexual abuse.

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Was it life changing?

MOST DEFINTELY YES! But in ways I did not expect. Whilst being within such a close proximity to females who were victims of sexual abuse, and children at risk of sexual abuse, yes it makes you grateful for your life back home and the support systems you have. Although we were placed in emotive situations, the biggest life lesson I took from the whole experience was one which my dad constantly reminds me: “If you can’t change the situation, change your approach”. Of which I failed miserably at on many occasions. Its always so easy to realise what you ‘could have…’, ‘should have…’, ‘would have…’ done in hindsight, however whilst immersed in the experience it is (dare I say) natural to be reactive rather than taking a step back to reflect on the situation you find yourself in.

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So when I am asked the inevitable ‘How was Bolivia?’ I will continue to respond by saying. “It was amazing, but extremely challenging!” – whilst readers of this blog post would know the thoughts behind that vague response, I am hoping that a correlation has been made to the word novaturient”

(Adj.) desiring or seeking powerful change in one’s life, behaviour, or situation

Thanks for reading after an almost 2 month break 😀

p.s. This blog may take a drastic turn into the realms of social work, if it interests you, that makes 2 of us, if not there will be the occasional random life posts of moments of reflection.

The half way mark – WEEK 5!

Yesterday marked 5 weeks in Bolivia and we all agreed to celebrate by having a “lye-in” on Friday morning after having early starts every single day this week – FUN TIMES!  As you can tell by reading my blogs there’s been so many parts to this ICS – TEARFUND journey. Starting from arrival in Cochabamba, to Camp Kewina, then finally to our project city of Sucre. It’s been nothing short of amazing but frustrating at times. Thank God I am able to write about possibly the most productive week on project thus far, watch out this is going to be a long one!

We kick started Monday with a radio show, with the Bolivian volunteers taking on the lead role of explaining who we are and what we are doing here in Sucre. The lovely Freya gave a scientific explanation of the way in which HIV is transmitted in the body, whilst Ruth our team leader translated it into Espanol. It was a great radio show and we hope to do it regularly depending on our schedule.

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We left the Bolivians to take a break whilst we took on the task of renewing our visas so we headed to the immigration office! I expected to be in Immigration for the better part of the afternoon, after my few but distinct memories of the Nigerian embassy in London. HOWEVER, we were all in and out within 30 minutes and the best part of it, we received 2 additional stamps in our passports… WINNING!!

Tuesday was an interesting day at Mariposa. As explained in my previous blog post, Mariposa is a centre set up as a place of refuge for females who have been sexually abused. However recently it has extended its work to children aged 4-12 years old who are at risk of sexual abuse. We delivered a workshop to 60 children on friendship and so we kick started the session with a puppet show based on the story of the Good Samaritan – This was a HIT!

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We then separated the children into two groups based on their ages where I led the “good and bad words” activity. With minimal Spanish to my disposal I wrote a script the day before and learnt it for the session. This session was extremely important in teaching the young children the power of their words. And so we gave them pieces of paper with a mixture of encouraging and discouraging words and asked them to place it on the correct side of the board. The highlight for me was the game of pass the parcel ( a seemingly new game to Bolivians) where each layer had a sticky note with compliments which the children had to give to someone else in the room… who needs sweets when you have kind words!

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We finished the session with a time of creativity for the children to make bookmarks as a gift for their secret friend!

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Wednesday we arrived at the office super early, after securing a contact the previous day with a secondary school in Sucre. We had a brilliant start to the day with all 11 of team Patsida ready and pumped for their first HIV/AIDS workshop in Sucre. With spirits high and the Brits having learnt their segment of the workshop in Spanish we got taxis to the secondary school. Upon arrival we were greeted by the director and after 10 minutes of slight confusion we were taken to the classrooms. We split into 2 groups to deliver the workshops in separate classes simultaneously. With a mixture of confused, indifferent and excited faces we set up and delivered what we’d collectively consider as a brilliant first workshop. It wasn’t until we got back to the office that we were congratulated as we had successfully given a workshop to a school which is renowned in Sucre for the most “unruly” teenagers!

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Thursday was another fun filled day at Mariposa. With 3 team members down, it was just as well that there were less children than usual for the afternoon session. We delivered a workshop introducing the prevention of sexual abuse. We started off with an activity which required the children to distinguish which parts of their bodies were public and private. With two pictures of a boy and a girl on the wall, we gave them lollipop sticks with a red (private) and green (public)side to show when we pointed to different parts of the body. We taught them a song which was perfect for this session which they absolutely loved. Time was not on our side so we had to round up the session with the children drawing a door and a lock on a picture of knickers for the chicas and boxers for the chicos.

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In the evening we gate crashed (not really) the ex volunteers weekly meeting at the office and we used that time to pray collectively for different people and topics. We then spent the rest of the meeting discussing our final event. More details will be explained in another post.

The most exciting part of Thursday in my opinion was the new arrival of my Host families’ baby daughter!! Mother and Daughter are doing well 😀

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So as you can see we’ve had an extremely busy week so far and the weekend is only going to get busier. We are hoping that the rain will hold out till Monday so that we can deliver what we deem as a brilliantly planned and thought through family fun day in the park on Sunday.

Funny moment this week:

  • The secondary school students asked me where I was from to which I replied “Afro-Bolivian” (see below)….

    Can you see the resemblance?
    Can you see the resemblance?

…THEY BELIEVED ME?!?! I then told them I was from London, to which they did not believe me. .. Nevertheless we ended question time with a selfie.

(I’m still in the process of explaining to Bolivians that England is very diverse which is why black and white people can identify as British).

Till next time, Ciao!

#10WeeksWithTearfund Click this link to follow our group blog www.livinlavidasucre.wordpress.com

Bolivia Update…

It’s been over 2 weeks since Team Patsida said our goodbyes to the rest of team Bolivia who are on projects in different cities in Bolivia. We got a flight from Cochabamba airport to Sucre on a Sunday morning where some of our host families were there to welcome us. We moved into what we would call home for the remaining 8 weeks and had to quickly adjust to the new environment.

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We kick started the first week in training with Pastor Eduardo. He taught us about HIV/Aids and some of the misconceptions people have about it here in Bolivia. We heard some very painful cases of individuals affected by it and their stories. Finally we received information surrounding sexual abuse.

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A brief summary of a long story! There’s a young girl who lives just outside of Sucre in a little town. She was promised work by a guy from Santa Cruz of which she was told she would be babysitting. Little did she know the man had different motives. For the next couple of years she was sexually exploited and sold to many men and as a result caught HIV. She is currently in hospital getting treatment, her community have disowned her and her family do not want to know her. The pastors family will be taking her in once she’s been discharged from the hospital and we as volunteers thought it would be nice to make her a few gifts upon arrival. Jeremiah 29:11 was the first things that came to my mind so we wrote it in Spanish! Stories like this makes the work we are doing here in Sucre that little bit more urgent. Running workshops surrounding HIV/ AIDS and sexual abuse is not easy but it is essential in a city like Sucre

With a few of my team members really emotional from the stories we heard and videos we watched it stirred up a passion to educate individuals about the ever increasing rates. We spent a few days planning our workshops for the month of August, and discovering people’s areas of strengths and expertise within our team.

Last week marked Bolivia Independence day which happened to fall on 6th August. There was a three day holiday for Bolivians between Wednesday to Friday, we capitalized on this opportunity and took no days off.

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Rather we used some of the games that the volunteers from the previous cycle had left and thought of new ideas. As a group we were able to form new games which were all with the aim of educating people about HIV/AIDS.

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I took on the trustee role of camera woman for the majority of the fayre and helped out with the sweets game, once I had got to grips with the Spanish way of asking “How many sweets are in here?”. It was an extremely hot day with team Patsida all searching for the nearest spot of shade. I had a Bolivian man come and ask me whether we provided hand sanitizers for individuals with HIV. This question made me realise how important our work here in Sucre is. With so many misconceptions surrounding the virus, it makes our jobs here so important.

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In Bolivia 8 out of 10 children are sexually abused, many of the perpertrators are family members or those known to them. Every Tuesday and Thursday for the past two weeks we have been going to Patsida’s partner project in Sucre called Mariposa. They work with females who have been sexually abused and provide accommodation for them and their children. They have recently started providing morning and afternoon classes for children aged 5-11 who are at risk of sexual abuse. Our role is to provide homework support for the children and assist the teachers with workshops. Next week we will be taking on the lead role by running workshops for these children all with the aim of educating them about sexual abuse and its prevention.

With lots of planning ahead of us and workshops to give, we have a busy few weeks ahead of us!

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p.s  Thank you to everyone checking up on me, I do get wifi quite frequently and I am doing great!

Love and blessings xox

Camp Kewina

3600 metres above sea levels with high altitudes, little did we know this would be the most amazing 4 days we’ve experienced in a long time. With temperatures of about 20-30 degrees during the day, rapidly decreasing to lows of 3 degrees by night. Everyone was ready and packed with their thermals, gloves, scarves and winter jackets ready to conquer the varying weather of Kewina, Cochabamba!

Day 1 : Journey to Camp Kewina

Sunday morning our Bolivian Counterparts (In – country team members) arrived to the guest house. We were all packed and ready for the 2 hour “coach” journey to Camp Kewina, ready for orientation. Some of the British volunteers had reservations about putting their rucksacks and suitcases on top of the coach, whilst others (such as myself), went with the flow ensuring my Iphone and purse was in my pocket. As we entered into the coach we were all given a name of a Bolivian Volunteer on a small piece of paper. The only instruction we were given was to keep the name a secret and not to forget the name we were given. Following this we were all excited about the journey ahead, as we walked onto the coach; string was passed through varying levels of the seats forcing everyone who entered the coach to either crawl or leap through the gaps. From this moment, we were graced with games and activities for the duration of the journey in an attempt to get to know our Bolivian counterparts.

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Upon arrival to the gorgeous Kewina, I felt the full effects of the high altitudes instantly. However I could not complain, the freshness of the air made up for the fact that I was suffering from breathlessness. We received a warm welcome from the manager of Kewina and the volunteer workers, many of which happened to be ex Tearfund volunteers from previous cycles.  The intitiation process commenced and ‘Bienvenidos’ was in full swing, as we walked into the hall confetti was flying all over the place as well as party poppers and traditional Bolivian music.

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After the welcome party, all 40+ of us were given a tour of the beautiful grounds of Kewina, it was so scenic and looked like something out of a movie. We were informed that non venomous snakes, owls and Andean Condor (the Bolivian national bird) were some of the many creatures we would see on our tour of the grounds. Oh the Joys! Following us on the tour was the most intelligent dog I have ever come across – Goldie!

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We had then commenced the first of many team building activities. Our task was for all of team Patsida to draw a tree using the strings provided and without touching the actual pen. This task required coordination, excellent verbal communication skills and patience. Considering the fact that the British volunteers spoke very basic Spanish and the Bolivian volunteers spoke very little English, Our team leader was our only hope as she speaks both languages fluently! We were given time to reflect after, about the strengths and weaknesses of our team work during the task. This was essential in identifying areas of improvement for each of us, especially as we will be working in these groups, on project for the remaining 9 weeks here in Bolivia.

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Later in the evening after a delicious Bolivian Dinner which constituted of rice, potatoes, vegetables and beef; we delved into a praise and worship session.  At this point we were all extremely full from the Dinner and sleep was the only thing on our minds. Little did we know we were about to sing the most amazing Spanish worship songs (which I fell in love with instantly). So much so, I asked the worship leader for the name of the song and artist… (Instantly added to my Itunes playlist). It’s so beautiful to know that worship is not bound by language.

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Highlights of Day 2:

Day 1 of Temi’s salon commenced and customers started rolling in! With many of the volunteers wanting to keep their hair out of their faces, little did I know this was the beginning of a daily routine of French plaiting and braiding my fellow volunteers hair!

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The day was jam packed with worship, devotion, workshops, team building activities, food, food and more food!

As part of the integration process we were given a task to host British Culture night in order to give our Bolivian counterparts a feel of our culture. We started the night off by singing our national anthem of which I embarrassingly, only knew “God save the Queen”.  The night included cooking a meal for approximately 50 people and hosting games such as musical bumps, pin the tail on the donkey, pass the parcel, and the infamous apple bobbing. Forfeits such as push ups were underway for the Bolivians who answered questions incorrectly.  It was a huge success with the Chicken Korma and apple crumble being an absolute hit!

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Highlights of Day 3:

The Bolivian reciprocated with their equally as amazing culture night! With the dining hall beautifully decorated and for every one male volunteer, two British female volunteers would dance in with them to traditional Bolivian music. The night constituted of muchos dancing which I can’t complain about, gifts given to the British volunteers and the highlight for me, was the 10 minute long Bolivian national anthem. As always the food was delicious, definitely cooked with love not leaving much room for the dessert which was just as nice!

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Day 4:

Our final day at Camp Kewina was the most labour intensive day. Each group was given a task to do within the local community. This was intended to put everything we have learnt, from the team building activities over the past 3 days into practice. Team Patsida were given tools to weed the surroundings of a local school and bin bags and gardening gloves, to collect all the rubbish from the school grounds. In the 25 degree heat and a high surface area to cover it was definitely a mind over matter type of task.

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As part of Friendship day in Bolivia, we had to make gifts for the person who we had been given the name of, at the start of the trip. We were told to say something positive about the person then give them the gift. This was the perfect way to end 4 days of pure Bliss!

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The Layover

London Heathrow -> Sao Paola, Brazil

One by one we all started arriving at London Heathrow Terminal 5, each of us congregating on the floor of Cafe Nero, sitting down sharing our thoughts and feelings about the journey which lay ahead of us. We followed the normal procedures; check in, security and then the best part duty free. We decided to eat a cheeky Wetherspoons lunch before boarding the plane, which happened to be my saving grace. Of all the flights I have ever been on, British Airways was one which I had never experienced. Quite frankly I had to pass on the food served.

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All 18 (but 1) of team Bolivia were placed next to each other on the flight. And yes, it was me who was seated in isolation away from Team Bolivia. To my left was an empty seat and to my right was an elderly man who is originally from Netherlands but lived in São Paulo Brazil for over 25 years. As I looked ahead I couldn’t but notice a guy making an epic entrance by stumbling unto the plane a few minutes before take off. The commotion he had made just to get to his seat was one to remember, breathing heavily, hitting people to his left and right with his huge rucksack, I looked around and realised he was destined to sit next to me. I asked him where he was off to and he explained he is originally from Brazil but studies at university in London, travelling back home for summer.  Conversation started flowing particularly between the young student and I, he was kind enough to give me a crash course in Spanish which he spoke fluently. During the next 3 hours we engaged in discussions about cultural differences, advice about staying safe in Bolivia.

The Layover

We landed in São Paulo, Brazil at 5am and our connecting flight was scheduled for 4pm the same day. With a very tired group and 60 minutes free wifi connection we had to make the best use of our 10 hour Lay over. My trustee multiple extension came into good use. With each of us taking turns to charge our electronic devices. Western dependencies!

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Sao Paola, Brazil -> Cochabamba

As we passed through Security we all headed to Starbucks to buy snacks/drinks however little did we know that our mastercards would all be declined. At that point I accepted the fact that it wasn’t meant to be. We boarded our final flight to Cochabamba, which was 3.5 hours and at this point we were all just ready to get to Bolivia. We marvelled at the beautiful scenery we saw as the flight was descending. Altogether we spent 29 hours from London Heathrow to Bolivia, Cochabamba. The Journey was all worth it when we were greeted by our Bolivian counterparts and team leaders with ‘Bienvenidos’ signs, multiple balloons and massive cheers!

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This pretty much sums up how I felt upon arrival in Cochabamba

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15/07/2015 – The Interlude

After spending a good hour contemplating on a title for this blog, I decided to just start typing. Then I quickly realised I needed a topic to write about. In my mind I had completely underestimated the brain energy needed to type a blog article. Yet here I am typing about the process in which I found myself trying to write this blog. Ironic! This has been a long time coming and in hindsight I should have started blogging from the moment I found out I was selected on this volunteer placement abroad to Bolivia.

It really has been a journey thus far and I’m not even en route yet. From the interview process, to the waiting to find out if I had got a place, to the fabulous orientation week, to the realisation that I had 10 weeks to reach my £1500 target. Amongst all of that, trying to have a social life whilst working and receiving coursework from university. (I further digress) In summary a lot has happened leading up to today (departure day).

The journey officially begins now! This is the point where I decide to name this ‘The Interlude’…With an 11.5 hour flight to Brazil and a 10 hour layover ahead of me I’m buzzing to see what 10 weeks in Bolivia has in store for my team and I!

#10WeeksWithTearfund Click this link to follow our group blog www.livinlavidasucre.wordpress.com

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