Expectations Revisited

I talked a lot about my expectations coming to Bolivia and living here at Familia Feliz, and I imagine it's something I'll continue to come back to as my perspective continuously evolves and changes. The last few weeks my Spanish has started to improve, inch by inch, and with it my understanding of many situations has increased.

Sometimes to expect to get a picture of one person and end up with one of someone else.

I quickly learned to not expect school if it looks like it's going to rain. That means activities at home instead.

Our perceptions of each kid are always changing as we learn more about their history (and misbehaviors).

01 / 06

Chore time involves a lot of cooking and cleaning (a lot of the former, just barely enough of the latter). For some of the volunteers (i.e. me), it can actually be a challenge to find ways to help with chores without getting in the way. I've learned it will take me about 8 times as long to chop wood as Rodrigo, 3 times as long to cook a meal as Zoro (for a third of the tastiness), and that I'm 10 times more likely to put dishes back in the wrong place as the Leones, who happen to be very particular about their bowls.

Veronica and Alison happily sacrificing themselves to smile for a photo instead of continuing with their English homework.

Adapting Back-and-Forth

Long before I came to Bolivia, I was taught to appreciate and respect other cultures. I learned that America is not inherently the best country and that English is not a universally spoken language. I read about Finland's superior education system and South Korea's lack of mass shootings, about Kenya's ability to manage and protect it's natural resources and the respect of native cultures in South American countries. I came to Bolivia expecting to escape from America's flaws.

That's probably why I felt guilty when I found myself missing some of the first-world amenities of the United States. While I have yet to regret my decision to come and am grateful for each of my experiences here, I've learned to appreciate the privileges of living in a developed country. While it's important to recognize the flaws in one's homeland, I've discovered it's just as important to accept the positives. Like educational and medical infrastructure.

At the same time, I'm also adjusting to how things operate in Bolivia. At first, it was easy to recognize the differences between the educational resources we have here and the ones available in the States. Even with the United States' rather embarrassing public education system, the promise of, say, routines you can count on or curriculums that have been updated since 1990 can become surprisingly appealing in its absence.

Attempting to teach science to high schoolers who speak a different language and without a routine has been about as challenging as we expected. Each time we try something new, hoping it will work, we find a fatal flaw. Then we understand a little better why they weren't teaching science here in the first place.

So in a way, we're adjusting to life here and accepting things as normal even while we're looking for ways to improve.

01 / 07

I thought we would need to teach the boys how to do a lot of useful things, but it turns out they've been fixing things on campus in rural Bolivia a lot longer than we have, so usually they're telling us what to do!

Dia del Arbol means classes are themed around trees, and every class gets to go and plant their own tiny sapling after clearing a space in the grass with a machete.

Juegos Sociales

Sundays are our days to shine since all of the house parents are off work. After hearing that the kids were bored on Sunday afternoons, Emilianne and Elizabeth took the initiative to plan group games for everyone starting a few weeks ago. Usually, Zoro and I let the older boys work on their fort in the jungle or swim in the pond, but this week the other student missionaries encouraged us to get them to participate in the group games. We realized it would be impossible to convince them that they would have fun playing with the others, so eventually, we resorted to telling them they had to go, and finally just dragging them, laughing and protesting, over the field.

The 14-year-old twins had spent the morning playing with an electric motor they had extracted from a broken washing machine, pressing various objects up against the spinning plastic gear. While trying to get one of them in a headlock, I reached to turn off the motor in order to discourage further distraction from the all-important group activities, and accidentally touched an exposed wire. My arm folded up and his leg jumped off the ground. We both exclaimed in surprise, and I would have done a better job of convincing him this was a result of his stubborn unwillingness to go to the field if I had not been equally stunned and if it hadn't been for everyone's uproarious laughter.

Eventually everyone was corralled to the field, and despite their protests, everyone had a blast.


Last week was my turn to preach for church, and I must say I was quite nervous. Thankfully the other volunteers were very encouraging and helped me think through what I wanted to say. It ended up going well despite being very short.

While I wrote the sermon I was so thankful for a chance to have some true silence to myself. I didn't realize how important and missing it was from my life until I sat down in the empty school house well after school was over and listened to the crickets and the nothingness. It was the perfect time to collect my thoughts and pray for inspiration. I'm hoping to make more intentional time for silence.

How to Care

Something I'm also learning is more difficult and complicated than I expected is simply figuring out how to love these kids. While all of us deeply care about all the kids here, it can be challenging to figure out where to place boundaries, especially when it comes to punishment and treating everyone equally. These kids need a lot of love but they're also really messed up, and it takes special care to care in a helpful way.