This entire trip started when I met up with seven other volunteers from my school at the Miami airport. From there, we all took the same flight to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. We will all be working in different capacities at Familia Feliz to support the permanent staff in any way we can. We're one of the biggest groups that have come from Southern Adventist University, which made our journey through Bolivian immigration a bit cumbersome. While I knew two of the other volunteers before coming, we all quickly became friends in the first few chaotic days.
In order for us to stay in Bolivia for 9 months, we first needed to get permanent visas after entering the country on 30-day tourist visas. This involved a week of running around Santa Cruz with an enormous amount of paperwork to acquire various approvals, stamps, and signatures. By "running around," I of course mean waiting in long lines. We were all very grateful for the lawyer hired by our sponsoring school who patiently helped us through the whole process. We never could have figured out the paperwork ourselves.
All the paperwork meant a lot of patience. During the week of getting our visas, we stayed at RED Advenir's TV broadcasting station outside Santa Cruz. We were amazed by the hospitality shown to us in the delicious food served and the patience with our ignorance and our frustrating schedule that had to be worked around. During the week, Pastor David Gates took us to RED Advenir's new campus location near Samaipata, which is where the entire TV station and organization will be moving soon. We stayed there for one very cold night and were able to experience some of the rural, arid country-side of Bolivia.
Despite feeling more like tourists than helpful volunteers this week, we were all certainly grateful for a chance to get to know our fellow team members and practice our Spanish. Next, we will be taking a 20-hour bus ride to Rurrenabaque where we can finally unpack at Familia Feliz and figure out each of our roles and specific jobs.