photography, travel photography

Bolivia Solidarity Tour #02 - A Warm Welcome

I'm going to pick up right where my last blog post left off...

We arrived at our hotel in Buena Vista around noon, ate a quick lunch and piled onto a school bus to head to Yapacaní, the next sponsor site that we would be visiting. The sponsor site is run primarily by two amazing people: Director Rev. Fr Arturo and Sor Geraldina from Yapacaní's small Technical Institute. We pulled up in front of an incredibly funky church, and Mary Anne McKinnon (a representative from Chalice who was traveling with us) said to the group: "If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a rock star, now's your chance." I was a little confused, but as we got off the bus and filed into the church we heard the huge crowd that was gathered there.


The crowd had gathered to welcome us, the 15 "ambassadors" who traveled all the way to Bolivia to represent the many Canadians who sponsor children and families through Chalice. Amid cheers and hugs and kisses we took the seats that had been left for us on the concrete bleachers (built as one of the many community projects that Chalice helps to fund at Yapacaní) and were treated to an afternoon of traditional dance, music, and a mingling of cultures.


The children threw confetti, pulled us up from our seats and wanted to dance with us. Everyone wanted to meet us, hug us, and have their pictures taken with us. I must admit I was feeling a little overwhelmed and like the attention was undeserved. My parents sponsor a child in Yapacaní but I felt that I hadn't done anything to deserve all this appreciation.


Later that night and continuing into the week however, I did get to see the reasons behind the gratitude showed to us at the welcoming ceremony. As the sun was setting, we visited the home of an 82 year old woman who had recently suffered a stroke and lost function in one of her arms and both of her legs. Her husband had been moving her around in a wheel barrow for lack of a better option. Through funds raised by Chalice, the sponsor site at Yapacaní was able to purchase a brand new wheelchair for her and her husband.


The following day we got up early and headed back to the sponsor site. The grounds were full of even more people, this time including people who had ventured in from the agricultural communities surrounding Yapacaní, where a lot of sponsored children reside. It's Benefits Day, something that the sponsor site organizes about 3 times per year in which sponsored families receive "care packages" consisting of non-perishable food, school supplies, soap, towels, and the like. The Canadian ambassadors are to hand out the benefits packages that afternoon, but before we can do that there is another welcome celebration and meet and greet.


Everyone from the outlying communities had brought something to show their gratitude to the people of Chalice. There were chickens, eggs and catfish from the nearby river, to be used to feed us lunch over the next week and the remainder to be redistributed to the most needy. The community spirit and neighbourly love in this village of Yapacaní is astounding. Some of us felt uncomfortable about the gifts, we felt we were there to help the community not become a burden, but the people really wanted to show their gratitude and we quickly realized it would be an insult not to accept the food.


Next it was time to get to work. In 35 degree heat and suffocating humidity, our team filed into two rooms and started dividing up the sponsorship benefits into piles for each family. I worked my butt off (I don't think I've ever sweat so much in my whole life) but I saw my first glimpse of where sponsorship dollars go and finally felt as though I had done something for the people of Yapacaní. It was a really great feeling!


Over the course of the week that followed, our group met so many amazing people and heard so many amazing stories. My next blog post will cover the latter part of our time in Yapacaní. In the mean time, please consider donating to Chalice to support the community improvement projects ongoing at the site.

Until then...