[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text letter_spacing=””]*These reflections were written when the group returned to Rurre after completing their work in Puerto Salinas. They just finished a day in La Paz and are currently headed to visit Isla del Sol.
As Nicola, Sarah, Joselo and I started walking into the school on the last day with the community, kids faces started lighting up. Balls, markers, cars, etc were in our hands, and they all looked very happy. Joselo explained what everything was in Spanish, and they were all so excited. Three little boys came up as we handed them soccer balls, and the whole class started to clap. Sarah is a 4th grade teacher in the US, and it really hit her when she saw the school. She also said that her school has iPads for each person, erase boards and everything possible. The kids here don’t even have paper to write on. As we were leaving the classroom, the kids went to the field to play with one of the balls and a frisbee. They were all so happy; laughing and rolling in the grass. There were no girls really playing, because Bolivia is still a little sexist, but I went onto the field and started shooting on the goalie. I was put in goal eventually, and the girls started coming onto the field to watch. I made some saves and the community was clapping, smiling, and having a great time. The teacher asked if I wanted to get some more people to play, so Sarah, Nicola, Connor, Jack and Edgar came over. We all stood there for a while to wait for someone to make teams, so I just went ahead. Uno, dos, uno, dos, uno, dos… Then, we just played. Language didn’t matter, and we were all laughing and having a great time.
PS- to mom, please put me into a Spanish class next year instead of French
At first, arriving in Rurrenabaque from Miami was like stepping into a second world. Leaving Rurrenabaque into the Amazon was like stepping into a third. And entering the small community by the Rio Beni was like stepping into a fourth. Salinas was so vastly underdeveloped that each family of 6+ slept in a one-room house made of bamboo and palm tree leaves. There was no running or clean water, no plumbing, and barely any electricity (the only electricity was in the school). Children played barefoot on the uneven dirt paths that winded through the Amazon, narrowly connecting the village together. Although the children rarely had shoes, dirty discarded flip-flop and sneakers lay at the edge of the clearing, along with other old and dusty things. The people living there were not unhappy, though. The children had huge grins on their face when they were playing together, and when we gave them our gifts all we saw were smiles. Watching the families together at mealtimes reminded me that this was normal to them. Kiely, Conor, Edgar, Jack and I all had a good game of soccer with them at the very end of our trip, which was really fun and helped me to really know the people we were helping. In the end, I was reminded that these were ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.
During our time in the jungle, I realized how significant the impact of our work would be. I saw how much they actually needed it, and I realized how important it actually was. A lot of the trip was spent being attacked by mosquitoes, and as annoying as it was, I feel like I learned that whatever was happening to us while we worked was completely insignificant compared to everything the community was going through. The heat, mosquitoes, mud, and heavy weight of the filters were nothing compared to the parasites and diseases affecting the people in the community. Despite all this, seeing everyone interact reminded me that these people are still happy despite all of it, not complaining about their situation like we were at all. The experiences were amazing as well, from getting to play soccer with the community to having a capybara crawl into my lap. I learned a lot about how meaningful everything we take for granted is, and it feels good knowing people’s lives will be changed as a result of our work.
When I get home, one of the first things I’ll do is drink water out of the sink. It sounds so simple, so easy. But from my time here in Bolivia I’ve realized how getting clean water from the tap is more of a privilege than anything else, For example, take the people in the community where we installed the filters. To get water, they have to walk five minutes to the river and haul the water back in buckets. However, before the filters, it wouldn’t be clean and drinking the river water would mean risking getting numerous diseases or parasites. Even with the filters, the water isn’t completely clear. And it’s not just the community. Even here in Rurrenabaque, the water still isn’t contaminant free, and we can’t brush our teeth with the tap water and even open our mouths when we shower. Having good water out of the tap is just one of those things I never thought I’d miss that much. I just took it for granted. Being here has helped me realize just how lucky we are to get clean, disease free, and good tasting water whenever we turn on the sink. For many parts of this world, having that would be something they could only dream of. So next time I drink water out of the sink, I certainly won’t take it for granted.
As a rule, the jungle is a hostile place. However, our jungle was only hostile as a place of heat and and mosquitos. Combined with the work we did and the dirt involved, these two hostiles proved to be quite difficult. Still, we pushed through, overcoming the hurdles we faced as we worked towards our final filter installation goal. While the hardest challenge was getting the filters up the steep, muddy slope of the beach without getting stuck, future hurdles proved just as difficult due to group fatigue and the surprisingly heavy weight of a full bucket of water. When one considers the work we put in as we went into the jungle to provide clean water for these people, it is easy to see why this experience is so valuable. While we take clean water for granted, these people walk to the river to get water that isn’t even clean. This is a mind boggling idea but one that is worth noting in a world where those of us who get clean water from a tap overlook the good fortune that gives us access to that luxury. Possibly the greatest moment of this entire trip so far was playing soccer with the community on the last day in the rainforest and seeing how much both of our groups from very different life backgrounds enjoyed such a simple game that some of us didn’t even know how to play correctly. This helped me realize the importance of our situation in this community: two groups of people separated by the opportunity and the technological advantages and disadvantages they have been provided with. In other words, these people who seem so different are the same as us with less opportunity. It’s our job to give that opportunity to them.
When we arrived at the community, the first thing I noticed was the school. Most of the buildings we made of wood and palm leaves, with a tarp of tin plates to keep out rain. The school was a solid, well constructed building of brick and mortar. That contrast between the rudimentary and the modern was common throughout the community. As mentioned, the houses were small, one room structures. Most of the farm work was done by hand using machetes and other simple tools, but the village also had a tractor, as well as a car for making trips to other towns. This surprised me because I had imagined these kinds of places as squalid places with no access to modern conveniences. I realized that, although the community was severely lacking in resources, it was not completely isolated from the outside world, and likely never had been.
Having grown up in a major city, Rurrenabaque was so small and simple compared to my home. But after three days camped out in the Amazon rainforest, everything changed. Rurre might have seemed small at first, but compared to the community it may have well been Los Angeles. The motel, with its beds and running water, seemed as good as the St Regis. It made me wonder how someone who has lived in the jungle their entire life would react to a place like this. How would it affect their view of the world and of their home? Although it was hard, I did genuinely enjoy my time in the community, and I am glad we were able to provide something that the people there needed.
When you realize a water filter you just installed is leaking out the back, a lot of things go through your mind. You start to think of how difficult it was to carry 160 lbs of cement in a wheelbarrow up a sandy drop off, the socks you can never wear again because of the mud that engulfed you up to your calves, the narrow trail your group had to trek to get to the house. You think of how, because of that narrow trail, the wheelbarrow tipped over and you had to save the filter from breaking by catching it with your feeble arms (guess it didn’t work). You think of hoisting the rocks, sand, and water into the filter and patiently waiting for clean water to come out the tube. You think of when you looked down and realized the puddle next to you and the filter wasn’t sweet, but was the filter giving the clean water to the soil instead of the people. You think of all these things, but then you think of more. You think of how the temporary tough work you’re putting in right now will change the lives of the people in the community forever. You think of the bonds you’ve made and the jokes you’ve shared and you realize there is nothing you’d rather be doing. So yes, I was upset when Olivia and I found that leak – that filter had taken up a good chunk of our morning and I felt so discouraged and unaccomplished. But then I got up and did it all over again, because soon I will be back home finding out my SAT and AP exam scores, filling out the Common Application, and stressing over senior year, wishing I was back in Bolivia – so I take advantage of the time that I have here because I know how limited it is. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]