Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 08:07 a.m. DST, 24 June 2014
BOLIVIA, Cochabamba -- This week I spoke with Charlene Becicka, a caregiver at an orphanage in a rural pueblo outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Cochabamba is known as the “City of Eternal Sunshine” because of the beautiful weather year round. This orphanage offers a home to 50 girls from 3-17 years old.
Becicka attended Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa and studied English Literature, Secondary Education, and Theatre. “While my education has certainly aided in my work as a volunteer and missionary, it has been my faith that has really sustained me in my work,” she says.
What drew you to the site you decided to work in?
I was drawn to the site Hogar Maria Auxiliadora because of the role of the volunteers listed in its site description. The other sites listed teacher, tutor, nurse...the role for volunteers at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora: mother and friend. I’ve always loved children, so being in the role of mother and friend seemed like the perfect fit for me.
What is a day in the life like?
The role of the missionaries at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora is quite varied. We are responsible for caring for the girls in every aspect of their development. Daily our responsibilities include waking the girls, feeding them breakfast, ensuring they do their chores, helping with homework, accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, and just spending time with them. In a larger sense, though, our job is to be a caring friend and role model.
How are you able to handle all of your responsibilities while keeping a healthy work/life balance?
I take a half-hour to hour-long break every day in which time I usually read or write letters. Taking a little time every day to do something I enjoy is very refreshing.
What are the hardest parts about living there?
For me, the most difficult aspect of my work is the language barrier. I came to Bolivia without ever studying Spanish, so my first few months were a real struggle trying to build relationship and maintain authority with the children while learning the language. 9 months later, the language barrier has decreased, but can still be a challenge at times. However, being immersed in a different culture and learning a new language have also been some of the most rewarding aspects of my experience.
What is the most rewarding part about living there?
Seeing the girls make progress toward individual goals is incredibly rewarding. In my time volunteering here I’ve seen girls learn to read, learn to better manage emotions, and make progress toward other personal objectives. It’s wonderful to be a small part of helping the girls develop skills and habits that will aid them for the rest of their lives.
What are some of the most heartwarming experience you’ve had?
The most heartwarming moments are when the girls show their love and appreciation for the work I do with them. Surprise hugs and kisses, words of gratitude, and special notes and pictures from the girls are always touching.
And the most heartbreaking?
It’s heartbreaking to hear the girls wish for a healthy family. While some of the girls I work with are orphans, many have been abandoned, abused, or simply come from families that can’t afford to take care of them. Hearing girls ask why their parents don’t come visit them or why they have to live in Hogar is difficult.
What lessons will you take with you?
Living and working with a diverse group of children has certainly taught me to be patient.
What are the most critical problems faced by people in your area?
One of the most critical problems faced by people in rural Bolivia is illiteracy. Encountering people in Bolivia who can neither read nor write motivates me to help the girls I work with develop this fundamental skill.
What are your hopes for the people you’ve interacted with?
My hopes for the girls of Hogar Maria Auxiliadora are the same as the hopes I have for all the people I encounter: that they will use their unique gifts and talents to grow into the best people they can be and always face the world with a smile.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I have been given to serve the girls and young women of Hogar Maria Auxiliadora in Cochabamba, Bolivia. However, service does not require quitting your job or moving to a foreign country. One of the lessons I'll take away from my mission experience is that propagating peace and justice can start with being present to the people around you, wherever you find yourself.
- Long Term Volunteer Positions Available at The House of Dreams Orphanage in Cochabamba, Bolivia (houseofdreamsorphanage.wordpress.com)
- Generating Generosity in Bolivia (houseofdreamsorphanage.wordpress.com)
- Our Orphanage is an Anti Trafficking Effort, Cochabamba, Bolivia (houseofdreamsorphanage.wordpress.com)
- More Than Just an Education (brianarosas.wordpress.com)
- Interview with Jim Shultz: An Activist's View of Bolivia and Life (blogcritics.org)