Experiencing Bolivian life, as well as volunteering in the orphanage, through the eyes of a foreigner can bring much perspective. Here is a summary from Jessica, who volunteered in 2015.
Perhaps it’s an American thing to be caught up on getting to where we need to go and not enjoying the journey toward the end result. Within days of being in Cochabamba, I noticed how Bolivia is incredibly different.
Here are five things I noticed in just a few short days of spending time in Bolivia:
1) In Bolivia, there’s genuine happiness that permeates throughout the community regardless of one's means. One of the first things I noticed from Salomon Klein orphanage within just minutes of interacting with the children there was just how HAPPY most of them were for having so very little. It was almost shocking. In the States, an incorrect coffee order at Starbucks could ruin one's day. At the orphanage, these children came from some of the most trying and heart wrenching circumstances but had smiles that beamed from ear to ear.
2) People stop and smell the roses, so to speak, in Bolivia. Lives are based around the journey and not the destination. Businesses (except for restaurants) are generally closed between the hours of 12:30pm-2:30pm, give or take. In some offices in the States, taking a lengthy lunch to regroup and relax is frowned upon as not working hard enough. This is not the case in Bolivia -- which is probably why people are so much more happy and relaxed.
3) Family is a huge deal in Bolivia and comes first. Some of my close friends, whom I consider family members, reside in Cochabamba and are so incredibly close. I believe that friends really are the family we choose. This is why I love the community at Salomon Klein so much: it really does feel like a family, as everyone has the best interests of the children at heart and these feelings echo throughout the entire community. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child and that could not be more true for Salomon Klein.
4) People are incredibly warm and receptive in Bolivia and genuinely want to get to know and spend time with you without ANY expectations. In fact, one of the volunteers I worked with whose family resides in Cochabamba opened up her family home for me to come visit and I am welcomed back any time.
5) People are truly engaged in Bolivia; the obsession over social media or checking one's cell phone does not exist as it does in the States. While in Bolivia, it was actually a challenge to locate WiFi at times, but I did not miss it whatsoever. It was such a breath of fresh breath of air to have conversations with other volunteers and workers at the orphanage about our journeys and the children without any sort of technology preoccupation.
The most important thing that I learned was that smiling costs nothing and being happy is a choice we all can make, no matter what roads we have traveled, how much is in our pockets or where we are going. I cannot wait to see what I will learn next upon my return.