What Makes the Up Close Bolivia Model Truly Sustainable (and Thus, So Special)
Even as I sit here now—writing and reflecting—it’s hard to believe that Josh and I have been busy at work with Up Close Bolivia and the communities of Jupapina and Mallasa for nearly three weeks. When we first began dreaming up plans of volunteering in South America, we knew that we wanted to avoid the pitfalls of “voluntourism” at all costs: we knew that we wanted to find organizations that were deeply committed to their local communities; we wanted to contribute to projects that were truly sustainable; and above all else, we wanted to partner with organizations that we could learn from and grow with.
As has been the case with most of our journeys abroad, our pathway to Up Close, and to Bolivia as a whole, was more or less driven by instinct. Not long after we began honing in on South America, I felt a strong pull towards this quickly developing country, nestled neatly within the Amazon basin and the eastern Andes. It was the type of pull that isn’t easily put into words. What began as pique of curiosity, steadfastly transformed into this overwhelming sense of rightness. In fact, Up Close was only the second NGO that I came across when researching potential Bolivian hosts for us. And within a matter of minutes—seconds, really—of scanning the Up Close homepage, I was awash in that exact same sense of rightness.
Now, here we are—eight months later and three weeks in—living in the highly sought-after Up Close Bolivia “Green House,” right in the heart of the Jupapina valley, teaching English to young learners and aiding in Bolivian teacher training. And neither one of us could be happier, more content, or more grateful to be exactly here, exactly now.
The longer we are here, the easier it becomes for us to see that what makes the Up Close model for community development so sustainable (and thus, so special) is really quite simple: Emma and Rolando, the founders of Up Close, truly let the communities lead. And in this way, they are here; Up Close Bolivia is here; we are here, to act as secondary systems of support—honestly and authentically supporting the will of the local people each step of the way. And because the communities lead—because they are the principle stakeholders in their futures—when we leave, the work continues.
To this day, more than 15 years after its founding, Up Close Bolivia remains faithful to its core value of reciprocidad, or reciprocity in English. The Up Close mission is all about “giving back and contributing in a way that enriches both the person who is giving and the person who is receiving, equally.” The essence of the organization’s work is to ensure that the needs and expectations of its volunteers and the local communities “are mutually met, and that both parties are enriched and strengthened.”
Emma has a long history of development work, from delivering humanitarian aid in Rwanda to her current position as the country director for the British-based NGO, Christian Aid. What this means is that Emma has had a lot of experience working within the confines of outside donor contributions and stipulations. So, when the time came for her and Rolando to build Up Close, Emma had a very different financial model in mind.
Because not a single one of Up Close’s partner projects is reliant on outside funding, Emma and Rolando are not beholden to foreign interests, quality controls, or quarterly benchmarks. Hence, they have the blissful freedom and beautiful ease of fluidity—to change, adapt, and transform their projects right alongside the evolving needs and wants of the communities. Likewise, because the projects are community-led and driven, they are not beholden to Emma and Rolando, nor the investments of Up Close. Alas, the work here has evolved to become truly reciprocal, in every possible sense of the word.
There’s no denying that the Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre is the beating heart of Up Close Bolivia and the organization’s community-driven projects here in Mallasa and Jupapina. Founded more than 15 years ago by the Up Close team, this nursery is now completely managed by local families. The nursery provides childcare services for around 60 children from low-income families, enabling their parents—especially the mothers—to take up employment opportunities outside of the home, knowing that their children are being nurtured and cared for in a safe, loving environment. When and if they arrive, volunteers support the nursery’s daily operations by working alongside the local teachers to take care of the children; helping to prepare and serve meals; bringing creative ideas to help inspire new ways of teaching; painting murals; assisting with landscaping and maintenance needs; and performing and organizing cultural activities and fairs.
In addition to the nursery, Up Close also supports a small residential home here in Mallasa. Many of the children living in this home have suffered from domestic violence and abuse. They live with their mothers, who are undergoing the final stages of a year-long therapy program for drug and alcohol dependency. Meanwhile, the home is run by a small team of dedicated local professionals and receives secondary support from volunteers. When and if they arrive, volunteers enrich the home’s youth programs by organizing fun recreational and therapeutic activities for the children (think: dancing, painting, games, and sports).
Up Close also closely collaborates with the La Paz Zoo, which acts as a refuge here in Mallasa. At the zoo, volunteers work alongside a team of committed local staff members, in order to improve the quality of life for the animals—many of which are survivors of animal trafficking and/or abuse. Volunteers work with the local staff members on a program that seeks to keep the animals entertained, healthy, and happy. Volunteers will often make hide-and-seek food games, construct toys, and help out in the kitchen.
Plus, the Up Close team supports a local football (soccer) school. Football is by far the most popular sport in Bolivia. However, up until recently, it was exclusively reserved for males. The local football school aims to integrate boys and girls, fostering not only technical expertise but also key values around team work, gender equality, and communication. When and if they arrive, volunteers with specific football coaching skills help support the school’s efforts for integration.
And one of Up Close’s newest collaborations is with the University of La Paz’s equine therapy program for children and young people with special needs. Right now, Up Close is actively looking for volunteers with very specific skill sets to help train local staff, work in the therapy room (not necessarily directly with the horses), and to give talks to families. More specifically, Up Close is looking for volunteer physiotherapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, and special needs teachers to support this new project.
Where We Fit In
Last but certainly not least, Up Close partners with the local schools in Jupapina and Mallasa to strengthen and develop English as a Second Language education here. Previously, volunteers developed a curriculum of 24 English lessons for the communities’ young learners. Additionally, they prepared materials and resources to accompany each lesson. Three sets of the 24 lessons were then made—one for the nursery, one for the primary school in Mallasa, and one for the primary school in Jupapina. Each of the lessons and their corresponding materials are now being stored in a caja,or box, at each of the three schools. Now, it is up to current and future volunteers—like Josh and myself—to aid in teacher training, so that the work of the English cajas can continue well into the future.
But that’s not all!—We are quickly learning that the methodologies of teaching English as a foreign language (and utilizing the caja) is not only applicable to English language education here in La Paz. In fact, we are now using these resources to inspire the local teachers and even university professors in the development of indigenous language education, like Aymara and Quechua. More to come on this soon! But for now, suffice it to say, Josh and I are both busy learning, growing, and loving every step of this journey.
#socialimpact #communitydevelopment #ngos #nonprofits #philanthropy #humanitarians #sdg4 #education #globaled #globaleducators #globalcitizenship #languagelearning
This is my story.
For as long as I can remember, my love for writing and dreams of traveling the world have always been a part of me. And I mean this quite literally: at the age of five, I would run upstairs after school, jump on my dad’s computer, and feverishly type the treasure trove of three-letter words that my brain was waiting to unleash (c-a-t…m-a-t…d-o-g…b-i-g). By seven, I was meticulously keeping my first journal—about the same time that I had crafted a shoddy British accent and came up with a plan to attend an exclusive international boarding school in Ireland. (Looking back now, I think the Spice Girls had quite a bit more to do with this than I ever let on.)
Yep, writing and travel—those were the two certainties that never let me down, always holding firm and steady amidst my otherwise erratic and revolving life at home. In the end, they are even what led me to pursue a degree in journalism at the University of Colorado’s pristine Boulder campus, where—starting second-semester, freshman year—my adult life took its first major detour.
Little did I know then that this sidestep would span a period of seven years—two years longer than the average American’s wait-time for a proper autoimmune diagnosis. Put simply, this detour was all about teaching me to value and prioritize my health. My adrenals were shot; I was battling polarizing moods and chronic fatigue; and I had been living on the advanced side of the autoimmune reactivity spectrum for quite some time. Not surprisingly, this seven-year diversion taught me how to slow down, how to be present, and how to listen to and understand my own body (ah the subtle art of awareness). I also came to realize that no one’s value is determined by their productivity, and as Augusten Burroughs once wrote: “When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.”
(You can read more on this chapter of my journey by scrolling down to the “About Me” entry or checking out my eBook: Happy Belly, Happy Life.)
The Nonprofit Sector
En route to health and wellness, I managed to veer off course (the “write and travel” course) a few more times. In 2009, I began volunteering with the I Have a Dream Foundation of Boulder County (IHAD)—an incredible 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to “empower children from low-income communities to succeed in school, college, and career by providing academic, social, and emotional support from elementary school through college, along with a post-secondary tuition assistance scholarship.” As a recipient of the Americorps education award, I spent two blissful afternoons each week—for nearly two years—reading, helping with homework, chatting, and playing with Dreamers. Despite being a full-time student, struggling with my health, and working 30 hours a week at the local shop, I couldn’t wait for my afternoons at IHAD. And when I chose to leave the organization in 2011, I lost a big piece of my heart right along with it.
Fast-forward to 2013: my health was on the up and up, I had just returned from a three-week pilot study abroad program on land conservation and indigenous groups in Tanzania, and I was about to make one of my greatest childhood dreams come true—embarking upon a three-month study abroad program at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. This time as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, I was simultaneously volunteering as a travel correspondent for Reach the World (RTW)—another fantastic 501(c)3 organization that makes the “benefits of travel accessible to classrooms,” and inspires “students to become curious, confident global citizens.” I knew from the moment I met my RTW class, the piece of my heart that had been left behind with IHAD was quickly making its way back to me.
Upon graduation, I continued to teeter between the realms of journalism and education—landing what I envisioned as my “dream-internship” at my “dream-magazine,” only to leave it behind six months later so that I could start a teaching fellowship with a Denver-based nonprofit.
From there, my long-time partner, Josh, and I made the giant leap over to central Vietnam, where I would continue to pursue teaching, as we both nurtured our passion for travel. I spent three years teaching English as a Second Language in Vietnam—to learners of all ages (as young as two, as old as 42), in all types of environments (international schools, after-school centers, privately, and online).
But there was still something fundamentally missing for me. And that’s when I decided to take a self-proclaimed “mini-sabbatical” from teaching, in order to focus on writing again. Soon thereafter, I scored a freelance gig with World Smart Leaders—yet another amazing nonprofit organization, which “provides opportunities for underrepresented high school students to expand their horizons through studying abroad.”
Everything connects: Learn2Link
Today, these varied (and at times, bewildering) chapters of my journey have somehow fallen into near-perfect order. Josh and I came back to the States last June, and I’ve been honing my skills as a grant writer ever since. All the while, Josh and I have been dreaming up and jotting down plans to build our very own nonprofit organization: Learn2Link.
Come September, we will be heading down south to launch our very first micro-educational development projects. Partnering with three inspiring organizations—Reach the World, Up Close Bolivia, Helping Overcome Obstacles Peru (HOOP)—Josh and I will be establishing virtual, cultural exchanges between Bolivian, Peruvian, and American students.
Our ultimate mission and vision for Learn2Link is not only to facilitate sustainable community development projects across the globe, but it is also to foster human-to-human connections amongst our students. In fact, the first part of Learn2Link’s (L2L’s) yearlong exchange programming will be focused solely on promoting cultural awareness, understanding, and connection. The second half of the year, by contrast, will be focused on the discussion of problems within students’ communities and the exchange of ideas to overcome these issues—culminating in a final development project and the physical exchange of L2L students. (To illustrate: we plan to launch the first L2L programs in Denver, Colorado and Da Nang, Vietnam. For the final phase of these yearlong exchanges, we will be taking a group of Vietnamese students to Denver, in order to help the Denver-based students carry out their final project. Subsequently, we will be taking the American students to Vietnam, in order to help the Da Nang-based students carry our their final project.)
As for the blog
I imagine this blog will chronicle some of my musings on life and travel over the coming months (and years?). But more than anything, I suspect it will serve as a major lifeline/study guide for me—recounting the epic adventures and quintessential growing pains that I am bound to endure, as my partner and I scribe out the next chapter of our lives.
Thanks for being a part of our journey.
World Mental Health Day 2018.
In honor of World Mental Health Day, this one goes out to our youth. According to the World Health Organization, half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. But most mental illnesses go undetected and untreated for years. Among 15-29 year-olds, suicide is now the second leading cause of death—making it a pressing global public health issue. I have a lot more to say on this issue, but for now I’ll simply close with this: #prevention begins with #awareness and #understanding.
If you are an American having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you are a student, parent, educator, or mentor wanting to learn more about the causes of suicide, risk factors, and/or critical preventative measures, be sure to check out the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Be The 1 To, or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
And for anyone, worldwide, currently in crisis or or considering suicide, IMAlive offers free, 24/7 instant messaging services with trained counselors.
#speakup #youarenotalone #mentalhealth#mentalhealthawareness #endthestigma#suicideprevention #depression #anxiety#worldmentalhealthday#worldmentalhealthday2018 #womenshealth#womeninwellness #notalone #breakthesilence#rise #empowerment #youthempowerment#bethe1to #bethechange
Hi guys, I’m Abby. I’m not a doctor. And I’m not a very skilled cook either. I am, however, a journalist by trade (a.k.a. a writer/researcher) and a teacher by heart, who spent seven long years working to heal my gut, while battling autoimmune symptoms, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, extreme weight loss, then gain, hormone imbalances, and the list goes on. The holy trifecta that kept me going for the seven-year-stretch?—faith in the process; an amazing partner; and the idea that I would someday regain the strength and energy to live the life I wanted, life on my own terms. And I have.
Deflated and defeated by traditional Western medicine, I lacked the money and resources to continuously seek out naturopathic doctors, alternative forms of healing, expensive supplements, and witchy tinctures. And so, it was a long, hard, confusing, and difficult journey that I had to take on—for the most part—solo. I don’t regret any of it for a second, you see, because it’s gotten me to here. I now travel the world full-time, with a loving partner, writing and teaching with passion and purpose. I’m finally living the life I had envisioned for myself, and I’m grateful for every second of my health, every single day. It’s my goal now, to share some of the holistic hacks that finally clicked for me—so that I can begin to help other people—the “regular folks”—feel better, to live better.
You can read more about my path to healing by checking out an excerpt from my eBook, Happy Belly, Happy Life below. But it’s important for me to note that while overhauling my diet was the first step in learning to manage my autoimmune symptoms, it was not the end-all, be-all solution to health for me. In fact, perhaps an even bigger and tougher part of my journey has been about learning to slow down; to be mindful; to be present; and to remember that no one’s value is determined by their productivity. It took me three years of being away from home, living and working in central Vietnam, to finally get the hang of this. And it wasn’t until I began to truly live (to work and to travel) more slowly, that I was finally able to see everything around and within me—everything that I needed to be well, to be happy, to be full—had been here all along.
Slow living. Slow travel. Mindfulness. Balance.
These have been the game-changers for me. They are the mainstays of my work and life as a writer now, and they’re the centripetal forces you’ll find me always spinning back to.
An Excerpt: Happy Belly, Happy Life.
As Americans, it seems we’ve come to accept feeling bad and have inevitably learned to just “get on” with our lives. We’re tired; stressed; anxious; depressed; inflamed. Our guts are weak, and our immune systems are constantly in overdrive. And somehow we’ve convinced ourselves this is all “normal.” So, we pop a few pills, and we keep riding out our days. Sadly, this utterly misguided way of thinking hasn’t just become commonplace; it’s paved the way for a Westbound autoimmune epidemic. In fact, it’s now estimated that 50 million Americans are now living with autoimmune conditions—which equates to roughly 1 in 6 people. Comparatively, cancer affects up to 9 million Americans—or roughly 1 in 33 people.[i] Seventy-five percent of those affected by autoimmune diseases are women, and these diseases are now one of the top ten leading causes of death among American women, according to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA). [ii] Plus, chronic health conditions among children, with an autoimmune link—such as obesity, asthma, and learning problems—rose 15 percent between 1994 and 2006. [iii] And blood test analyses have proven young people are now five times more likely to have celiac disease symptoms today than their peers in the 1950s.[iv]
But I’m living proof that it doesn’t need to be this way. We have the power to change our lives and take control of our health. In fact, researchers are now proving that if we can stop the spread of inflammation, we can alter the course, possibly even prevent mental health disorders and chronic diseases, like Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, and Type 1 diabetes.
This is huge! —Science is showing us that we not only have the ability to improve the symptoms of these diseases, but we can actually prevent them from occurring in the first place. And it starts with healing our bellies, and our minds, through food.
(Hence, all of the recipes you’re going to find on this site are aimed at reducing inflammation, while making good use of simple ingredients. They are 100 percent gluten free. They’re mostly grain free and dairy free as well, and they focus on eliminating sugar as much as possible.)
So here’s my bottom line: health and wellness doesn’t have to be weird, witchy, or woo-woo, and most importantly, it shouldn’t be reserved for people of a specific socioeconomic background. It’s a basic human right, and it should be something easily attainable for everyone. And that’s my goal—to share basic ideas and a de-cluttered plan that anyone battling with these health issues can follow. So, don’t worry—you’re not going to find any recipes calling for ashwagandha or collagen supplements here, and I’m not going to preach to you about the power of cryotherapy and importance of HIIT workouts. Instead, I’m here to give you basic, yet powerful tools, ideas, and resources to stop feeling so sick and tired, and to finally start living again. Let’s get started.
[iii] Van Cleave J, Gortmaker SL, Perrin JM, Dynamics of Obesity and Chronic Health Conditions Among Children and Youth, JAMA (United States: 2012)
[iv] Alberto Rubio-Tapia, Robert A. Kyle, Edward L. Kaplan, Dwight R. Johnson, William Page, Frederick Erdtmann, Tricia L. Brantner, W. Ray Kim, Tara K. Phelps, Brian D. Lahr, Alan R. Zinsmeister, L. Joseph Melton III, Joseph A. Murray, Increased Prevalence and Mortality in Undiagnosed Celiac Disease, American Gastroenterology Association Journals (United States: 2009)
The 4 ingredient, DEET-free mosquito repellent that actually works!
Alright guys, I’m long-overdue for sharing this one with you. I’ve been making and using this stuff daily since we left Vietnam to travel full-time (just over 5 weeks today!). I can’t even begin to tell you how important mosquito repellent is when traveling through the tropical hotbed that is Southeast Asia—especially for someone like me who has grown accustomed to being “eaten alive” by bugs my entire life.
For the longest time, I was convinced that only “real” repellent out there, the only stuff that “really works,” has got to have DEET (aka: N, N-Diethyl-m-toluamide)—a chemical specifically engineered for the purposes of “repelling” but not “killing” mosquitoes. And I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the U.S. population is probably of the same mind (nearly 1/3 of all Americans use DEET on a yearly basis).
And while DEET is approved by the EPA (the US Environmental Protection Agency), it is also a known eye irritant; can cause rashes; blistering; soreness; and neurological effects—especially in small children. Not to mention, it’s toxic to wildlife, and it’s been found in approximately 75 percent of U.S. water sources.
So we all get the basic idea here: DEET is a noxious chemical, which can’t be good for our bodies, let alone the environment. But it’s got to be better than the alternative—getting bit by a mosquito and possibly contracting some serious, life-threatening mosquito-born illness like Dengue Fever or the Zika virus—right?
Well, that’s what I’d convinced myself of anyhow, until we were three days into traveling, and I started breaking out in hives on the reg. At first, I figured it was something I was eating—either I was getting dosed with gluten or my body was just adjusting to some new strain of MSG they use in Singapore and Thailand. But no matter how carefully I ate, the hives weren’t going anywhere. In fact, they started spreading.
So, I did some more research and figured that because the reaction seemed to be starting and spreading from my hands, it was most likely topical (something I was putting on my body, not in my body)… And then it hit me: it was all the damn DEET I was putting on my body, every day!
I hit the books again (and by books, I mean Google), and quickly found a few essential oils that are known insect repellents. As always, I wanted to keep things as cheap and simple as possible, so I limited myself to three essential oils + the cheapest possible carrier oil I could find. (Please note: it’s very important not to apply essential oils directly to the skin. Read more about this and the importance of carrier oils here.) And with a quick trip to one of Bangkok’s many super-malls, alas, my DEET-free bug juice concoction was born!
Here it is friends:
- 10 drops of citronella oil
- 8 drops of lemongrass oil
- 6 drops of tea tree oil
- 60 ml (2 oz.) of cold-pressed, organic coconut oil
A good rule of thumb is to use 12 drops of essential oils per 30 ml (1 oz.) of a carrier oil; 24 drops of essential oils per 60 ml (2 oz.) of a carrier oil; 48 drops per 120 ml (4 oz.), and so on, and so forth. So, if you’re looking to use more or less of a carrier oil, just keep the “12 drops per 30 ml (1 oz.) carrier oil” rule in mind, and adjust your ratios accordingly.
Mix everything together, and apply the oil solution to any exposed areas of the skin. Store in an airtight container and use until it runs out. I suggest definitely keeping it somewhere warm, so that the coconut oil doesn’t solidify. Also, please note that your skin doesn’t absorb coconut oil. So, you will need to reapply the repellent regularly if you’re outside for an extended period of time. (I suggest reapplying every 2-3 hours.)
Now, I must also remind you that by no means am I doctor. But I can attest to the fact that this stuff actually works! As I said, I’ve been using this (and only this) regularly since we’ve been traveling—even on days when we’ve been out hiking in the jungle and playing with elephants for 6 hours +. That said, if I were to be spending an extended period of time in any red-zones—i.e. trekking through the Amazon—I would still probably endure the hives and stick with the DEET to have peace of mind. But for anybody who is just looking for some day-to-day coverage, especially any moms out there, who are worried about summertime bugs and their babies, then I definitely recommend giving this a shot instead. Your bodies, your babies, and the environment will thank you for it. 😉
Lots of love,