Judy Waters - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program? 

Because I wanted the experience of living and working in a different culture.

Why did you choose Up Close Bolivia? 

Because it offered volunteer programmes which were interesting to me and because I was impressed with its ethical position and values.

What was your favorite part about your placement location? 

The view from the volunteer houses was lovely and it was great to be in a non-touristy location and in a real Bolivian village. At the same time, La Paz, with all its markets, restaurants, and nightlife (as well as great experiences such as the cable car!), was only a half hour bus ride away.

What characteristics of your program made it unique? 

UpClose seems unique to me in a number of ways. It has very real values which are reflected in everything it does. Because it is small, everything is carefully tailored to the individual, and both the projects and the volunteers benefit from a close matching of skills and opportunities.

Volunteers celebrating Childrens Day at Fondation Porvenir in Mallasa, Bolivia

Children's Day at the Fondation Porvenir, Mallasa

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The Up Close staff are amazing. The quality of care and support is second to none. Staff take time to ensure that you are well matched to projects and enabled to give of your best, and, in my case, every effort was taken to ensure that I could make use of my experience as a psychologist.

On a personal level also, a lot of care was given to ensure that my experience was really good, including being transported in a taxi then met with food and drink when I arrived at 2 a.m., being looked after when I was ill which helped massively when I needed hospital care, and when I needed a visa extension. Excellent travel advice and help was also constantly available.

It really matters to the staff that you are safe, happy, comfortable and have a great time!

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

It became easier to communicate with locals as my Spanish improved, but local people were very kind and always worked hard to help communications along.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

This is hard! My experience was just about perfect. I would have regretted staying less than ten weeks; it takes at least a month to get into projects, and much longer to get the most out of everything.

Describe a day in the life of your program. 

Every day can be different and most people do two projects, resulting in different kinds of days, but here goes:

  • Up at 6:45 a.m., into the shower before my housemates are up (luckily there are other showers in the camp site, though!), make breakfast with fab local fruit and bread, and meet up with a few others to do the 45 minute walk to the Children's Centre so we are there for 8:00 a.m.
  • Greet the staff, take the 12 little ones down to the classroom and start the routines of the day: working through songs, games, register, breakfast, free play, lunch, nap, and lots of toilet trips, alongside the tia (nursery teacher). It's busy and sometimes crazy, often hilarious, always different.
  • Finish work at 1:30 p.m., pick up something for dinner in the local shops, then try to find a bus home or walk back, usually with other volunteers.
  • Then time to sit out in the sun (I was there in summer) and relax. Sometimes we would go into the city centre to shop or sightsee instead.
  • In the evening we would often cook together, or quite often there would be a barbecue or other social fun, sometimes around home, sometimes involving local restaurants, or a trip into the city centre.

What did you enjoy doing outside of your placement? 

Going into La Paz to explore the markets or ride the cable car with other volunteers!

What was your accommodation like in Bolivia?

My houses (I first lived in the Green House, then the Pig Sty) were both lovely, well decorated, comfortable, and quite spacious, with lovely views over the valley and nice garden all around.

Salt flats, Uyuni, Bolivia

The salt flats near Uyuni, Bolivia

Do you have any packing tips for volunteers headed to Bolivia?

Take clothes for every type of weather whenever in the year you go; you really do get four seasons on most days!

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

The hardest part about volunteering abroad was understanding the local work culture of timekeeping (or not being on time!) and not knowing whether arrangements made would actually happen or not; it was important to be flexible, and at first this wasn't easy.

What surprised you most about Bolivia?

What surprised me most about Bolivia was how different the people were from my (stereotyped) expectations of Latin Americans. They were friendly, but quite reserved; they were very polite, and quite formal sometimes.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Bolivia?

I can't think of anything I wish I'd known. I did have plenty questions before I left, but Up Close staff were quick to answer all queries, including worries about what clothes to bring for the local weather conditions!

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

The biggest benefit of volunteering, for me, is developing greater understanding of life, culture, and customs in other countries, including the differences and similarities.

Up Close emphasised the importance of the mutual respect which can be gained by an understanding of another culture, and this is important to me.

Now that you're home, how has your time as a volunteer in Bolivia impacted your life? 

My time as a volunteer was very empowering for me. I now know that at 60 years old I can head off to a new culture without my husband and family or friends, live with much younger people, engage in new and challenging work, and have a wonderful time! I also learned a great deal from the wonderful Bolivian people I met, who were so warm and thoughtful. I learned a lot about Bolivian culture and I saw the most amazing places that I will never forget. And from Up Close, I learned a lot about the experience of being part of a real quality organisation.

Would you recommend Up Close Bolivia to other volunteers?

I very strongly recommend Up Close; it is a great organisation.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

I might like to volunteer in Southeast Asia, but I should probably go back to a country where I can use my Spanish!