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By Alejandra Zambrano Flores

Some time ago I participated in a youth conference where the milONGa was presented and I was very interested because I was studying social work, and it seemed to me that I could carry out this experience by contributing a little of what I knew. It took me a long time to start working due to my tendency to procrastinate, but at a certain point, I understood that I had two options: taking this trip as an excuse to escape of my reality or doing it for the right reasons, like helping others. This gave me a lot of peace to start doing my part. On many occasions, I felt that I could not make it, but things were happening, I had to make small sacrifices like stop buying some things to save money, but I never lacked for anything because all kinds of help came to me through various means.

For me this trip meant many things like believing more in myself, working towards a goal, being more independent, trusting in my abilities, making myself available to others, opening myself up to others, etc.

Before leaving, some close friends in the community with whom I share the same interests and lifestyle, organized a surprise farewell for me and another friend who was also going to Switzerland to do an experience. It was a very good moment because we felt accompanied and we received a lot of advice from people who had similar experiences or who lived in Bolivia too. I also received many expressions of affection from my family and friends, who helped me a lot in the days leading up to the trip to Bolivia.

When I arrived, I felt much less nervous than I was few days before, finally starting what I wanted to do so much. A very friendly volunteer welcomed Elena and me into her home. Elena is an Italian girl who was also going to volunteer through the milONGa but at Casa de los Niños, and although she only went for a month and a half and we worked in different places, we were able to share a lot.

Bolivia was very welcoming to me. Cochabamba is a very beautiful city. I used to walk around the city from north to south to go to work, so I could admire a lot, Bolivians are generally very warm. Something that caught my attention is the presence of Quechua culture in the city (in other cities, other ethnic groups such as the Aymaras are more numerous). In Cochabamba you can find many "cholitas" indigenous women who wear their traditional costumes, it seems to me that this makes their presence visible in all spaces and is very valuable, it gives the feeling that indigenous people are not isolated and are not invisible. Rather they are present as part of the city, but preserving their identity, although it should not be neglected that there are conditions of marginality.

I really enjoyed working at UNISOL. When I arrived, the activities were being organized, Abel (another volunteer) had arrived in June and at Centro Rincón de Luz many activities had stopped because of the pandemic, so they had to continue. My teammates were respectful to me. I always felt respected, free, valued and supported because everyone in the organization was willing to do his or her part.

Bolivia allowed me to live a growth process that was not easy because several personal situations happened while I was there, which made me very sad; however, I think that if they had occurred while I was at home they would have been more difficult to deal, without a space where I could take time for myself.

I learned a lot. At the end of the experience, Abel shared with me that of all the trips he had, he always felt that they helped him to grow, that he trusted that this experience would help me to grow as well; and it is true. I learned to be more independent, to make decisions and sometimes to take the initiative, which made me realize that I am capable of doing more, giving more and contributing more to others.

When I said goodbye, I received many acts of affection. On the one hand, I wanted to go back to be with my family, but on the other hand, knew that when I went back, I would miss Bolivia and all the people I have met. I was satisfied, as I tried to do well until the end of the tasks entrusted to me and I was very happy to have had this opportunity.

I thank all the people who work at UNISOL and I wish them the best in this task of contributing a grain of sand to the good of society.

I take with me the growth that Abel explained to me; the friends, the experiences, and the task of living abroad, the learning and all the moments shared and so much love received. This experience helped me to improve some things about myself and to start other processes, taking steps to be more mature, confident and generous. In addition, I was enchanted with Bolivia and I can recommend everyone to visit it because it is a very beautiful country, which has very friendly people. I am extremely grateful to the people who welcomed me and who allowed me to share a little of my life.

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