Volunteer Mission: February 2011
Home Again, Mostly.
The mission team from Western NC has returned safe and sound from Bolivia. Fourteen days and over 8,000 miles traveled with time spent in cities and villages, high desert and tropical savannas, we saw amazing things and met even more amazing people. We are grateful for this opportunity to visit the far side of the world. We returned richer in spirit, knowing that few people in life have the blessing to see and do what we experienced.
It is impossible to fully describe a trip like this. Although it was full of fun and adventure, it was not a vacation. Unlike vacations, which are for playing and relaxing, mission trips are designed to give one a new (or renewed) view of the world. Mission trips are not about self. They are about giving your time, labor, and love in service to others. In short – to be outwardly focused.
We walked on muddy village roads, busy city streets, and among ruins of a civilization lost to time thousands of years ago. We woke early, worked hard, and played often. We ate good food, shared holy moments, and sang familiar songs beneath the Southern Cross as Sons of Ralph‘s Marty Lewis played the guitar. Beyond all the excitement and adventure, what enriched our lives most was the opportunity to spend time with the children of Kory Wawanaca Children’s Home. These children are amazingly resilient. After being the victims of neglect, abuse, and rejection, they are still willing to give and receive love.
The mission trip was also a time to let the trappings and demands of our daily world fade away. The days in Bolivia were simple. In Tacachia we woke to a peaceful mountain mornings and walked to breakfast with friends. No cars, no TV, and no chance of cell phone coverage. We would see the children at meal times and work on simple manual labor tasks during the day. Every evening, our team, the children, and staff of Kory Wawanaca would share a meal and time together relaxing and enjoying each others’ company. On a few occasions it would have have been helpful if we spoke the same language. However, we were more often reminded that a common language is not always necessary. Sometimes it takes being in a foreign place to truly see and understand the person next to you. It was also part of our evening routine for our mission team to gather to talk, pray, sing, and share fellowship before going to bed. The time and experiences we shared have profoundly bonded our team. It was a simple life. A good life.
We are home again. We go to work and do our best to go about our business. We get stuck in traffic and stand in line at the grocery store. We go to meetings and answer emails and do our best to concentrate on the work at hand. Our friends and family ask us about the trip, and we share stories of our adventures as best we can, but some aspects of the transformative miracles we witnessed cannot be adequately described. We try to return to our normal routines. We look at photos and videos from the trip and smile, but the best connection is made in our memories. Our minds often drift back to Bolivia. We remember the smiles of the children and laughter among friends. We remember the feeling of exhaustion after a hard day’s work, followed by the hug of a child, and we realize that we received far more than we gave.
Yes, we are home again, but we are also there; and we are better for this experience.
Thirty miles separate the city of La Paz, Bolivia from the village of Tacachia. Thirty miles of road that takes you from noise, pollution, sidewalks crammed elbow to elbow, and snarls of traffic jams to a village that seems to have changed very little over the past 200 years. These thirty miles also make hearts race and palms sweat, much like El Camino de la Muerte – The Bolivian Road of Death!
This trip traditionally terrifies newcomers and tests the resolve of veterans returning to the Kory Wawanaca Childrens Home. The February 2011 trek through this Andean pass was the most difficult ever for missionaries from Western NC. Months of soaking rain in northern Bolivia caused devastating mudslides in many areas. Gavin Brown declared the road to Tacachia to be the worst he has ever seen.
Not intimidated by weather or a vehicle that lost its transmission before leaving La Paz, the crew from Western NC set off for Tacachia on a cool, misty Saturday morning. Climbing through the clouds of the Andes and cresting over 14,000 feet before beginning the descent into Tacachia, the road was as treacherous as Gavin had described. Fog and clouds limited our vision. The loose gravel and volcanic ash that makes up this “improved goat path” became a slick surface, and four-wheel drive was nearly ineffective. Creeping along as slowly as possible, our vehicles often felt the tug of centripetal force and gravity, sliding precariously close to the edge of the road. No guardrails protect the road; only the skill of our drivers and the grace of God kept a tire from slipping over the edge and plunging our vehicles hundreds of feet to the valley below.
Those of us who are predisposed to fear of heights endured the white-knuckle trip. Each slip of the tires and every time the driver touched the brakes resulting in a slide made us wonder if we would stop before reaching the edge. The last few miles were the most nerve-racking with frequent switchbacks that quickly dropped the road more than 3,000 feet in elevation. Peering over the precipice just outside our windows, we could see that the road was mere inches wider than our vehicles. Before reaching the village, even the most experienced Bolivian drivers realized the road was now impassable. To reach the Kory Wawanaca Childrens Home, we left our vehicles and walked the remaining miles to the village.
Maybe it was escaping the vehicles, or perhaps the descent to lower elevation and more oxygen in the air made our walk into Tacachia uplifting to our souls. Each step brought us closer to the Home and the Golden Children. As we reached the steps of the Home, we were greeted by shouts of delight as the children rushed to hug us. More than the relief of arriving safely at our destination, we felt as if we were returning to the embrace of family. And that is exactly what going to Tacachia is – returning to be with family.
Three days later it was time for us to leave. During our stay, the village and surrounding mountains were inundated with rain, and we witnessed rock slides on nearby mountains. When it was time for us to return to La Paz, the road had deteriorated to the point that we had to literally dig our way out. Using shovels and picks, we cleared fallen rocks and filled in holes and crevasses where the road gave way. Shoring up miles of the road was strenuous and difficult, but it comforted us to know that we had, to the best of our ability, fortified the path back to the city. As we approached the final rock slide, we were met by a vehicle that had been dispatched from La Paz to retrieve us. The Bolivian driver and his wife saw piles of rocky debris that littered the road, stopped their vehicle, got out and cleared the road. To us, this had been an adventure, but to them, it was just another day on the mountain road.
Epilogue: It is likely that our group had the last dangerous trip to Tacachia. The Rotary Team from Waynesville, NC is currently in Bolivia to oversee the replacement of the more precarious portions of this road and make improvements to fortify other sections. Their efforts are being lead by Steve Brown (Gavin Brown’s father) who led fund-raising efforts for this project. Steve, along with other Haywood County Rotarians, will see the new road that they have generously helped finance with coordination from Rotary International.
Doing for Others – Here , There, Anywhere and Everywhere
Our time in Bolivia is holy. We work, we play, we let loose from our normal routines and live simply. We come together as old friends and new acquaintances and over a few days we bond to form a well disciplined team working towards making life better for these children. We care for one another and constantly check to make sure everyone is alright. We also act like children. We laugh at the silliest things, make terrible jokes and kid with each other all the time. We take joy in our meals shared together more than anything that could be severed at the world’s finest restaurants. We are in constant awe of our surroundings – the rugged landscape, our friends Bolivians working to help Kory Wawanaca a safe and loving home. And most of all we are awed by the children. They are resilient beyond belief. The hardships they have experienced in their short lives is more than most of us will ever know. We know that we can’t help all the children in the world but we are committed to helping these children have a chance for success at life.
For those of us fortunate enough to be part of supporting Kory Wawanaca Children’s Home in person, we are enriched in the process. It is an awakening (or re-awakening) to life beyond ourselves. Not everyone needs to walk the roads of Tacachia to have this experience, but for us it is an important revival. This revival, or awakening, or moment of clarity – or whatever you want to call it is important because it causes us to see and understand things from a new perspective.
Our observations are keen and senses heightened on these trips. Things often overlooked in our normal lives are vivid here. Travel can do that for many people and travel with a purpose to serve others can bring greater consciousness. Paraphrasing an old saying, it is easy to be a holy mountain top, but living a holy life in the mist of an everyday life is as difficult as walking a razors edge. Soon we will be leaving the metaphorical mountain top of be back in our normal routines.
For anyone who is at a moment in life to participate in such a journey, Kory Wawanaca Children’s Home would love your support by prayers, donations, sharing your talents, or your presence in Bolivia. We need your support – but so do our fellow brothers and sisters everywhere. Good deeds are not and should not be measured by helping this one orphanage be it for a week or a lifetime. There is much needed to improve this world. Sometimes the best thing a person can do is to help their family and local community. If you are willing to join us, we will welcome your into our family. If helping this orphanage does not seem right for you (or right for you at this moment) our only hope is that all may feel called to give of yourself in another way.
All the children are happy for visitors, especially the volunteers who come to live and work at the home for a few days. We gringos do our best to work hard and help Carrie and Gavin with projects around the home but often we are more like Aunts and Uncles who come for a visit. We help the “parents” but we also spend a lot of time playing with the children, acting silly and perhaps (just perhaps) we spoil the children. Just a little. No matter what we are doing, the time with these children is extraordinary and the love flows freely in both directions.
Wednesday morning in La Paz
Dawn is breaking in La Paz and the city slow comest to life. After three days in Tacachia, our volunteer crew will have a day of rest and the opportunity to be tourists by going to see the ruins of Tiwanaku. The bus ride and opportunity to a historic site will be a welcome change, but no matter what we do today our thoughts and hearts are with the children of Tacachia.
Night times in Bolivia
Being part of a mission trip makes our night times in Bolivia special because of our tradition night time tradition to gather for evening devotionals. Each night a member of our group will lead us is spiritual reflection. We sing, quote scripture, and tell stories from our own lives and lives of others so that we may learn to see the world through different perspectives and remember that we are all – all of us on this earth – children of God and we should work to make life better for everyone.
We have also been blessed to have Sons of Ralph’s own Marty Lewis sing and play the guitar for us at night. Just try to imagine 15 people gathering in a circle out doors in the little village of Tacachia to share these moments. We are truly blessed!
Quick thoughts on Tacachia
Our three days in the village were amazing. Seeing the children is always a joy but we had a a warmer greeting this time as they greeted us returning family. Kory Wawanaca has always been a place where the children are kept safe, healthy, and given an education but it continues to become more of a home each day. The children are like brother and sisters as they welcome new children into their family and you can truly sense the comfort they have with themselves and one another.
Our time was short but we did so many things. Most importantly, of course, was to spend time with the children but we also helped with building footers for more retaining walls (terracing the land to make it usable is VERY important in Tacachia), painting the home, building new wash basins for cleaning dishes, and of course, we carried a few rocks. We rarely provide skilled labor and we do jobs that we are not accustomed to doing so we often don’t do them as well as others can do, however we give our best because we know that each rock we move, each shovel of dirt we move is one less thing for Carrie, Gavin, and their crew to do later.
The children of Kory Wawanca are amazing. They love the attention of we visitors (returning family) to their village. More than excitement of seeing new faces and receiving a few trinkets, these children open their hearts to us. They crave (and receive) our affection and the bonds we make will last forever. It is also interesting to see how each of the volunteers interact with the children. Stephen Brown is notorious for being a silly clown for the children, Lauren Klepper plays with each of the children in relates to them as an older sister, and of course Marty Lewis always surrounded by children as they adore him, his seemingly bottomless pockets of toys and candy and child like nature. Speaking of Marty, one day he brought his guitar to lunch and played for the children. It was a special moment (Photos and videos to follow when we have a faster Internet connection!)
Back in La Paz!
The volunteer team has arrived safely back in La Paz! We have stories to tell, videos to post and some of th most amazing photo you have ever seen. For now we are quickly getting showers and dinner and more posts should be coming later this evening!
Diamox and a Telescope
Time to begin taking Diamox and soon I’ll feel like I am walking on air! (And by “walking on air” I mean that my feet will start to tingle and go slightly numb.) As I’ve written before, elevation is a huge factor in traveling to Bolivia. Stepping off the plane at over 13,000 feet is a jolting experience. My first trip I took no Diamox – just drank plenty of water, took a few ibuprofens and laid low. This worked out fine. My second trip I took the medication and realized that I was able to function at a much higher level so I will certainly do it again this time. Besides, I have seen people effected by altitude sickness and it’s not pretty. A little tingling in the fingers and toes is a small price to pay when living and working at over 2.5 miles in elevation.
In other news, I have a telescope to bring to the kids. It is a used model, several years old but it should be adequate to give the kids a view to the heavens. While I am not sure that they will like or appreciate it, I remember having a telescope as a kid and it was a lot of fun and helped me learn a lot of things. If nothing else, they may be the only people in Tacachia with a telescope.
February 2011 Volunteer Mission to Kory Wawanaca Home in Bolivia
On February 17th, a mission team from Central United Methodist Church will be departing for Bolivia to continue our work with the Kory WawanacaChildren’s Home. Below, please find a link to some of our work last year on the home and some of the progress that has been made since then. We ask that you keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we seek to offer what little help we can to children without the same opportunities that we have all had in our lives.
Dedication of the Kory Wawanaca Home in La Paz, Bolivia
Trip Information and Logistics
- Rob Blackburn, Senior Minister at Central United Methodist Church (Asheville, NC)
- Stephen Brown, Jr., Youth Minister at Central United Methodist Church (Asheville, NC)
- Jay Coble
- Lauren Klepper
- Lisa Klepper
- Sharon LeDuc
- Marty Lewis
- Randy McCracken
- Meg Meyers
- Steve Oak
- Chad Roope, Mission Trip Leader
- Alisa Tripolino
- Greg Yont
(For anyone who has been to Bolivia or similar place you will know that the schedule is likely to change!)
- Thursday, February 17: Depart Asheville for a short flight from Charlotte to Miami followed by overnight flight to La Paz, Bolivia.
- Friday, February 18: Arrival in Laz @ 6:30am. Travel to hotel John Wesley to rest until mid-day. We will gather as a group to have lunch and then visit a few tourist sites in the city before having an evening meal and retiring for the evening.
- Saturday, Feb 19: Travel from La Paz to Tacachia to visit the children and working at the home. The distance from La Paz to Tacachia is only 30 miles, however the trip usually takes over 4 hours. After leaving the city we will travel dirt roads, some of which are poorly maintained, and crest over 14,000 feet in elevation before arriving in the village or Tacachia to be greeted by the Golden Children or Kory Wawanaca.
- Saturday – Monday, Feb 19-21: Working in Tacachia on the whatever we are able (farm, construction, or general maintenance) and spending time with the Children.
- Monday, Feb 21: after breakfast, the group and a few children will return to La Paz and prepare for work on new Kory Wawanca Home in La Paz.
- Tuesday – Saturday, Feb 21-26: We will have the honor to the be the first group of volunteers to stay at the new home in La Paz as we work to support this new location in the city for older children to continue their education. During this week we may take a day off to visit another tourist site, like Lake Titicaca.
- Sunday, Feb 27: Depart La Paz for Charlotte via Miami.