Volunteers

Following are the visit reports from former volunteers. If you have interest in volunteering with us, please send a request for more information to Dorinda Dutcher at dkdutcher@hotmail.com.

Annie Trowbridge

February 11-20, 2016

Annie´s Drawing Class

Annie´s Drawing Class

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers:

A: I hardly speak a word of Spanish, which I thought would be a big problem, but when Dorinda encouraged me to come anyway and I started working with the women, I discovered I could share a lot just through demonstration. And with my weaving lessons I thought it actually worked really well to not talk and just be focused on learning through visualization. So I would say, knowing Spanish would be helpful but I still found it worked well not to know much at all.

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia?

A: I came on somewhat short notice and was already traveling, but I would suggest a raincoat if you are coming in the rainy season, and good walking shoes. I also found myself often wishing I  had brought Dorinda a few things, like chocolate, and some of the extra scraps of fabric I have at home. I saw that another volunteer brought a bunch of fabric and I think that is a really good idea. And any art supplies you may have lying around, if you are coming from home.

Weaving Class with Doña Máxima

Weaving Class with Doña Máxima

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together.

A: I worked with the older women, mainly helping one sew a dress for her daughter on the sewing machine. I also helped the group do drawings to go on cards.

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

A: Many things! I think the main thing is just a much better understanding of the overall situation in a rural community like Independencia, and in particular the lives of women. It was great to be able to see first-hand the way the women interact with the work that they do here, and what role weavings play in their lives, if any. Just working on the dress on the sewing machine I was able to see how highly skilled these women are, which makes me even more aware of how sad it is that the weaving techniques are not being passed down the way they used to. But I also now have a more nuanced understanding of the fine line between development and loss of culture. My word of wisdom for future volunteers is to do a class or two in weaving with Doña Maxima, because learning to weave really helped me understand the way the women work through visualization and memorization. A way of thinking that is really valuable, I think, and which made me feel closer to the women.

Annie and Gregoria Getting Help from the CdA Weavers

Annie and Gregoria Getting Help from the CdA Weavers

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed?

A: I was traveling as part of a year long trip, so I brought everything I had with me, but I wish I had brought more supportive sandals, since we did a lot of walking around the hills. But other than that, Dorinda had everything I needed and more. You don’t need to worry about reading material; there is a fascinating collection here. *make sure you check out the book called A Perfect Red about Cochineal dyes.

Q: Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia.

A: I am traveling on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a yearlong study of textiles around the world. PAZA was a great match for what I am doing, since I saw I was able to learn to weave, and also experience the culture that surrounds it. It was important to me to be able to work with the women directly, despite the language barrier, but also to have someone like Dorinda who understands the situation here to help me understand it too. I think it is a great place to come for any length of time, because there is always something to be done, but things finish up at their own rate. I have loved it here and hope to come again in the future!

Michelle Burdette

Visit Dates: August 3 – 20, 2015

Exhibiting the Fruits of Their Labors

Exhibiting the Fruits of Their Labors

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers:

A: I knew very little Spanish coming into this but there were not many problems. In hindsight, I would have, at the very least, brought a dictionary with me or wrote some key words down. Also, not knowing the language does create a barrier to really get to know the women and girls of the group and gain rapport with them.

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia?

A: In preparation, I read through the other blogs about the visits here to determine what to pack and what to expect during my visit here which was particularly useful, there was not any surprises.

In Huancarani on Independence Day

In Huancarani on Independence Day

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together.

A: I worked with both the women and the girls for two sessions each. We worked on making headscarves, pompoms and bows. They really enjoyed making the pompoms to adorn their headscarves with as well as make into pony tail holders and clips.

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

A: I would suggest having some Spanish speaking skills to really get to know the women and girls that you will be working with. As well as packing light, the hill to Dorinda’s can be hard if you are not used to hill climbing.

Taking a Selfie with Fan Luz Maira

Taking a Selfie with Fan Luz Maira

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed?

A: I packed light, so the only thing I really would have left at home was my sewing kit, Dorinda has many of the supplies you would need. The fabric would have taken up far less room without my entire kit in there. I wish I would have packed quicker drying clothes, my fleece based wardrobe was hard to wash and harder to dry. I also needed an extra jacket, I came when it was a bit colder than expected.

Q: Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia.

A: My objective for coming to Independencia was to bring millinery to Bolivia by making headscarves and using adornments to decorate them with, this proved to be very successful and the women and girls appreciated it. I was able to observe a culture and it was an exciting and humbling experience that I hope many more volunteers get to have.

Josè Vicente Sànchez

Visit Dates: 13 de julio a 6 de agosto, 2015

Compartiendo Pan

Compartiendo Pan

P: ¿Cómo ha preparado por su visite y el trabajo ha realizado en Independencia?

R: Decidí conocer Bolivia por lo tanto realicé una búsqueda de organizaciones que ofrecían voluntariados en el país, de las opciones tome la decisión de participar en el pueblo de Independencia pues tenía cierta experiencia en el trabajo en zonas de la sierra, ya en Independencia he colaborado con los colegios Boliviano-Alemán y Don Bosco con los cuales organicé a estudiantes de ambas escuelas para realizar un trabajo madonnari (pintura en el piso).

P: Definir las actividades ha realizado y la edad de los participantes en sus talleres.

R: El trabajo consistió en la realización de madonnaris, en la escuela Boliviano-alemán se pintó la imagen de la Virgen de Nuestra Señora del Carmen con el apoyo de 3 alumnas de dicha escuela (Paola, Favia y Zoraida ) con edades entre los 14 y 15 años, en el colegio de Don Bosco se ha realizado la imagen de Juan Bosco por ser el bicentenario de su nacimiento contando con el apoyo de 2 alumnas: Yoselin y Jimena de 13 y 15 años respectivamente.

Josè Teaching the Madonnari Technique to 3 Students

Josè Teaching the Madonnari Technique to 3 Students

P: ¿Que va a llevar de sus experiencias en Independencia? ¿Tiene unas palabras de sabiduría por los voluntarios futuros?

R: La experiencia de mi trabajo como voluntario en Independencia ha sido muy grata, he tenido la oportunidad de conocer personas maravillosas que durante mi estancia me trataron de manera muy cordial, motivo por el cual, ésta, tanto como las experiencias previas de voluntariados que he tenido la posibilidad de llevar a cabo se convierten para mí en una oportunidad de aprendizaje muy valioso, sin duda recordaré con mucho cariño a las personas que hicieron sentir como en casa.

Josè Teaching Math Through Games

Josè Teaching Math Through Games

P: ¿Hay algunas cosas que ha cargado a Independencia que no las necesitaba? ¿Hay algunas cosas que Ud. necesitaba pero no ha traído?
R: Creo que no tuve necesidad de más de lo que he traído, viajé con poco equipaje y resultó ser suficiente para los días que pasé en independencia

P: Por favor escribe unas palabras para resumir su meta para servir de voluntario en Independencia y la experiencia.
R: El propósito considero que se cumplió, el interés por compartir la técnica de la pintura en el piso ha sido recibida con entusiasmo y a su vez fue el vinculo para un intercambio cultural, tanto con historias que yo contaba de México como las que me contaron de Bolivia.

Debora Petschek

Visit Report for Stay: July 8 – 21, 2014

Taking a Weaving Class from Doña Màxima

Taking a Weaving Class from Doña Màxima

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers: 

Debora: I am a native Spanish speaker, so was able to communicate without difficulty with the women and girls who also speak it. They in turn would translate for the women who only spoke Quechua, so information and conversation were able to flow quite easily in both directions.

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia? 

Debora: I went to Independencia at the invitation of my daughter, Selina, who had spent time there 1 ½ years earlier. Since I am a kindergarden teacher, she suggested that I come prepared to work with the younger children, in the 5 to 10 year range. We also brought several skeins of bulky wool and a book of crocheted granny squares.

Teaching a Granny Square Pattern to Zoraida

Teaching a Granny Square Pattern to Zoraida

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together. 

Debora: I ended up working with all ages. The adult women and teenage girls wanted to learn how to interpret as many granny square patterns as possible in the two weeks we were there, so we spent the whole time making samples. The bulky wool had been intended to teach knitting and felting techniques, but we never got to that. However, the wool will still be put to good use by the “doñas”. I also found time to teach a few 5 and 6 year olds (and even one 11 year old) how to finger knit and spool knit. They were very proud to leave at the end of the session with their finished projects in hand.

Teaching Noelia Spool Knitting

Teaching Noelia Spool Knitting

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)? 

Debora: When it first became clear that we were going to be teaching crochet, I thought the best way to do this would be for me and the women to each make a square, working out the pattern in tandem. However, it immediately became obvious that their skills far outstripped mine, so I ended up just guiding them through the pattern. They are such experienced fiber artists, that they were able to figure the patterns out quite easily. My words of advice for future volunteers is to come with a plan, but be flexible and open to having those plans change. Whatever you end up doing, you will still have an amazing and meaningful experience.

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed? 

Debora and Selina Ready to Dance Tinku

Debora and Selina Ready to Dance Tinku

Debora: This question is a little hard to answer as my stay in Independencia was part of a larger trip, so not all I packed was intended for my stay there. My advice would be to pack as lightly as possible, no more than three or four days’ worth of clothes. Laundry is done by hand so, provided there is water, can be done as often as needed. If possible, bring biodegradable bar soap and bar shampoo, enough to last your stay with no empty receptacle to take back. Also, if you go during the dry season, be advised that your luggage will get very dusty on the bus ride to and from Cochabamba. There is plenty of reading material, so no need to bring more than one book to read. Dorinda will take amazing care of you while you are there, so if you want to thank her hospitality with a small gift, here are some suggestions: chocolate, wine, yerba mate.

Debora and Selina Working with Doñas Antonia and Màxima

Debora and Selina Working with Doñas Antonia and Màxima

Q: Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia.

Debora: My stay in Independencia was so wonderful on so many levels, it is hard to find adequate words to describe it. Getting to work alongside these master weavers, who are such incredible artists, was such a privilege. Also, dancing in the fiesta was a lot of fun. Thank you Dorinda for letting me take your place on the second day so that I could have that experience. Daily walks in the surrounding countryside; the amazing birdlife; the slow pace of life; getting to know the community, especially the children; being surrounded by nature; it fed my soul and rejuvenated my whole being.

Alison Walsh

Knitting Camraderie

Knitting Camraderie

Visit Report for Stay: March 19 – April 13, 2014

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers: 

A: Intermediate/ advanced. Although I did at times wonder whether Quechua might be a more useful language to have, there were very few moments when I was unable to make myself understood to the women. With a bit of help from those with a slightly better command of Spanish and a fair few gestures and demonstrations, I usually managed to get my message across! It would have been useful to know a few more specific technical words before I came (just things like the Spanish for ‘knit’ and ‘purl’ rows, casting on and off etc. would have come in handy). I also wish I’d understood some of the jokes!

Projects with the Chicas

Projects with the Chicas

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia? 

A: Bringing patterns was a really good idea, particularly the ones of the knitted animals, as the women hadn’t made anything like that before and so were keen to learn (and had a lot of fun doing it!). If I were to come again, I would make more samples, both of finished objects and of examples of stitches, since the women found it far easier to learn from copying tangible objects than from looking at books. Reading a little about the Bolivian textile tradition and visiting various textile museums also meant that I felt that I understood a little more about the process of weaving and dyeing when I saw the women working and gave it a go myself.

Knitting and Dyeing

Knitting and Dyeing

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together. 

A: I mostly worked with the women of the Club de Artesanas on knitting projects. As they were keen to learn new stitches for their jumpers, cardigans and shawls, we spent a couple of days making samplers of different ‘lace’ style patterns, which they then used for their next knitting projects (with yarn which we brought from Cochabamba, and which was thicker and thus required the use of larger needles than the ones they are accustomed to). We also worked on making knitted chicks and rabbits, which requires more intricate work with small pieces, shaping, stuffing and sewing together than some of the women are used to. Some of the women then decided to turn their animals into keyrings or dashboard ornaments by adding a small loop attachment. I spent one day helping one of the women to design and sew two bib/aprons for her children. Finally, we did several days of natural dyeing with different plants, led by Doña Máxima and Dorinda, so I saw the whole process of preparing skeins, washing, soaking, dyeing, washing again, drying and winding.

Weaving Class with Doña Máxima

Weaving Class with Doña Máxima

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

A: I was amazed by how keen the women were to learn new skills and designs, and how quickly some of them picked up what I was demonstrating or they found in the books. I would therefore say come prepared to teach and share a lot, because they will be interested in whatever you’re doing! At the same time, the pace of things here is very steady and calm, and a day can pass by in knitting and chatting and sitting outside without you really noticing. Planning things doesn’t exactly work: things just happen! (Or sometimes they don’t, but somehow it doesn’t matter!). I was really grateful to have had the time to get to know the women: although there are so many cultural differences between their lives and mine, we had some wonderful moments of hilarity and I got some great stories from them, and I’ll really miss them! Plus of course Dorinda, who kept me well supplied with cake and snacks and lovely veggie food for three weeks, along with stories of her travels and plenty of scrambling walks with stunning views.

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed? 

A: I was glad I only had a small rucksack, since I had to lug it up the hill to the house! Quick drying clothes and long sleeves are perfect (watch out for the mosquitoes!), and a good pair of sturdy sandals for walking through mud, dust, rain etc. Not many clothes are needed, but sunscreen and a hat, wet wipes/ hand sanitizer, a water bottle, a camera and a notebook are essentials, as is plenty of space in your bag for weavings to take home!

Showing Off Completed Chuspita

Showing Off Completed Chuspita

Q: Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia.

A: I study French and Hispanic literature at Oxford University, and am spending a ‘year abroad’ to improve my language skills and cultural understanding. After six months in France I came to Bolivia and was in La Paz for two months, working for a magazine, before coming to Independencia. Since I have always loved fibre arts (and am rarely without a couple of projects on the go and never far from a pair of knitting needles) it was the perfect opportunity to share my skills, learn a bit more about weaving (which is a completely fascinating topic!) and get to know this beautiful area of rural Bolivia. Working on a grassroots level with a project that empowers women to use their talents to create beautiful things, value their heritage and make some money out of it has been an amazing experience, and I wish Dorinda, Doña Máxima and the rest of the weavers the best of luck for the future!

Author: Alison Walsh, April 13, 2014

 

Selina Petschek 

Visit Report, Dates of Stay:  January 7th – February 13th, 2013

Chatting, Crafting, Laughing

Chatting, Crafting, Laughing

 Q. What is your level of Spanish and do you have any comments about language barriers?

Coming to Independencia I had a pretty minimal level of Spanish. I’d taken one semester in college right before my internship as well as three days of intensive classes though Sustainable Bolivia in Cochabamba. Everybody from the women to the chicas to the chicos were very patient with me, laughing alongside me as I tried to explain patterns and volunteering vocabulary when I started floundering. I didn’t take me long to pick up the essential words needed to teach and learn fiber arts and I found that we all spoke a truly universal language through our work. This was particularly true when I taught a class on knitting textures to women of Huancarani. When I spoke to them in Spanish they spoke back to me in Quechua. Given these language barriers it really was our shared love of fiber arts that allowed us to communicate.

Starting Chicas On New Projects

Starting Chicas On New Projects

What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia?  

I wrote out a rough work plan for my six-week stay and organized a few examples of my work to show the women and chicas. While I ended up doing completely different activities than I’d originally planned I found it helpful to have something to jump off of. Once I got there, Dorinda and I met weekly to review what was being accomplished and plan for the upcoming week, an activity that was tremendously helpful. Other than these two things I just came ready to learn and share as much as I could.

Q. Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together: 

Basket Making with Pine Needles

Basket Making with Pine Needles

The length of my stay allowed me enough time to work with all age groups including the younger neighborhood kids and chicos, the teenage chicas, and the women. With the chicos and neighborhood kids, who were bored out their minds during school vacation, I taught pine basketry, made crocheted puppets, and did a little bit of cordage making. The chicas were primarily interested in making new clothes so we worked with a lot of the magazines Dorinda has on hand. They made vests, scarves, blouses, and sweaters becoming more and more acquainted with pattern shaping and learning how to read written diagrams without me. The women were also interested in new patterns so I worked with them to make house slippers, blouses, sweaters, and a blanket. Near the end of my stay I did a series of classes on knitting textures, making small samples that the women could then use for larger projects after I left. The texture class was so popular we ended up taking it out to Huancarani to do a workshop with the women there. By this point Doña Maxima was so well acquainted with textures that we were able to co-teach the group of 22 women who showed up.

Teaching a Knitting Workshop in Huancarani

Teaching a Knitting Workshop in Huancarani

Q. What did you carry away from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers) 

While it’s hard to sum up my experiences I think one of the biggest things I carried away was a new perspective. Hearing about and witnessing the hardships these women face gave me a tremendous amount of respect for their fortitude and determination. I now more fully understand the tension between modernization and traditional subsistence farming and how education is simultaneously providing opportunities and ensuring the demise of cultural traditions. It is incredibly sad to see the women’s weaving practice, which was once so integral and vital to their rural lifestyle, get replaced with lightweight plastic bags, synthetic blankets, and western clothing. Even more disturbing is the generational divide occurring among mothers who are no longer teaching their daughters to weave. At the same time I fully understand why the young people have to desire to endure the hardships their parents have had when a better life in the city awaits. 

Weaving Class with Doña Máxima

Weaving Class with Doña Máxima

Q. What did you pack that you’d wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed?

I wish I had packed more examples of my work as well as certain specific supplies such as raffia for pine basketry and cross-stick cloth for embroidery. The women are such visual learners that having more finished projects to inspire their work would have been wonderful. I also wish I had brought my drop spindle so the women could have seen a different style than the type they use.

Q. Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia: 

My objective was to engage in true cultural and technical exchange and every moment I spent teaching the women and chicas was incredible. Their willingness to learn, their hunger for new knowledge, and our shared love of fiber arts bridged all language barriers effortlessly. That being said, I believe that the genuine success of my project was due to the true reciprocity of our interactions. Not only was I able to teach new skills but also honor the women’s traditional weaving heritage by studying their craft. While I certainly did not come close to addressing the host of societal problems these women and chicas face, I was able to bring a little comfort into their lives, expand their technical expertise, help develop more marketable, modern adaptations of their traditional work, as well as study their craft and develop my own skills. It is frustrating to see so much hardship alongside wasted development money and potential for change but at least these women are working towards improving their lives.  Author: Selina Petschek, February 12, 2013

Marissa Barnard

Visit Report, Dates of Stay: December 14, 2012 – January 1, 2013

Translating Pattern Instructions for the Chicas

Translating Pattern Instructions for the Chicas

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers: 

A:  My Spanish was advanced enough that communication was effective, except for the gaping hole in my vocabulary with regards to knitting and crocheting terms, which turned out to be the focus of my interaction with the women.  I tried my best to look up whatever crucial words I was missing, but I found it was easier to talk directly to the chicas themselves because there are many dialectical nuances that made the dictionary practically useless (i.e. the dictionary says yarn is “hilo” but the women call it “lana” which technically means wool, but to them means most types of acrylic yarn, as well).  The women, especially the chicas, can be shy and talk in Quechua amongst themselves, which can make you feel like you are always missing something.  However, once I started talking to them, even about the most mundane topics (from the weather to movies), they opened up and it was much easier to have a dialogue and both sides were better able to communicate about the projects.  I constantly mangled my sentences, and am certain I was completely incomprehensible at times, but they were all very patient with me and were willing to teach me what my Spanish classes hadn’t covered.

The Chicas Came Every Day For Help

The Chicas Came Every Day For Help

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia? 

A:  My decision to volunteer was quite spontaneous, so I was unable to organize much of anything ahead of time and instead prepared myself mentally to do whatever was asked of me to the best of my ability.  Luckily for me, the chicas were interested in several crocheting projects that they had seen in pattern books brought by a former volunteer, and my ability to read the English patterns meant that our potential for projects was endless.  You never know what random skills or hobbies will come in handy!  I wish I had had more time to plan out several sewing projects and locate the necessary materials.   However, knowing what the women will want to do is nearly impossible, so being able to adapt was the best possible preparation I could have asked for.

Helping Doña Máxima Start a Project

Helping Doña Máxima Start a Project

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together. 

A:  My main activity was interpreting crochet patterns for the chicas, who took the knowledge and ran with it.  I would bumble my way through an example, and they would copy my work, but with much superior execution.  Next thing I knew, they each had two scarves, tank tops, and vests.  I also had the opportunity to work with Adriana, the youngest of the women, and Dona Maxima, who both graciously tolerated my mediocre crochet models in order to create booties and a dress, respectively.  They told me what they were interested in making, and I would read and adapt the pattern as necessary.  I am hoping to purchase some more crocheting materials on their behalf, now that I am acquainted with their interests and needs.  I also had the pleasure of spending time with the kids, who were very bored on vacation, and got to make Christmas cookies and a gingerbread house with them.  It takes little to entertain them, as they are contented just by company, and I enjoyed my time with them immensely.

Working with Lizeth

Working with Lizeth

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

 

A:  I cannot adequately express how much I have enjoyed my time in Independencia.  Not only is Dorinda a fabulous chef with an excellent sense of humor and endless patience, but her knowledge and experience made my stay an incredibly enlightening one.  I have been interested in International Development to the point of possibly studying it in grad school, but I wanted exposure to the ground-level nuts and bolts of international non-profit work before deciding.  These few weeks have taught me far more about the realities of development work than four years in college ever could, and I believe that such an experience is imperative to balance out the theoretical nature of academic study.  Because Dorinda has spent so many years getting to know the community and complexities of the lives of the women she is committed to, she herself is a valuable resource for anyone interested in non-profit or development work.  Moreover, the opportunity to settle down into a community, if only for a few weeks, has been wonderful.  This is the way to truly experience Bolivia.

Putting Finishing Touches on a Gingerbread House

Putting Finishing Touches on a Gingerbread House

Advice to future volunteers:  Do it.  Whether or not you are interested in development work or weaving, you have something to contribute, and you will get much more in return.

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed? 

A:  Bring a raincoat and sunscreen.  The altitude means the sun and the rainclouds are closer than you have likely ever experienced.

Q: Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia.

A:  I have been interested in development work, Latin America, and crafting of all kinds for a long time.   This seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience all three, and I was ready for a break from the tourist circuit.  Not only did I learn tons about Bolivia, its culture, and its people, but I got to know and witness master weavers and their craft.  Moreover, I had the chance to immerse myself in the language and the culture, which was something I had been missing as a tourist.  This has been a great detour off the beaten path, as I was hoping it would be. Author: Marissa Barnhard, December 31, 2012

Kaylynn Palaio

Visit Report, Dates of Stay:   July 24 – August 14, 2012: 

Learning to Hand Spin

Learning to Hand Spin

Q. Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers: 

A:  Conversational – Fluent in Spanish.  With this level of Spanish it was easy to communicate with anyone who understood Castellano, but there is a fairly significant language barrier concerning Quechua.  While it is not needed to participate fully in the volunteer program, an undiluted understanding of the women and girls is perhaps lost in translation.  I found it a bit inhibiting when trying to discern the girls’ opinions or thoughts.  They seemed to express their thoughts more fully and freely in Quechua and then one girl would translate a brief answer to Spanish.  In the end this motivated me to want to learn Quechua.

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia? 

Teaching Computer Skills to the Chicas

Teaching Computer Skills to the Chicas

A: Being in Bolivia for a time before coming to Independencia was tremendously helpful to get a feel for the modernized culture before immersion in campesino culture.  Also, reading a few articles or familiarizing yourself with Bolivian history, especially as it relates to indigenous populations, is invaluable to have a broader perspective of what you will experience and witness in present day.  A quick orientation to certain campesino customs would be helpful to avoid some cultural faux-pas.

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together. 

A: I worked most closely with the Club de Chicas, around 13-15 years old.  I conducted a few workshops on photography—how to use a digital camera and certain techniques in picture taking.  This evolved to include work on a computer, concerning how to upload, organize and save pictures.  We briefly touched upon editing pictures with Microsoft Picture Manager and intended to move onto PowerPoint.

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

Group Photo with the Chicas

Group Photo with the Chicas

A: One important lesson is the gap between one’s expectations or theoretical ideas and reality.  For instance, I thought I might be able to gain insight into the education in Independencia.  While I learned a good deal through conversations with Dorinda, gleaming information and opinions from the girls was not easy nor would it be possible until I had built stronger relationships with them over a longer period of time.  What is more, the girls most likely have not reflected upon their education, as I’m sure I did not at 14 years old, so posing such questions would in all likelihood seem odd.

Although I came to Independencia wanting to learn and realizing I would probably take away more than I could offer, just how much one is able to learn simply by being here and listening is incredible.  To be a successful volunteer, a willingness and ability to be open to learn is extremely important.

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed? 

A:  It would have been smarter to pack fewer clothes and leave my hairdryer at home. (although I did use it in Cochabamba).

Q: Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia.

Joining in a Ruraq Maki Jewelry Making Class

Joining in a Ruraq Maki Jewelry Making Class

A: My objectives for volunteering were fairly lofty and theoretical, mostly likely the result of two semesters of graduate studies on development.  For example, my hopes in relation to education were not entirely realistic as mentioned before. While I was able to provide some computer instruction and hopefully at the very least improve the girls’ confidence in being able to use such technology, ‘vocational skills training’ is again a lofty goal.  I included it in my objectives without knowing what vocational skills may be desired and without considering that it is not something you can do very well in 3 weeks time.  It’s also unclear to me if anyone is even having a dialogue with students about their future/interests or what kind of skills they may want to cultivate for the future.  My guess would be no, especially considering the vacant vocational school funded by the municipality.  In contemplating these issues, the challenges facing young girls, namely early pregnancy, seem very difficult to overcome or prevent.  Other options locally are limited it would seem to agriculture or alcaldia jobs.

Another important take-away is an improved understanding of the barriers campesinos, especially women, face and my frustration in the face of this knowledge.  Especially related to reproductive health, family planning, and domestic violence. While I did not speak to any of the women or girls about these issues, the information Dorinda has acquired over the years served to enlighten me.  Again, the linguistic and cultural barriers that prevent an outsider from delving any deeper into intimate issues have become more evident.  I think my frustration is very telling of my upbringing in the USA and the worldview that I carry with me, at times not even consciously.  My initial gut reaction seems to always be ‘this is not okay’ and ‘something can be done.’ The outlook that there is always something that can or should be done I think is a very American response.

One of the most important take-aways from my time in Independencia is seeing more clearly what my best role can be in terms of ‘development.’  I see myself as a bridge—to resources, information, and partnerships, and may prefer for a time to work more closely with people in other countries rather than organizational staff in the USA.  Author: Kaylynn Palaio, August 14, 2012

Julia Wilber

Visit Report, Dates of Stay:  28 June – 27 July 2012

Sewing Project with Gabriela

Sewing Project with Gabriela

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers: 

A: I speak a really basic level of Spanish. It was fun to learn more through my interactions with everyone, but I certainly wish that I had a stronger grasp on the language! In other words, it is not impossible to do well here without strong Spanish skills when you arrive, but a desire to learn, as well as communicate differently, is important.

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia? 

A: I’ve spent significant time in the third world and grassroots situations and I think that helped me to keep an open mind about my short-term role in this community.

Results of Patchwork Technique Class

Results of Patchwork Technique Class

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together. 

A: I worked with chicas who were between 15 and 17 years old, and I helped them with a few sewing projects—a patchwork pillow case, a blouse, a dress, and a skirt. I had also recently come from Cambodia where I worked with another weaving cooperative, so I shared a few of my experiences with the Women in a short presentation.

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

A: Keep your mind open, and lean in. Don’t worry about your expectations, let them go. Engage the community in the ways that are available to you, personal relationships are the most important. Dance with Dorinda if you come during a fiesta and get the chance! I loved my time in Independencia—for me, it came at the end of a year long research trip, and the fresh food, time for reflection, and community engagement were exactly what I was looking for, not to mention Dorinda’s wealth of knowledge about life and her work here. I treasure those conversations and long walks—I learned as much from her as I did from the rest of the community.

Other advice? Stay as long as you can—what you can learn and experience deepens with time!

Dancing Tinku at the Annual Fiesta

Dancing Tinku at the Annual Fiesta

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed? 

A: I found that I needed relatively little to live comfortably, and I lacked nothing here. Dorinda has an amazing collection of books in Spanish and in English, so I would echo what other volunteers have said—leave your books home! I would be sure to bring your own medicines that you’re familiar with for fighting things like colds, the flu, etc as well as basic first aid supplies, just in case. As far as clothing, I was here during the dry season/winter when it was often hot and dry during the day and much cooler at night. I was always grateful for the down comforter and wool blanket Dorinda provided! But as far as what I wore, I was fine with a pair of sandals and a pair of sneakers, a few pairs of pants, leggings, and tops. My midweight Patagonia jacket was great with lots of layers underneath, because I tended to shed them during the day. Jeans hold moisture and dirt (plus they’re bulky and heavy)—quick dry pants are better if you have them. Don’t bring too much! A few outfits should do it. If you react strongly to sun, bring your own sunscreen, because the sun is very strong.

Q: Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia.

Julia´s Birthday Celebration

Julia´s Birthday Celebration

A: I came to Independencia as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, researching fair trade and ethical clothing production around the world this year. Although PAZA does not produce much in terms of clothing, volunteering in Independencia gave me the opportunity to witness and, to a certain extent be a part of, a way of life that supports textiles in the Andes. Much of the fair trade clothing produced in South America is woven and produced in communities that live similarly, so this was an incredible introduction into this way of life. I also hoped I could be helpful to the club de chicas with my sewing skills and support their sewing projects.

I must extend an enormous thank you to all the Women as well as the Club de Chicas for their warmth and for putting up with my poor Spanish; a special thanks to Doña Maxima, who taught me the beginning steps in how to weave; and my sincerest gratitude to Dorinda, for all our thought provoking conversations, her encouragement, and her dedication to PAZA. I hope to return soon!  Author: Julia Wilber, July 26, 2012

Allison Tolbert

Visit Report, Dates of Stay:   December 4-27, 2011

Loading Up After Workshop in Huancarni

Loading Up After Workshop in Huancarni

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers: 

A:  I have been studying Spanish through high school and college, and did not encounter any particular language barriers in communicating with the women and children.  I did expand my vocabulary such as weaving terms, however. I learned basic greetings and phrases in Quechua to greet the weavers who didn’t speak Spanish, but wish I were able to fit in a few Quechua classes with Sustainable Bolivia prior to coming to Independencia to better speak with them.

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia? 

A:  Since I came with a research project to pair with my volunteer experience, I had drafted a proposal and particular themes that I wanted to explore in terms of the social and cultural contexts of Independencia and the subsistence lifestyle.  Although I wanted my research questions to remain open-ended until I arrived, it helped as a guide. I also brought notebooks and pens for field notes/daily journaling, which was a great way to unwind after a long day and reflect on my experience.

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together. 

A:  I worked with the Club de Chicas, and one week we made purses with lining, pockets, zippers and straps.  They all wanted their purses to be slightly different, so it was fun to help them cut out different creative patterns for the fabrics. When the chicas were working with Doña Máxima and doing weaving activities, I would make craft activities and play board games with the younger children.

Alli and the Chicas with Results of a Shoulder Bag Sewing Project

Alli and the Chicas with Results of a Shoulder Bag Sewing Project

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

A:  I especially enjoyed the Dye Days, in Independencia and Huancarani; I was very inspired by the women’s overall sense of community, generosity, and interest in natural dyes.  I was lucky to be present when a weaver presented a beautiful ‘faja’ design that was only known by a few of the abuelas. It was a great example of how some of the weavers are rescuing the traditional weaving designs before they are lost.  A piece of advice is to arrive with an open mind. Incorporating humor into everything avoided getting frustrated by the little thing.  I gained a lot of respect for cooking and baking; Dorinda is an excellent cook and the garden was chock-full of herbs, vegetables and flowers. I also read many books—she has a great library selection so I would suggest leaving books out of the packing list. Many of them were excellent resources on development projects, both in Bolivia and worldwide, that added to my experience and understanding.

Scrabble Game

Scrabble Game

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed? 

A:  I had a medium-sized wheeled suitcase for my following three-month stay in Argentina that was supposed to be stored at the airport, but after a few mix-ups it ended up coming to Independencia and getting lugged up to Dorinda’s house.  Apart from that, for Independencia I had a backpack and a medium-sized bag, which was just the right amount.  I wish I had packed a few sewing patterns for the chicas, or a few more magazines of crochet/sewing/weaving. Hand sanitizer, quick-dry pants, and sunscreen/bug spray were very helpful to have.

Q: Please write a few words about yourself in relation to your objective for volunteering in Independencia.

A:  I decided to come in the middle of my Senior year at the University of Denver, to gain personal, on-the-ground experience with grassroots community development. I arrived with a research proposal focused on grassroots artisan development in the context the rural economy of Independencia and nearby locations.  I also plan on applying to the Peace Corps in the future, and Dorinda was an indispensable resource in terms of getting to know the Peace Corps process and experience. Overall it was an incredible experience!

Kelsey Wiskirchen

Visit Report, Dates of Stay: December 30, 2010 – January 7 – 2011

Kaleidoscope Project Results

Kaleidoscope Project Results

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers:

A: I speak just a little Spanish.  At first this was very daunting for me, but it was amazing how much easier it became after just a few days.  The first day that I worked with the Club de Chicas, Dorinda translated for me, but each day I became more comfortable with trying to speak on my own.  We kept a whiteboard in the room, and if there was a word that I did not know, we would write it in Spanish and in English.  Most of what we were doing was visual and tactile, so if I could not find the words it was usually just fine.

 

The times that it bothered me the most to be lacking verbal communication were when we were not working.  During meals together and before or after lessons I had so much in my mind that I wanted to say, but no way to articulate it.  It was definitely an exercise in being comfortable with listening rather than speaking.  And now I am feeling very motivated to learn!

Sewing with the Chicas

Sewing with the Chicas

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia?

A: I knew that I would be working with the Club de Chicas, making garments with the sewing machine, but I was not sure what styles the girls would be interested in.  I looked for a few beginner patterns for skirts and blouses that I thought might be suitable for their age group, and picked out a variety of styles so that there would be some options.

I also put together materials for a couple of art activities with the younger children.  I wasn’t sure what the specific age range would be, so I tried to plan projects that would be interesting for older children but still simple enough for the younger ones.  It turned out that the older kids helped the younger ones.  They all caught on quickly, and they were all very enthusiastic about learning, so I think that they would have enjoyed almost any activity.

Proud Chicas Showing Off the Skirts They Made

Proud Chicas Showing Off the Skirts They Made

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together.

A: My primary work was with the Club de Chicas.  Of the patterns that I brought, there was one specific skirt that they all like the best, so I showed them how to follow the pattern and cut the pieces out of the fabric, and then how to sew it on the machine.  Since there were four girls, it worked out nicely to work with two girls at a time, so that one time they were observing and helping, and the second time they were doing the actual sewing.  We spent quite a bit of time getting familiar with the machine.  I wanted them to be comfortable with winding the bobbin, threading the machine, backstitching, doing a button hole, and all of the basics.  They caught on very quickly, and were extremely precise and conscientious with every step of the process.

I had several weaving lessons with Doña Maxima.  She taught me how to weave straps with different patterns.  For my last lesson, she helped me make a small bag (chuspita) with a shoulder strap, which is by far my favorite souvenir from the trip!  We also warped her large loom one day so that I could understand the process.  Doña Maxima is really an amazing teacher, and I felt lucky to be taking classes with her in conjunction with teaching sewing classes to the girls.  I learned from Doña Max how to teach through showing instead of explaining when there is a language barrier, and how to be watchful and attentive during the lesson.

Beading with the Kids

Beading with the Kids

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

A: I carried away so much more than I contributed.  I was treated with so much openness, kindness, and hospitality while I was in Independencia.  All age groups—from the weavers to the children—were such a joy to be with.  Where words failed, warm handshakes, smiles and kisses on the cheek filled in.  Every day was an adventure full of teaching, learning, and always a wonderful evening walk with Dorinda.  A short hike in any direction from Dorinda’s house provides a breathtaking view.  After a week and a half of mountain air, fresh food, and sincere kindness, I felt like I had been on a retreat.

Words of wisdom?  Just be open to whatever might happen.  I did not have a set idea or expectation of what the trip would be like, and I am glad.  Dorinda and I always had a plan for the day, but there was often some improvising, and that was part of the fun.

Painting Kaleidoscopes

Painting Kaleidoscopes

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed?

A: The biggest packing concern was space and weight in my bag.  I brought one hiking pack and a small shoulder bag.  Since we did a bit of walking in transit, I was glad to not have any more luggage.  (A few of the kids met us as we were walking from the bus and carried my bag for me!)  I thought that I was packing lightly, but if I were to re-pack for the same trip I would try to pack even lighter.  Since it was rainy season when I was there, it was often chilly and wet in the mornings, but then almost every day it warmed and dried up by the afternoon.  Instead of jeans, I would bring lightweight quick-drying pants.  I brought hiking boots for walking, but would have been better off with sturdy sandals because the weight of the boots was unnecessary.  I was glad to have layers—a very warm sweater, a lighter long-sleeved shirt, a raincoat, a couple of t-shirts.

Weaving Class with Doña Máxima

Weaving Class with Doña Máxima

I was glad to have small activities to do with the young chicos—Even though my primary reason for visiting was to do sewing classes with the Club de Chicas, Dorinda told me that the younger children in the neighborhood would also be happy to do some sort of activity.  I was so glad that I brought along materials for the kaleidoscopes and bead animals because they were incredibly enthusiastic about doing the activities.  Also, after using the materials for the activities, space was freed up in my bag for bringing a few weavings home.

A thought on plane tickets:  For the cheapest flights that I could find back to the States, I had a layover in Lima, Peru and then another in San Jose, Costa Rica.  From the time that I left La Paz to the time that I got off my final flight, I had been traveling in airports for over 24 hours.  I didn’t realize how exhausting that would be—If I were to do it again, I would probably pay a little bit more to have a more direct flight.   Author: Kelsey Wiskirchen, January, 6, 2011

 

Emily Carlquist

Dates of Stay:  October 19 – November 3, 2010

Needle Felting Class

Needle Felting Class

Q: Level of Spanish and any comments about language barriers: 

A: I speak very little Spanish.  I have been Studying Spanish in College for the past two years; therefore, I was able to understand much more than I was capable of communicating. Luckily for me I traveled with a friend who communicates very well in Spanish, so I had her assistance with translation when Dorinda wasn’t within earshot.  The fact that I speak no Quechua, and very little Spanish my exchange with most of the members of PAZA, and or community members was mostly a visual and energetic exchange.  Although I was frustrated with my inability express gratitude for or interest in others verbally- I was still surprised and appreciative for the knowledge that I did gain. I am more motivated now than ever before to study Spanish diligently, so that I may one day return to Independencia, and give thanks verbally for all of the knowledge that the Women of PAZA had to share.

Weaving with Doña Máxima

Weaving with Doña Máxima

Q: What did you do in preparation for your visit that was helpful during your volunteer work in Independencia?

A: I must admit that I had a bit of anxiety while trying to decide and or prepare what I was going to teach, or share with the women of PAZA. My anxiety stemmed from recognizing that these women have all been fiber artists since they were young girls; that, along with the unknown i.e. what was Independencia like? Will there be craft stores, or supplies available?

The unknown forced me to lend more focus to what was known. Based on the fact that Bolivian weavings are produced from wool, I concluded that the women would have access to fleece.  This realization offered clarification that I should try to teach workshops using supplies that the women are familiar with, and will have access to even after I leave.  Therefore, I decided to teach a workshop in needle felting and hot water felting.  Although I brought my own fleece, yarn, and books for the women to use- the only items that I truly needed to supply were the barbed felting needles, and finished examples of both needle felted animals, and hot water felted fabric.

Face Painting for Halloween Party

Face Painting for Halloween Party

Q: Briefly describe the age group you worked with and the activities you did together.    

A: I worked closest with Dona Maxima who is the primary skills trainer     for PAZA.  Along with teaching a couple of felting workshops to the women weavers and their daughters, I helped Dona Maxima with some basic technical assistance on the sewing machine.  Dona Maxima already had a good understanding of how to sew using a straight stitch and zig-zag stitch.  I mainly helped her in figuring out how to use the various feet that accompanied the machine, making it easier to show her how to insert zippers and create buttonholes.

Q: What did you carry away with you from your experiences in Independencia (or any words of wisdom for future volunteers)?

A: The main thing that I have carried away with me from my time in Independencia, is a great respect for all who live in the Bolivian highlands. Along with a new revere for everything that we as westerners take for granted i.e. having a bathroom and running water in all of our houses. Living without running water in ones house, or in some cases even on ones land- makes everyday chores like washing cloths and dishes into a timely adventure.

 

Teaching Doña Máxima Needle Felting

Teaching Doña Máxima Needle Felting

As for teaching a fiber arts workshop, I would strongly suggest having a finished item prepared as an example than can be held and analyzed. I brought books with pictures of felted animals and fabric, but the strongest example was the one people could pick up and inspect. It was interesting to me that whatever I made was duplicated exactly down to the same color choice. It wasn’t until I ran out of a certain color of fleece that the women began to venture out.  The kids on the other hand were quicker to produce something of their own imagination.

Q: What did you pack that you wished you’d left at home? What did you wish you had packed?

A:  I feel pretty fortunate that I didn’t over pack, because it was a pretty good walk from the bus station up to Dorinda’s house. Being that Independencia is situated in a valley in the Andes everywhere you walk is on a pretty good slope; therefore, comfortable shoes are a must. Everything I packed I wore, washed, and wore again. I was happy to have had a variety of layers so that I was comfortable when it was warm and cool out. Having a couple of hats was very important- a brimmed hat for sunny days, and a stocking cap for the cooler nights. Traveling with at least one skirt was probably the best item I took with be, because I could put socks or leggings on under it if it was cold out and take them off when it got hot. Another reason that I was thrilled to have a skirt was because it could be dressed up or down, and I felt appropriately dressed when we were invited to visit the cemetery for Todos Santos. Other items that I was extremely thrilled to have traveled with: host gifts, my headlamp, bug repellent, anti-itch cream, sun block, tums, and wet ones.  Author:  Emily Carlquist, November 1, 2010

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