Sunday, September 2, 2012


I don’t cry. More precisely, I seldom cry. On Friday, however, I did. Not from sadness, but because I was so touched by a gift.

Friday was the end of my weeklong trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia. My goal was to spend a week there with the children in the orphanage (La Villa) run by the Amistad Mission. I joined a group of three other folks on the Amistad Board of Directors, including Walker whom I met during my trip last year. (If you are curious about my two-week trip there last year, please check out my journal from the trip. Start from this entry and then use the links on the right to navigate the entries in chronological order.)

The four of us spent the week enjoying time with the kids and learning lots about Cochabamba, the area around La Villa, and the general plight of orphans. We had a wonderful translator/guide (Sarah) that was with us most of the time and made things both fun and easy.

We met with the leaders of the two communities next to La Villa and heard them describe their desires for some sort of community center that would help their most pressing needs for quality care for their young children (rather than locking them in their homes while working) and education (classes both for themselves and their children). It was amazing to see women in traditional Bolivian clothing who clearly knew what they needed to improve their lives.

We visited an elementary school where a number of the children from La Villa go to school. We went to some of classrooms where “our” kids were and answer questions from the students. One teacher told us that the kids said there were “blancos” visiting the school. Even at my tannest, I am white to the children of Cochabamba! I think our kids felt special as they knew the visitors from far away that all the kids were talking about. 

We toured another orphanage (Salomon Klein) where some of the children from La Villa started out. The place was packed with over 150 children, one of them only 3-days old. The orphanage was in the midst of budgetary cuts that will necessitate laying off most of their staff and relying on volunteers. The people there loved the children and were doing their best under the circumstances. A number of the children reached up to grab our hands calling out, “Mi papá!” or “Mi mamá!” The situation was heart-rending. Our group of four basically gave them all of the money in our pockets, but with the sad realization that it would only pay the staff for another two or three days. 

The highlight of the trip for me was the time I spent with the children. I reconnected with some of them from my last trip like Bárbara (who promises me she is going to learn English better so we can talk), Evelin, Mario, Madelen (who I tried to teach to count in binary on her fingers), Wilson, Rosalía, Zulma (the girl on my shoulders in my favorite picture from my last visit), Escarlet, Lucero, Jhonny (one of my Bolivian Facebook friends), and many others.

On Friday afternoon, we said our last goodbyes to the children not in school. Madelen ran up and gave me a big hug. She then held up her fingers one at a time and said, “uno, dos, quatro, ocho, dieciséis.” That brought a smile to my face. Then, Bárbara came back after having said already goodbye and indicated that she had something for me. She gave me some of drawings she had done. They were beautiful. Across one of them, it said in Spanish, “For a very special person, Bill.” She also wrote me a very touching letter. Reading that letter was when I found myself shedding a couple tears. 

As I write this, I’m sipping some coca mate (which it turns out may not be legal in the US). The tea brings back a flood of memories. I’m glad to be home, but I realize that I’ve left more than a little part of my heart with Bárbara and the children in Cochabamba. Thanks, Bárbara. I will be back.


  1. Very touching...part of me desperately wants to visit some orphanages, and part of me is scared I will be convinced to bring one or two of them home with me!

  2. I was very tempted to figure out how to bring back a granddaughter. I figured I could convince you to adopt her! The Bolivia government, however, makes it close to impossible for Americans to adopt Bolivian children.