Ten weeks to change a life

By - Tuesday 29th October, 2013

Chris Gaisie reports on Croydon-based youth charity Reachin’ Higher’s trip to Bolivia

To explore is written on the hearts of us all. As children we relentlessly break the confines of our world, trading in the safety of the known for the unknown. Whilst this adventurer spirit can somewhat fade as we grow older, the yearning to discover more is always with us. It makes sense then, that when I was given the opportunity to work in Bolivia alongside ICS Tearfund for ten weeks it felt like a no-brainer. I absolutely jumped at the chance to see more of the world and learn about a new culture. Ten weeks on, it was one of the best decisions of my life.

After a whopping 25 hour journey, the thirteen-person team landed in Bolivia filled with anticipation, underlying nerves, and in desperate need of a shower. What was then an unfamiliar place, filled with people who spoke a language we could barely understand, eventually became our home. Through working with local charities, being invited to perform at churches and youth groups, exploring the country’s beauty, and just hanging out with Bolivians,  we immersed ourselves in the culture and to an extent became Bolivian ourselves. It all comes back to the desire to explore and understand our surroundings. While we increasingly learnt more about Bolivian culture, surprisingly it also helped us to understand more about ourselves.

Primarily we were there to learn about poverty and what we can do to fight it. We saw firsthand the effects of poverty on local communities and the country at large. We met young girls who had been sexually abused, numerous children as young as one who lived in prison with their jailed mothers, and street children who only lived for the next hit of drugs. While meeting and working with all these people was incredibly heart-breaking, yet inspiring, there’s one moment that really sticks out to me in particular. Interestingly enough, it didn’t happen while were working at our projects, but actually during one of our weekly development sessions. These sessions were an opportunity to talk as a team about the issue of global poverty and what we were learning on our projects. This particular session was about how we define poverty. A more difficult task then you may think…

We came to the conclusion that poverty is more than just not having enough money or food to eat. Of course that’s part of it, but they are merely manifestations of a deeper problem. Poverty is the breakdown of relationships – with ourselves, with each other,with the environment. It’s through these broken relationships that wealth is unevenly divided, that water is scarce in some countries, and that human trafficking takes place right on our doorstep and we do nothing to stop it. This hit me hard. It was then that I realised our job in Bolivia wasn’t to be the “heroes” with all the answers and money to solve their issues; our job was to build relationships and value those we helped as human beings, not just projects to be fixed. More than that, we were being helped too. We may have more money in the UK, but our relationships our just as impoverished. Depression is becoming more prevalent, we’ve lost our sense of community and we’re constantly becoming more self-obsessed. Poverty exists everywhere and to fight it, we have to be intentional in forming relationships that value people.

Having been back from Bolivia for about a month now, I miss the close-knit community I found there. I miss the attitude that people are more important than the task. Bolivia left us all with a desire to see poverty ended and instead see relationships flourish. It has definitely affected my general outlook on life, including my work. I’m currently in a gap year, youth worker position at Reachin’ Higher, which has given me a great opportunity to put what I’ve learnt into practice and really invest into young people. Furthermore, it has given me a platform from which I can really engage young people to join the fight against poverty.

It’s hard to really pinpoint one moment, but those ten weeks in Bolivia really did leave a lasting impact on me. My only hope is that I can take this experience and use it to change someone else’s life. This is my new adventure to explore – finding how we can change the world, one life at a time.

Photos courtesy of Patreese Erskine from http://teambolivia2013.tumblr.com.

Chris Gaisie

Chris Gaisie

Having recently finished his degree studying Philosophy and Film at UEA, Chris decided to head back to home-sweet-home, Croydon. Currently a youth worker in Croydon, he spends his days doing everything from mentoring to teaching how to rap. Music is one of his biggest passions and he can often be found performing for a crowd.

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