My First 6 Months as a Volunteer
Elisabeth Groothuis is a sponsorship coordinator and international yearlong volunteer from the Netherlands. She shares the story of her early days at NPH Bolivia.
January 7, 2019 - Bolivia
I realize that I am completely accustomed to certain things now, which I once found to be incredibly new. I catch myself feeling unbothered by all the insects everywhere, the animals as I walk to and from work each day. I catch myself actively craving cuñape (a Bolivian breakfast danish) and finally being able to relax in an overcrowded ride in a trufi (local taxi service).
My first day at NPH Bolivia was overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. I vividly remember walking into the dining room before lunch and all of the children jumping on me, full of curiosity. They wanted to know who I was, where I had come from, if I was married or had children. The first couple of weeks after this moment were also great, a honeymoon phase you could say. I fell in love with the children and was constantly surprised by NPH daily life.
I learned the names of every child and every staff member. I got to spend a lot of quality time with the other volunteers and swap stories on cultural differences. After three months, I finally felt like things were becoming normal. When it was the last day of my weekend off and I had been traveling, I always felt like coming home, which to me became NPH Bolivia.
I spend a lot of time with the girls from Casa Betania (11-13 year olds) in the evenings, which usually ends with music and dancing. At first, getting to know them was a bit challenging, as they are teenagers and their moods can change in an instant. But I love answering all of their questions: about their godparents, about me, or about other cultures and countries. I love even more when they open up enough to answer my questions about themselves, their interests, and their future goals.
My time at NPH Bolivia has certainly not been perfect. It has been filled with grammatical errors, to start with. One time I told the boys from San Martín (5-8 years old) that they had to brush their teeth before school with a cebolla (onion) instead of a cepillo (toothbrush). Two months later they are still making fun of me for it.
I remember the first time I was in charge of the big birthday outing. I took 30 kids into the city of Santa Cruz and we went to a big market, out to lunch and ice cream, and to the plaza. I was incredibly nervous. Every time we left one location to go to the next one I counted every single person. At the end of the day, I was so happy to see them all standing on the bell tower in the main plaza overlooking the city. They had never been up to the bell tower before so it was a great surprise for them. And even though the day was long for me, I knew it was worth it for them.
This is my typical experience with the children, though; it is lovely to see how happy they are with really small things or tiny moments. All in all, I am really glad that I am a part of NPH. I love seeing the children grow and learn. I love how curious they are and I love how they take care of each other. This experience at NPH will be a year that I will never forget. I know for a fact that I will leave NPH Bolivia a better and brighter person. I only hope that I leave some of the kids better and brighter, too.