UP CLOSE Bolivia facilitates empowering cultural experiences and practical support to international volunteers visiting Bolivia and also to locally run community development projects that seek to overcome exclusion and poverty by working to protect the rights and promote the education of vulnerable groups, particularly children and young people from poor families.
To enable international volunteers visiting Bolivia to channel their skills and enthusiasm to enrich and contribute to the goals of locally run community development projects.
To enable international volunteers visiting Bolivia to have an authentic experience living and sharing life in a small community, seeing a side to Bolivia that regular tourists rarely see.
UP CLOSE is based on the concept of “RECIPROCIDAD” which means “reciprocity”- a concept at the heart of Andean culture. It is all about giving back and contributing in a way which enriches both the person who is giving and the person who is receiving equally.
The essence of our work is to ensure the needs and expectations of our volunteers and the local community projects are mutually met and both parties are enriched and strengthened
All the volunteers who have worked with us return to their homes enriched by the experience on so many different levels, not only their Spanish has improved, but they have connected at a deeper level with our local community.
We have shared the joy of their discovery and growing sense of belonging and we see for ourselves the long lasting positive effect that the skills and creativity, which the volunteers bring, have in the lives of local people. We feel the fondness and the true friendships that are born between people who come together from such different worlds to work, learn and live together.
Where we are based
Mallasa is 30-45 minutes by bus from the city centre. It is a beautiful semi rural village surrounded by mountains and is home to the valley of the Moon. There is a very strong sense of community - perhaps the most enriching aspect of the experience of the volunteers to date has been participating in this small community and getting a very real flavour of Aymara culture.
Who are we?
The founders of UP CLOSE BOLIVIA were also instrumental in the set up and sustainability of the Valley of the Moon Childrens Centre. We have been receiving volunteers from all over the world over the past 7 years with great success for the project and also the volunteers.
UP CLOSE BOLIVIA was set up to give more specific moral and practical support to our volunteers before and during their stay in Bolivia, especially for younger volunteers or those who were travelling to developing countries for the first time.
UP CLOSE BOLIVIA is a family run business deeply rooted in the local community and we seek to give the volunteers a true sense of belonging and welcome into our community.
Our main project is with the Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre ( see our web page for more information about the history and objectives of this project http://boliviavalleymoonchildren.org/) It is a community run centre for local indigenous children from poor backgrounds, aged 6 months to 4 years in Mallasa, La Paz, Bolivia.
However there is also a lot of demand from other locally run projects and schools.
For example, classroom support in local primary schools especially for 5-6 year olds and support to English language teaching to young adults.
We tailor make volunteer placements to fit with the interests and experience of each volunteer and also the needs of the community - for example, together with our volunteers, we are currently designing a one month curriculum for English language teaching and tourism for local youth groups who work in the blossoming tourist industry in Mallasa. We hope this can be a rolling course managed by our volunteers and reach more community groups in the future.
What kind of volunteers are we looking for?
We are looking for flexible, creative and responsible volunteers who can work on their own initiatives and be an extra pair of hands to help us with regular classroom support and work alongside locals. n. We need people who are comfortable working in a very different cultural environment where very few people speak English and who may initially be shy of foreigners.
We seek volunteers who are open to diversity and exploring new cultures in a respectful way. We seek people who are friendly and can work in a team with the indigenous women who manage the nursery for example, valuing their skills and experience. We seek people who are mature and love children, who are patient and also have a great sense of fun and creativity. We seek people who are flexible, often the Bolivia context is unpredictable, and plans and programmes may change along the way.
We welcome volunteers who can commit a few months to volunteer, however, a new immigration law means that people can only stay in Bolivia on a tourist visa for a max of 90 days in any one calender year. For volunteers that wish to stay for longer than 3 months they will have to apply for temporary residency.
At least a very basic level of Spanish is required - or you can buddy-up with another volunteer to help you communicate with the project staff and children. Nobody speaks English, so it is a perfect place to learn Spanish!!! We need self starters and people that can organise their own time and be proactive.
Volunteers can work full time of part time.
For example the Valley of the Moon Nursery runs from 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
Tasks performed by Volunteers
• Playing and undertaking creative activities with the children – dance, music, sports
• Helping with educational activities, drawing, painting, maths, language and writing skills
• Helping to serve and clean up at meal times
• Helping to prepare meals
• Keeping classrooms tidy
• Accompanying children to the bathroom, washing faces, brushing teeth etc
• Participating in cultural activities
• Accompanying children on excursions to the local park
• Gardening and general maintenance of the nursery
This is a very happy well run and well equipped nursery in a breathtakingly beautiful setting in the Andes, on the outskirts of la Paz and volunteers are welcomed with open arms into this small Ayamra traditional community. However, funds are always stretched and we are understaffed. We only have funding for 1 teacher for every 16 children, so the local women who work as educators certainly have their hands full, especially with the 3-4 year olds who have so much energy.
Volunteers bring creativity and new ideas which inspire the local educators and their families. Often the main concern of our local staff is simply taking care of the children, feeding, washing them etc and there is little time for creative play or activities to make the most of the beautiful grounds and setting where the children’s centre is. Volunteers in the past have done dance classes, music classes with home made instruments, played games and we have recently been donated baby-gym equipment which the children love, but this needs to be done with small groups which often is outside the scope of the teachers.
Volunteers help preparing and serving meals and clearing up afterwards. They also are welcome to do gardening and basic maintenance of the buildings - painting etc.
Volunteers also participate in cultural activities and festivities – which happen with amazing frequency – often being pulled into traditional dance shows or to prepare the children to sing or perform in front of their parents and the wider community.
The basic cost is USD$400-450 / month and this covers
Prior to your arrival we will communicate with you to discuss what your expectations and interests are so that we tailor make a volunteer programme for you.
You will receive and orientation information pack about La Paz with practical advice and tips from past volunteers covering issues from safety, health topics, cultural do’s and don’ts, travel in Bolivia and neighbouring countries etc.
We will set up a voluntary placement in a local community-run project.
Lunch and snacks if you are working at the nursery.
Very comfortable accommodation in an independent self catering volunteer house or local home stays.
We will provide you with twenty four hour support for emergencies and there will be weekly meetings with a local Volunteer Liaison Officer.
We will invite you to a family dinner with the UP CLOSE team during your stay in Bolivia.
What isn't included
Spanish classes but we can set up one month (or more) of Spanish classes with experienced teachers – the intensity and level of these classes will be set up to suit your needs. Approx 50 bolivianos / hour.
Meals - lunch and snack if you are working at the nursery. There are local shops and restaurants if you want to self cater or alternatively breakfast and evening meals can be organised with the local families on a meal by meal basis.
Local transport - approx 3bs a day.
Travel and tourism in La Paz and beyond – however, we can put you in touch with good local travel agents and share our tips on travel in Bolivia.
How to apply:
There are steps to applying and securing your volunteer placement:
1. Fill out the UP CLOSE application form (link on web site) and send us the name of two personal references that we can get in touch with.
2. Once we have your references we will contact you again and through email or skype we will talk through with you a possible programme, answering any questions that you may have.
3. Once the placement has been agreed we will ask you to fill out an agreement which sets out both the roles and responsibilities of UP CLOSE Bolivia and the volunteer, so that everything is clear and we can avoid any misunderstandings during the placement.