Packing my bags, hours of flights, waiting, flights again, waiting again, and finally landing. My first steps in Riberalta’s are a bit uncertain, overcome by the heat. Five minutes later, I’m already roaming the bustling streets of the city on the taxista’s motorbike. I arrive at the volunteer house, am welcomed by these new people i will share the next months with, settle into my new bedroom, and wander along the stalls of the Mercado San Jose (5 minutes away by foot from the house) in search of the ingredients of my first meal here. By the end of the week, I already feel at home.
Volunteering with SB
I started work the following week after some translation jobs and talking with the team to target the projects I could develop. My job is really diverse, but every project includes children. I’m mainly involved in an orphanage to develop the creativity of the kids through art projects in collaboration with an artist in residence and Bruno, a local artist that also runs a pizzeria in town; but also spend time in a day-care centre preparing a theatre play for a feria to come; and in the Warnes community’s school to relaunch the ecological club that had been created by a previous volunteer. I feel free in my work: I’m here to develop projects and collaborate with the SB team.
I was first introduced to the orphanage by another volunteer who would be leaving a few days later and who had worked with the kids for 2 months. I opened an old portal and entered into this new universe. I was greeted warmly by the owners, a couple named Jessica and Andres who look over the home like one large family. As soon as I arrived at Cristo te Salva, I felt that I wanted to spend a lot of time there, trying to be useful during a little part of the lives of the children. When I came back the days after, I found the kids to be patient, understanding with my weak Spanish and keen to teach me their beautiful language. Children that are strong and quite independent, children used to meeting new people that will only help them for a small amount of time, but still eager to know more about you.
I’m really grateful for this place. Each visit inspires me to collaborate with all of them, however possible, to create a wholesome home to grow in. One of the sweetest moments we can share is in our weekly visit to the swimming pool with the children. I expected a public pool in the city, but instead found a sidestep into a totally separate piece of greenspace– a little oasis within a campus of little farms and education centers with a pool all to ourselves. A little swimming pool only surrounded by nature, a football field, and the nearby pig pens. The words “Mira hermana, mira!” stay ringing in my head after having spent the afternoon with kids clambering over my back excited to play with me and show me their swimming abilities in the water. I finish those days tired, with skin hot from the sun and taut from the chlorine, but excited already to see the kids again.
Doing the theatre project with the little children at the day-care centre is challenging but also really interesting. I have the feeling that I’ll gain a lot as well by working in the community’s school. There, they are indeed really open to talk about environmental issues and conservation in order to raise the awareness of their classes and develop some conservation projects.
Discovering the city
On my own time, I walk to the riverside – my favourite place in the city – to admire the sunset reflecting on the water where I sit by El Poseidon, a charming fishing boat; I stroll in the raw earth streets to do my groceries at the Mercado; I take it easy in the common space talking with the other volunteers; have movie nights and shared dinner. I also have the chance to be able to stay in the retreat centre, Pisatahua, in the reserve for the weekend, which I did: it was a beautiful experience.
Immersed in the infinity of trees whose heights I struggled to comprehend, I stayed hours on the dock, enjoying the marvellous lake circled by nothing but the Amazon, the colours and lights changing minute by minute, to end with a splendid sunset. Warbling songs of the birds blended with the noises of frogs and crocodiles in the reeds, while the orangey sky died into a profound dark vault sprinkled by hundreds of fireballs. Pisatauha has added a lot to my experience here.