Stephanie Kuei volunteered with Kaya in Bolivia for two months this past summer. She is now continuing to support Kaya as a Communications Intern at the US office.
How do I even begin to put words to everything I experienced this summer working with Kaya Children in Bolivia? I honestly had no idea what an abundant experience was in store for me. Since I have been participating in volunteer trips abroad every summer since the seventh grade, I thought I could predict what I would be doing in Bolivia, what I would feel, what I would learn. I prepared myself for the poverty I expected to witness and for living conditions that would not be as comfortable as living at home. I left California -- reassuring my mom that I would be safe -- with minimal knowledge of Bolivia or the plight of street children, and equipped only with a smattering of high school Spanish.
When I arrived in Bolivia, any preconceived notions I had of what my trip was going to be like were shaken and eventually shattered. Whether it was seeing the boys in their school uniforms (especially the four who will be graduating from high school this year and going off to college), playing cards with them, or cheering them on as they kicked a soccer ball around, I loved being able to see them just be kids. It was wonderful knowing that, because of the opportunities given to them through Kaya, they were reclaiming their childhood and daring to dream of the future. The two times I had the opportunity to work on the streets placed a burden on my heart for the street children of Bolivia and further emphasized the positive transformation I witnessed in the boys at the center – they take pride in their appearance, in their work, and, most importantly, in each other. As one of the teachers said, “these boys are not escaping from their problems, but rather they are facing reality and growing from it.”
Whenever I go to volunteer somewhere, I bring with me this lofty idea of the inspiring person I am going to be, of all the new things I will be able to teach the people I work with, and of the positive change I will be able to make in someone’s life. However, this summer it was definitely the boys of Kaya who were my inspiration, who taught me so many more things than I could ever have possibly taught them, and who changed my life. I learned so much from each of them – from playing new (and sometimes ridiculous) games, to having my Spanish corrected over and over again, and to being shown what true affection really is. It was such a blessing to have been able to get to know each and every one of the boys during the two months I spent in Bolivia, and it was a joy to see each of them grow individually. I am so thankful that I got to experience the tremendous love that they have in their beautiful hearts. I now have a family in Bolivia as well, and it delights me to know that my departure was not a definitive goodbye, but only the beginning of a wonderful relationship with Kaya Children.