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Andean priest and spiritual leader, Don Fabian Champi Apaza. Photo by Tom Pablo, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Marches, ISPs and Despedidas – farewell friends!

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Dear Group B families and friends,

As Dragons Latin America Program Director I live in Bolivia where I can better supporting our in-field contacts and programming.  Over the past couple of weeks I had the pleasure of connecting with the students on several occasions, at the Program House, moving about in Tiquipaya, once on a trufi (the local public transport) en route to pick up my daughter (hey Jack!), and during a march in Cochabamba in honor of International Women’s Day.  As much of my work is often focused on administrative details in front of a computer, it is a true joy to meet with our students and feel connected to the spirit of the work that we do. This group in particular has been wonderfully gracious and kind, and it seems they have been getting the most out of their time in the Andes (even in the midst of these unpredictable circumstances).  As our spring courses draw to an unfortunate early close, I wanted to share some images from my interactions with the group these past weeks.

After connecting with the students are the program house one morning during their Spanish classes, I extended the invitation to have any interested students join a peaceful march that would be happening in Cochabamba in honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th.  Women’s Day in Latin America is historically a big event, and it’s common for women’s collectives, individuals, and allies to organize lively marches to denounce machismo, violence against women, and conditions of near-immunity for aggressors in instances of abuse and femicide.  I expected a couple of students to participate, and was pleasantly surprised when the entire student group opted to join the march.  The event included live music, animated slogans, and a vigil in Cochabamba’s main plaza to honor the memory of women that have lost their lives due interpersonal violence.  The group expressed feeling engaged and inspired by this important event (see photos!).

This past Friday I joined the students at our Program House for their Independent Study presentations and a farewell gathering with host families.  I was thoroughly impressed by the group’s ISP presentations, which involved sharing about their experience in Spanish in front of homestay families, ISP mentors, and our beloved Spanish teachers. The students presented on Bolivian cooking, charango making, Andean spirituality and medicinal plants, silversmithing, and weaving, and produced beautiful products over these past weeks.

After presenting their projects, we shared a delicious meal with host families prepared by two of our host mamas, Doña Carlota and Doña Leticia, and one of our host brothers and his friends played musica autoctona (Andean wind instruments) with a group of friends. After the meal, our homestay coordinator and dear friend Valentina facilitated a traditional Q’oa ceremony around the fire to wish students well on their journey moving forward.

It was a true delight to share conversations with students, get some insight into their time in Bolivia, and see the group connect meaningfully with their families and the local culture.  While we are all overwhelmed and saddened by global events, the gathering on Friday was joyful and celebratory, and for that sweet time as children played in the garden and we shared laughter and conversation you would not have known that the planet was reeling from a global crisis.

Over the past couple of days, instructors have continued to share anecdotes, photos, and videos with me that show students celebrating their time abroad, reflecting on their experience, and taking time to laugh and play. The instructors have organized an accelerated Transference period to close out the program with care and intention, and I have no doubt that the group is carrying meaningful learning home with them.

Thank you for sharing your children with us during these uncertain times! We wish them a safe journey home, and hope we can all return to some degree of normalcy very soon.

Buen viaje chicxs, fue un placer!
Julianne