Steve Widelski – Loma Alta

Steve Widelski
Loma Alta, Bolivia

At the end of my voluntary year I can say I grew as a person, I found out a lot about myself and my relationship with God increased greatly. I will always look fondly back on my time in Loma Alta and in Bolivia in general. I thank God and the Salesians for the opportunity to serve and receive so much from the missions.

Hometown: Huntington, IN

Education/Work: Indiana University, Criminal Justice & Psychology

Time in Loma Alta: Served 1998-99 Bolivian academic years.

I volunteered in Loma Alta,Bolivia from Aug. 1998 until Aug. 1999. I arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and was picked up by another volunteer from Holland. We took a couple of different buses or “colectivos” and arrived in Loma Alta about 3 hours later. I only had one day to acclimate and then was thrown into the mix teaching English and Math to 5th graders through Seniors in high school. The Government school was run by Sr. Graciela, the principal of the school and Director of the volunteers there.

Fellow Volunteers/Sors:

The other volunteers there initially were from Holland, but about a month later two more SLM’s from the States came. Sean McEwen and his cousin Angela Roach both of Nova Scotia, Canada. Sors: Sor Graciela

Living Arrangements:

I roomed with Sean in the barn next to the church. We had bats, scorpions, rats and tarantulas to keep us company at first until we could cement our floor and fix some of the holes in the roof. When it rained the horses would come up to the door and a few times when we left the window open they would poke theirs head in and see what the North Americans were up to.

Teaching:

Sean taught religion and chemistry in our school in Loma Alta and English classes to junior high kids in the out stations. Angie taught music to the primary school kids and took over my Junior and Senior English classes. Apart from school I coached basketball and volleyball and Sean ran the “futbol” soccer club. Sean and I both took turns being bus drivers and picked up the kids in the out stations with a bus donated to the program from Holland. I also ran the “Movie night” for the local kids. I would rent movies in Montero and on Tuesday nights show a movie under the pavilion between the church and our room. The volunteers also took an active part in the youth group which met at night once a week. There were other volunteers from America in surrounding sites that Sean, Angie and I would visit. We went to Okinawa, Montero, Santa Cruz and Valle Grande. We met up usually every month or so over the weekend to be able to share our experiences in our communities and to just relax and have a good time with others from the same culture.

Additional Comments:

There were other new experiences for me, like having to cook lunch and dinner for the whole house at least one day a week. Fetching fresh milk for the house at lunch time. Washing my clothes by hand in a stone sink located in the middle of the yard. Sean and I went to morning and evening prayers with Sr. Graciela. Every other Sunday a priest from Portachuelo would come to say mass and on the weeks that he wasn’t there Sr. Graciela would have a Liturgical service with Communion. When their school year was over which was in November, we had the first class ever to graduate from the school. The month after graduation myself and the other volunteers put on a summer camp for the kids in town called “Vacaciones Utiles” We taught math, English, did crafts, music and sports. The summer program highlight was the distribution of prizes and candy on Christmas.

Spiritually my favorite experiences were the Novenas during Christmas, the pilgrimage to Cotocca, and the stations of the cross throughout the town. After Christmas and before the next school year started I was able to travel to Peru and Chile which was totally amazing. I taught the same subjects again the following school year and enjoyed every minute of it.

At the end of my voluntary year I can say I grew as a person, I found out a lot about myself and my relationship with God increased greatly. I will always look fondly back on my time in Loma Alta and in Bolivia in general. I thank God and the Salesians for the opportunity to serve and receive so much from the missions.