An Alternative Vacation: Sharing Real Wealth

Removing small trees with their roots, digging a 32 foot trench, and wire-brushing mold off stucco may not be everyone’s choice of a vacation, but for the 9 of us in the first Quaker Community Service Tour to Bolivia, it was a rewarding and gratifying experience.
The Internado, set in the beautiful Sorata Valley at 8,000 feetWe spent a week in spectacularly beautiful Sorata working at the Internado, a residence founded by BQEF that dramatically changes the possible futures for students from outlying communities by enabling them to attend high school. Working together with the students, our group helped install a French drain needed in the back garden and prepped and painted most of the exterior walls in the patio.

Spanning 7 decades, our Quaker Service Tour group came from across the US and included active Quakers and friends. Teens Max Nakabayashi (my grandson) and his friend Matt Raymond from California are veterans of previous work trips to Mexico and El Salvador. Unfazed by the altitude at 8,000 feet plus, they launched into the pick and shovel work of tree removal with enthusiasm on the first day and still had energy for a couple of hours of soccer with the Internado boys after dinner. Not to be outdone, Jessica Bucciarelli of Portland, Oregon accepted an invitation from the Internado girls and ventured onto the soccer court for the first time in 25 years.

Sandy Sudofsky, from Philadelphia, led the painting crew in determination to get as much done as possible in the time we had.
Transforming Lives
The Internado was dreamed of by university student Benito Jallurana in 2004 and encouraged by his home community of Pallca Pampa, a Quaker village high on a mountainside in the Sorata Valley.

With financial support from Quakers in 4 countries, the 3 ½ year old Internado first opened in early 2006 with 13 students. Benito, now graduated and with a certification in Internado administration, is the internado administrator and his parents Eusebio and Maria were chosen by their community to serve as houseparents. The people of Pallca Pampa are especially dedicated to education and are proud of their role in the Internado, which is officially named Internado Pallca Pampa-BQE, Hogar Estudiantil (student home). 

There are now 19 students whose homes are from 2 to 8 hours walk away. (See A Home Visit to Cabra Cancha.)  Three of our four graduates are now university students. A college degree will qualify them to earn a monthly salary almost equal to their parents annual cash income.

Of Health and Healing
The Internado has also been supported by The WALJO’K Foundation,
a small California based non-profit. WALJO’K’s medical director, Mylo Schaaf, M.D. and her teenage daughter Mira Lowenstein were part of this trip. Mylo is accustomed to holding successful clinics in unusual circumstances and the one she had in the internado was no exception. Patients from far villages waited in the cobblestone patio to be seen in the computer room, which is also a bedroom.  In some cases we needed translation from Aymara, the first language of rural people in the region.

Mylo was surprised by three differences from our typical clinics in other parts of Latin America. First, most patients were over forty; very few children were brought to the clinic. Second, there was almost no obesity, and third, the older people were in surprisingly good shape. No one, not even those in their 70’s, had blood pressure above 120. This is at least partially attributable to their built-in physical activity, farming steep slopes, walking down the mountainside to market and climbing back up with heavy loads.

Mylo had a supportive staff thanks to the many talents of our group. Mira did the intake paperwork, Max helped translate, Kate Jaramillo of Portland, Oregon took patients’ blood pressure, and gave expert massage when needed. Kyra Sudofsky, owner of Inspired Yoga in Washington, D.C. taught therapeutic exercises to the many patients with back and shoulder problems.  Kate’s partner Jessica was our photojournalist, documenting details of our daily activities.

Other Adventures
Interspersed with our work, we took time to visit several projects of Quaker Bolivia Link,  a non-profit that has been implementing rural development projects since 1995. In Pallca Pampa, leaders told us of their history of achievements with projects sponsored by QBL that have also transformed their lives. Other villages have been inspired by their initiative and ongoing commitment to community betterment.

After our week in Sorata, we saw more of Bolivia, starting with a few days of relaxation in the high jungle of Coroico, then visiting the archeological site of Tiwanaku, Copacabana and the Island of the Sun at Lake Titikaka and spending several days in La Paz, with time for museums and shopping. While there,we met with BQEF's scholarship students, enjoying their offerings of local food and being captivated by their stories.

Bringing Home Real Wealth
Working and playing together with local families and the inspiring young people and staff of the internado, we experienced a very different way of life.  Many study tour participants find reflecting on their powerful memories after they return home informs and enriches their view of the world and their relationship to the global community.

I am always humbly grateful to share these rich experiences with such a varied and remarkable group of individuals.

If you'd like to help support the Internado and other BQEF projects, please visit our Donate page.

For information about next year’s trip, contact