5:00am wake ups are easier when these mountains call for you to get out of your tent. Photo by Cecelia Palmquist (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest, 1st Place), Nepal Semester.

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Where There Be Dragons

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    [post_content] => Valentina Campos, who has served as our Homestay Coordinator in Tiquipaya since 2011, is moving on from her role with Dragons to pursue artistic and cultural projects in La Paz. She has been an essential part of our programming in Bolivia, and her presence in Tiquipaya will be dearly missed. Undoubtedly, she will stay connected to Dragons in the years to come, and we look forward to coordinating with her during future visits to La Paz.

[caption id="attachment_157988" align="alignnone" width="1478"] Homestay mamas Doña Leticia and Doña Carlota with my (Julianne) daughter, Inara, and Valentina (right)[/caption]

Valentina is well known in Bolivia as a painter, traditional chicha maker, and for her work with Andean cultural affirmation. Her striking paintings depict imagery of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and the rituals of planting and harvest that shape the Andean calendar. These ancestral rituals help forge an intimate bond of reciprocity and respect for the natural landscape, a defining component of Andean spirituality and worldview. Valentina is a powerful embodiment of that relationship, and the reproduction and celebration of Quechua rituals and traditions informs every aspect of her life.

The tapestry of that way of life is rich and varied, and is central to what captured my own heart when I first moved to the Andes. For Valentina, cultural affirmation includes the traditional elaboration of chicha, an ancient fermented corn drink; collective child-rearing and the construction of communal spaces of reciprocity and exchange; documentary work to preserve and share Andean wisdom and ritual; the practice of weaving and textile traditions; and participation in agricultural cycles and production. Like the mesmerizing layers of her paintings, these practices are interwoven seamlessly into her daily life and relationships.

I feel deeply honored to have had the chance to be a part of these cycles and practices over the past decade, as Valentina and I have worked together to build and nurture the Dragons community in Tiquipaya and Cochabamba. In the late northern summer of 2011, we walked the dusty roads of Apote, Totorkawa, Colpapampa together to set up our first homestay families. Sitting in shaded patios and adobe kitchens, we explained the concept of a “homestay” to confused families and scouted potential program houses tucked away in agricultural fields. It was not a likely site for a student travel program, and that is precisely what makes our community so unique and dear. All these years later, our homestay siblings have grown from young children to adolescents, having grown up with Dragons students at the family table.

Those exchanges, conversations, misunderstandings, and unexpected friendships shaped their formative years and their worldviews, just as we hope the experience of cultural exchange will shift the lives of our students. Together, Valentina and I have hosted countless homestay gatherings and celebrations, received hundreds of calls from worried homestay mamas when students are late to arrive home, and coordinated innumerable independent study projects. With Valentina’s eye and guidance and seemingly endless collection of contacts we’ve breathed life into 7 different program and staff houses, coaxing plants out of parched earth, building kitchens and composting toilets, and laughing over Q’oa rituals and community meals, and weaving workshops on the grass with Doña Carlota and Doña Leticia and their children.

[caption id="attachment_157989" align="aligncenter" width="1366"] A  ritual Q’oa  offering to give thanks to Mother Earth[/caption]

None of this would have been possible without Valentina’s grace, her deep-rooted relationships in this place, without her joy and creativity. When we talk about the work done “behind the scenes” in the field of intercultural education, we are talking about a lifetime of bonds and rituals and community building carried out by Valentina — and so many other homestay coordinators and community contacts — that give meaning to our work and tenderness to the experience of a student walking into a home in a new community and language and way of life. When those students create connections with an independent study mentor, when their hearts are pierced by a simple moment of understanding with a homestay sibling, when they are moved by the afternoon light cascading across the Tunari mountainside as they make their way home, Valentina is there.

In no small part, Valentina is the reason I moved from the city to semi-rural Tiquipaya 8 years ago. She was in the room when my first daughter was born, and her wisdom and friendship have greatly enriched my life. I always believed that Valentina would never leave Tiquipaya, that her dark long braid and old fashioned bicycle would inhabit these streets forever. However, she is a creator and community-builder and it is time for her to plant seeds into the earth elsewhere. In a brief moment of pause between quarantines, she packed her easels and giant ceramic cantaritos for fermenting chicha into a truck and headed for La Paz. I am excited for this next chapter in her journey. And her presence on these country roads still lingers in the air.

[caption id="attachment_157990" align="alignnone" width="1718"] The Wallunka festival, celebrated in November of each year after Todos Santos. Valentina has organized an annual Wallunka celebration in the community for many years.[/caption]

Interview with Valentina Campos (translated by the author, Julianne Chandler)

You have been coordinating homestays and independent study projects for Dragons participants for almost 10 years. Can you describe some highlights of that experience? The homestay experience has been exciting for me, receiving each group was a completely new experience. The work has always been very integrated with our own lived experience with the community, in coexistence with the shared upbringing of our wawas (children). It has been very rich in various directions, especially for me and many of the families/friends and our children, now teenagers, who have learned and have opened up to relate to the difference and diversity that enriches us. And some challenges? It is true that it has not always been easy and fluid to relate with one another. All of us have had some degree of challenges with students who came with certain personal conditioning that sometimes when mixed with our social situations complicated the coexistence. But we have all learned a lot from those experiences! Your two children never attended school, and you have raised them using methods from the Unschooling Movement. Can you briefly describe the upbringing of your children? Do you feel that it has any relation to the "experiential education" methods promoted by Dragons? It has been very enriching for everyone in my family, even for the grandmothers who initially opposed the idea! Now we all realize that it has been the best decision and personally the best one I have made in my life after the decision to give birth at home. The most important thing about their upbringing through natural learning has been allowing them to grow up with their imagination as intact as possible so that they now know for themselves what they want to be, what they came to life for. It has been a true path of unlearning for us adults. What they value most in life now as young people is living in community and that makes me feel fulfilled, happy. Yes, I think there is a strong relationship, such as the attitude of mutual learning, reciprocity, cooperation and community coexistence that Dragons has promoted in many experiences and shares a lot with our form of natural upbringing. You recently moved to the outskirts of the city of La Paz to deepen your work in collective cultural affirmation. What does this work consist of? Our project Uywana Wasi is a community of shared knowledge and learning experiences. It was created by compañeras-os (friends/comrades) from diverse Bolivian contexts 12 years ago in the town of Totorkawa, Cochabamba. Our space is centered in community upbringing which is a principle of Andean worldview. The spirit and intention is focused on cultural affirmation, comprised of people from different contexts to reclaim autonomy and responsibility for our own knowledge and learning towards "Allin Kawsay" or Living Well. From the beginning, we have focused on creating spaces for exchange and reciprocity of knowledge, wisdom and everything that is created through the experience of coexistence. In recent years, through our documentary “Wallunk'as Program,” we have deepened relationships with several communities in La Paz to the point of becoming very attached to the families. So we decided to relocate, coinciding with various personal changes that some of us have gone through, to be able to continue solidifying projects. On our website we share a little of everything we do and live. You are a renowned painter and artist, and your work represents feminine symbols and rituals of planting from Andean cosmology. How would you describe your latest collection that is currently on display in California? The series of my paintings is called "Siembra de Mamalas," it is an affectionate name to describe the spirits of the seeds. Most of them are feminine and are treated as human. I have always been inspired by seeds, plants and all the myths and archetypes of nature. That is why I feel that this is an open/unfinished series because it is impossible to paint our biodiversity in its totality. At the same time, painting each species is like trying to immortalize them (many already in danger of extinction) and I try to manifest all their power. My gallery is: https://www.uywanawasi.org/pages/pinturas.html [caption id="attachment_157992" align="alignnone" width="1712"] The Wallunka festival, celebrated in November of each year after Todos Santos. The Wallunka swing is believed to be a portal between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Valentina has organized an annual Wallunka celebration in the community for many years.[/caption] Now that you are leaving Dragons, do you have a message or any advice for the Dragons community? First, I would like to thank you all enormously for the opportunity you have extended to me and my family all these years. My brother Tim was the one who extended his hand and made the connection between communities. He also connected me to Julianne as a fellow sister, collaborating in complicity for many years so that we’ve had unforgettable experiences together. I feel like we have joined our communities mutually and I hope we don't take this “leaving” thing seriously. Here I am —you have us, and we would like to continue sharing our experiences from where we are, whenever possible. To all the students with whom I have had the opportunity to share, I send my gratitude. And to the instructors and wider community with whom I’ve built a friendship, we will continue to share and be in contact with each other. I wish everyone times of regeneration, healing and growth. 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Featured Post

Local Heroes Series: Valentina Campos, Bolivia

Posted on

08/20/21

Author

Julianne Chandler

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Valentina Campos, who has served as our Homestay Coordinator in Tiquipaya since 2011, is moving on from her role with Dragons to pursue artistic and cultural projects in La Paz. She has been an essential part of our programming in Bolivia, and her presence in Tiquipaya will be dearly missed. Undoubtedly, she will stay connected to Dragons in the years to come, and we look forward to coordinating with her during future visits to La Paz. Valentina is well known in Bolivia as a painter, traditional chicha maker, and for her work with Andean cultural affirmation. Her striking paintings depict... Read More
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[caption id="attachment_158047" align="aligncenter" width="762"]Lake Superior: The Good Life  A group photo from Dragons' Lake Superior: The Good Life program — Summer 2021.[/caption]

To better support students coming from all backgrounds and identities, we’re excited to share two resources: Allyship Abroad & “Traveling as You: A Guide for Specific Identities”.  It’s our hope to create a culture and community that supports each participant to travel as their fullest self. These resources, and pedagogical approach, help all participants learn more about themselves, and how to be better allies in the world. 

We walk through the world carrying our experiences and histories. Some aspects of ourselves are visible, but much goes unseen, to us and others. When we travel, we gain more understanding of all that we are, and all that we are not. We begin to learn that while there is certainly a shared human experience, we’re also individuals that have unique and nuanced identities. Although we leave home, we still carry these identities with us when we travel. 

Diversity, Inclusion, and Allyship Abroad: Fostering a more just, compassionate and inclusive world.

The Allyship Abroad webpage is full of information on how to support individuals with specific identities and general resources for diversity and inclusion. It’s broken down into these five sections: 
  • For families: Discover why it’s important to talk through your family values and be aware that we facilitate and welcome conversations around these topics on our programs. 
  • Glossary of terms: A helpful tool for defining the key words related to diversity, equity, and inclusion work. 
  • Identity and you: Through a series of questions, you’ll be guided through defining your identity and why it’s so important for everyone, even people from dominant identities who might not have reflected on this much before. 
  • Skillbuilding for allyship abroad and at home: Discover the tools that will help you become a better ally through podcasts, online resources, books and articles, and more guided questions from our team. 
  • Identity related risks and travel: All travel involves risks and challenges, and some participants might have different challenges abroad based on factors such as gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability. This section is designed so you can equip yourself with helpful skills and resources to stay safe, informed, and thriving on your Dragons program.

Traveling as You: a Guide for Specific Identities

The goal of Traveling as You is to serve as a resource for allyship. The webpage walks you through different identities and explains what might come up for each specific identity while on a Dragons or student travel program. It goes more into depth for the following identities:  
  • Race, Ethnicity, Nationality 
  • Sexual Orientation (LGBTQ+)
  • Gender 
  • Religion 
  • Political Ideology 
  • Disability 
  • Body Size 
  • Low Income and First Generation Students
For each identity, the guide provides example scenarios of situations that may come up on your Dragons program, and reflection questions to get you thinking about how to prepare. Of course this is helpful for your own identity and for being aware of all the identities around you, especially those on your program.  And no Dragons guide would be complete without providing extra resources — which can be found at the bottom of this webpage. This list was designed to be your one-stop as a quick place to get an overview of the amazing and comprehensive resources out there to support diversity abroad. Whether you’re eager to learn how you can become a better ally at home and while traveling on a program, or you want to know more about your identity in the world, then these resources are here to help. We hope to continue fostering a more just, compassionate, and inclusive world, one student and one program at a time.  [post_title] => How to Become a Better Ally, at Home and Abroad [post_excerpt] => At Where There Be Dragons, we’re always striving to improve diversity and inclusion within our student body and travel programs. That’s why our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee created two resources for becoming a better ally as well as a guide to traveling as you. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-become-a-better-ally-at-home-and-abroad [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-09-17 16:28:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-09-17 22:28:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 53 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 53 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/global_community/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 55 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 55 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/about_dragons/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 651 [name] => Announcements [slug] => announcements [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 651 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [parent] => 0 [count] => 65 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 15 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 65 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Global Community, About Dragons ... )
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    [post_content] => We have been heartened by the recent trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the US, we’ve seen a steady decline in numbers likely due to a combination of preventative measures, vaccination, and broader immunity in the population. Globally, travel restrictions have started to soften and countries are intentionally reopening their borders to travelers again. We are not out of the woods yet, but it does feel like we’re headed in the right direction!

That said, if we’ve learned one thing from this past year it is to expect the unexpected. For this reason, we’re balancing our growing optimism for a return to international Dragons programs in 2021 with a healthy dose of cautiousness and very thorough assessments of each area we plan to visit. In addition to safety considerations for our students, we need to feel confident that we will not pose a COVID risk to local communities. For more on the factors we’re considering, please visit our COVID-19 FAQs page.


Fall 2021 Program Status as of 5/28/21

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 Likely To Run 

Guatemala • Bolivia • Peru • Senegal

As it stands today, we have four countries in our Green Tier assessment which means that we feel confident that we could run a Dragons course there under current conditions: Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, and Senegal. For these countries, travel restrictions and public conditions are already at a place, or close to it, that would allow us to run a summer course with limited modifications. Although we are hiring our instructors and moving forward with our course preparations, we are also still actively vetting conditions in host communities and specific locations we plan to visit before finalizing all commitments. [We did not include the United States in this assessment as we are currently successfully running student programs domestically and plan to offer our United States fall courses as scheduled.]

 To Be Determined 

Canada • Morocco • Nepal • Bhutan • China • Cambodia • Indonesia • Thailand

In our Yellow Tier assessment, we have Canada, Morocco, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand. These are places that currently have travel restrictions that would not allow for a Dragons program at the present time. We are in more of a holding pattern with our Yellow Tier countries mostly due to restrictive entry requirements that involve things like mandatory 14-day hotel quarantines upon arrival, which would either not be compatible with a Dragons semester or require significant itinerary modifications. That said, we’ve also not moved these programs to our Red Tier (cancellation) category yet because there are some indications that travel conditions could improve enough before the fall to allow for us to run a Dragons course.

 Cancelled 

Nicaragua • Madagascar • India • Myanmar • Laos

We have already closed several fall programs in countries that we do not feel will be ready to reliably receive a Dragons group this fall due to forecast travel restrictions or on-the-ground conditions. These cancelled programs fell under our Red Tier assessment level. For programs that remain open, we are in the process of vetting each site with an eye towards our September start dates.
Our Yellow and Green Tier programs remain fully open for fall enrollment and we anticipate being able to run Dragons Semesters in the majority of places we travel come September. We are preparing for a return to international programs over the summer with Dragons groups and expect that conditions will only continue to improve before the fall. We wanted to transparently share our assessments and outlook for the fall. Overall, we are confident and optimistic that we will be able to offer select international programs this fall, which is very exciting! We will continue to send you updates as more information becomes available and plan to start moving forward with flight bookings and logistics in June for programs in our Green Tier, which could include additional locations over the coming weeks as countries continue to open up travel opportunities. On a final note, we want to commend you for your commitment to remain an active participant in this global community and we want you to know that you’re not alone in that choice. Students and families are actively expressing their support and enthusiasm for our international programming. We are receiving a very steady influx of applications from new students for summer & fall 2021 courses, and remain optimistic that we’ll be in an even better place over the coming months.

Looking to spend part of your summer break gaining an in-field perspective of the world through cultural immersion, wilderness exploration, and language study? Learn more about our unfiltered and immersive summer programs in Asia, Africa, and the Americas here.

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View post

Fall 2021 International Travel Outlook

Posted On

05/28/21

Author

Aaron Slosberg, Director of Student Programming

Description
Heartened by the recent trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re balancing our growing optimism for a return to international fall semester programming in 2021 with a healthy dose of cautiousness. Read More
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    [post_content] => Across cultures stories are told about a hero’s journey to distant lands, only to find that what they seek is where the journey began: home. 

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, 4 Quartets


On December 28th I embarked on a personal journey, a journey that resembled my first foray into the American West after graduating from college two decades ago. Last week I hugged my family goodbye and hopped into my van. Outfitted with warm layers, sleeping bags, food, and podcasts, I headed toward the “Four Corners” region, where CO, UT, AZ, and NM meet. I had no idea how far I’d get or where I’d sleep, other than knowing I’d be in the back of my van, somewhere. For a week I meandered. I roamed Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa, their dried canyon river bottoms blanketed in snow; I sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon, confused by the deafening silence and overwhelmed by the full nighttime galaxy, unadulterated by city lights; I descended the Colorado plateau into the great Sonoran Desert, and felt its soft winter warmth. After a challenging year, reconnecting with the American West, and my twenty-year old self, was like drinking from a well after a long period of thirst. I felt a deep gratitude for my post-college journeys into these landscapes, which were closer to the surface of my consciousness than I had ever realized. For nearly three decades Dragons has taken participants on journeys to discover the world and, in the end, themselves. When the pandemic closed down the world, Dragons turned inward to North America. This fall we offered two outstanding domestic Gap experiences: the Rio Grande Semester and the Colorado River Basin Semester. Because of their success, we are excited to announce that this new programming will extend into the 2021/2022 season and will continue to  be an important core of our work.

Keep an eye out for our new 2021 domestic program announcement!

The confluence of COVID-19, a heightened awareness and reckoning of racial injustice, and vast political divide in the United States has increased the need for domestic programming and specifically for a Dragons-style education. Our domestic programs strive to understand the complexity that arises when diverse peoples inhabit a land, looking closely at settler colonialism, power and privilege, and racial, social, and environmental justice issues. We examine how people have changed landscapes, for better and worse, and how those landscapes have in turn shaped our present realities. At a time when connection is hard to come by, the Dragons experience seeks to connect us to each other, our natural world, our collective and shared histories and, in the end, ourselves. Like all of our programs, our domestic courses help students confront important realities and understand their agency in shaping our collective futures. As we slowly return to the soulful international programming that has always been the hallmark of a Dragons experience, we’re moving into 2021 with increased self-awareness of our home here in North America. That rediscovery will weave itself into our global tapestry, augmenting even more depth and breadth to our programming.
After college I moved to New Mexico, and then California. I spent my time guiding wilderness trips for youth. It led me to Dragons, and in my late 20’s I found myself on the Tibetan Plateau, leading a Dragons group from Lhasa to Mount Kailash, a sacred pilgrimage route for Buddhists and Hindus. I was struck then by how much the Tibetan Plateau reminded me of the Colorado Plateau and the vast American West. And now as I travel and live in the southwest, I’m reminded of Tibet. Future Dragons students will now share the rediscovery of a place many people call home, and come to know it for the first time with new eyes and understanding. As you start thinking of your plans for 2021, I hope our domestic programming is something you will consider. And if you decide to join us, I hope your experiences in the American West will always be with you, right beneath the surface, waiting to reawaken you, as it did for me this past week. With hope for the future,
Reed Harwood, Executive Director
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    [post_content] => Join us for a series of free webinars in the coming weeks with Dragons Director of Admissions, Eva Vanek, who will help answer your questions about summer, gap year, and college credit travel planning for 2021.

Summer Travel Webinar

Nov 25th at 5pm MST | Learn More/Register >> Dec 3rd at 5 pm MST | Learn More/Register >> Dec 9th at 5 pm MST | Learn More/Register >>    

Gap Year Travel Webinar

Nov 25th at 5pm MST | Learn More/Register >> Dec 3rd at 5 pm MST | Learn More/Register >> Dec 9th at 5 pm MST | Learn More/Register >>    

College Summer Abroad Webinar

Nov 25th at 5pm MST | Learn More/Register >> Dec 3rd at 5 pm MST | Learn More/Register >> Dec 9th at 5 pm MST | Learn More/Register >>    

PRESENTED BY:

Eva Vanek, B.A. with honors in International Development, minor in Anthropology, McGill University. Growing up canoeing and camping Eva found her way to Dragons in 2009 where she led a Guatemala program and later, a couple Andes and Amazon Semesters. Presently, Eva is thrilled to be working as the Dragons Admissions Director and in her spare time enjoys volunteering at the Boulder homeless shelter, touring on her bike and passing quality time in the garden.

____

Interested in gaining your own in-field perspective of the world through cultural immersion, wilderness exploration, and language study? Learn more about our unfiltered and immersive Summer and Gap Year programs in Asia, Africa, and the Americas here.

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    [post_content] => This webinar is brought to you by the Dragons Global Speaker Series – a program where our global educators share lessons in critical thinking related to current world events.
____
On October 18, 2020 Evo Morales's leftwing party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Mas), celebrated a stunning comeback with the progressive candidate, Luis Arce winning Bolivia's presidential election in what could be considered a landslide victory (about 20 points according to exit polls.)

It’s a remarkable turn of events, especially considering that just under a year ago, Morales—the longtime indigenous president and incumbent—was overthrown in a police-military coup who then installed the right wing evangelical Jeanine Áñez as president.

In this webinar recorded in May of 2020, Julianne Chandler, Dragons Latin America Program Director, shares her experience of living in Bolivia as the Coronavirus pandemic collided with the fallout from an already devastating political crisis.

A COUP OR NOT A COUP?

The Fall of Evo Morales and Political Transformation in Bolivia

Synopsis:

The Plurinational State of Bolivia was already in crisis when the global pandemic took hold, after contested elections in October of 2019 incited national protests and the sudden ousting of longtime indigenous president and incumbent Evo Morales. A highly controversial debate about whether or not Morales was victim to a right-wing coup has been overshadowed by draconian quarantine measures and increasing restrictions on civil liberties being implemented by the interim government of Jeanine Añez, no friend to Bolivia’s indigenous majority. As a new round of national elections in Bolivia continue to be delayed indefinitely in the face of the public health emergency, serious questions remain unanswered about Evo’s hurried departure, what constitutes a coup d’etat, and the politics of pandemic under a de facto government in South America’s diverse and often misunderstood Andean nation. This session will provide an outline and assessment of recent events in Bolivia from Julianne’s personal experience living through the political crisis and pandemic.

Presented by:

Julianne Chandler, M.A. Poverty and Development, The Institute of Development Studies. B.A. Anthropology and Latin American Studies, New York University. Julianne is the Latin America Program Director with Dragons and lives in Tiquipaya, Bolivia with her husband and two daughters.

____

Interested in developing your own in-field perspective of Bolivia through cultural immersion, wilderness exploration, and language study? Learn more about our unfiltered and immersive Summer and Gap Year programs here.

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    [post_content] => I want to tell you about my extraordinary friend Sushil Babu Chettri from Nepal. He’s an inspiration for a whole number of reasons, not least for his remarkable life story. His full firsthand account can be found on the Learning Service blog.

He was born in a remote village in the west of Nepal, but ran away as a child and ended up on the streets of Kathmandu. At the age of eight, he learned how to beg from tourists and avoid getting addicted to drugs, while enduring the violence of street gangs.

After some time a tourist “rescued” him and brought him to an orphanage, but unfortunately, the place was corrupt and abusive. The children had no-one to care for them and had to cook and clean for themselves. They did not go to school and had no healthcare. The kids were not even fed enough and were sent out to beg for food. The owner collected donations from various sources but the money never reached the children.

 

Volunteers would come in and out of the orphanage, never suspecting that they were contributing to the exploitation of the children. The volunteers showered love and gifts on the orphanage kids, but the children found it traumatizing to have a conveyor-belt of caregivers, and when they left the hardships resumed.
At the age of twelve, Sushil was the oldest child in the orphanage and felt responsible for getting the children out. He eventually exposed the situation to an American lady and then made a police report about the conditions in the orphanage. The children were all rescued and it slowly their story came out – none of them were orphans, they had all been trafficked there.
The children all went to an organization that cared for them and tried to reconnect them with their families. Sushil felt he was too old to start school but instead he learned skills like how to use a camera and started making short films. He started documenting the lives of street children through film and raising awareness of social issues such as getting children of Kathmandu’s slums into schools. He only reconnected to his family and returned to his village when he was an adult, finding out for the first time that he had a younger brother. The issue that Sushil campaigns on most passionately is orphanage trafficking. After experiencing firsthand how orphanages are run as businesses in order to attract donations, with children stolen from rural areas like where he grew up, he now hosts talks and workshops with tourists and volunteers – and Dragons students! – to share his experience. Recently he has been trying to draw attention to the plight of children trapped in abusive orphanages during the coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, Sushil has been back in his remote home town documenting the situation of migrant laborers as they pour over the border from India despite the strict lockdown. He has been active in campaigning for aid for them, but also for aid to be given in the right way and to not be tokenistic or vanity-driven. He is also launching a project to build a well in his village in order to support vegetable growing there.
Throughout Sushil’s life, he has demonstrated remarkable resilience. He is friendly, positive, and fun, and is always willing to use his time and voice to help other people. He is an enormous inspiration to me – and as close as they come to a living legend.
Sushil Babu Chhetri is a freelance photographer and filmmaker who is based in Kathmandu, Nepal. His films include Flowers in the Dust and Letter to God. He is also an activist campaigning on behalf of children living on the street and in orphanages. You can follow him on YouTube and Instagram.  
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