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Day 23: June 9th, 2016 -- Bye for now

Well here it is, the last blog post of the summer. I can’t believe the month went by so fast. Honestly I’m chilling in the La Paz airport right now and have a good amount of time to kill so I’m gonna divide this post up into 2 sections. One actually doing what the point of the blog is -- telling you what I did today and what not -- part two will contain some emotional rambling that no one really has to read but I’m going to write it anyways.

Part One: My Day

Start off pretty chill, went to the gym for the last time then I had a meeting with the director of the future RB group of Univalle - Nicole, she’s Rodrigo’s cousin and her parents own Univalle (biggest university in Bolivia). They were nice enough to let us give a presentation last week about our work, yeah we were 45 minutes late to it, but it still went well and she was really interested in starting her own chapter. She was so ontop of it. She contacted me to set up a meeting and wanted a list of things that her group could work on. We established that she’ll send out exclusive cards to the top 3 students in each major (there are 30 majors) in order to get really high caliber students to be a part of RB. Even though we’re going to invite around 100 students we expect a group of 30-40 to commit. She also said that she was working on getting benefits from the university for being part of this group - like free courses. I told her that if these kids wanted to go to school in America being a part of RB in general would be a huge benefit to them. I also said we could give them a certificate from RB and write them any letter of recommendations that they want. It will also be cool to get to know their group when our volunteers come in January. Then we had a meeting with Maria Eugenia, it was a lunch meeting and we went to Factory. A shockingly expensive restaurant - like American prices. I felt bad so I paid for the group at the end. The burger I got was surprisingly good. At the lunch meeting we came up with a list of things that they could do: finish the 4 bathrooms we had left from January, do 20 repairs to make 20 more functional bathrooms, start up pharmacies in each of the communities using the Univalle Hospital resources, do monthly health fairs and start a paper recycling campaign at the college because for some reason the young people in the neighborhoods collect paper and sell it??? Not clear on that. But it seemed feasible and Maria Eugenia was super into it. We even planned a first visit for them -- a tour of the neighborhoods. Maria Eugenia was very much excited to work with the student group and Nicole promised us repeatedly that she would have it all organized in 2 weeks so they could start work. She had a lot of ideas and seemed like she really wanted to be involved. That’s really what we need. I can give all the presentations and talks in the world but unless you have an active, involved person whose really pushing to work with us it’s impossible to get things done. That’s why I’m so eternally grateful for the existence and presence of Akshay, Harsh and Lathan -- but I’m pretty sure they know that given the highly annoying amount of messages I send them on essentially a daily basis. Whatever. Here it is again: you guys are awesome! I’m really excited for the Univalle RB branch and have high hopes in Nicole’s ability to organize the students.

Afterwards I went back home literally for 5 minutes and said goodbye to Roxanna -- a woman who works at SIM house and who is always just super nice to me for no real reason. Honestly most people are super nice to me for no real reason. It’s really unclear why I’m so blessed. My mom always asks why anyone would like me, yeah I don’t know but I’m really thankful for it. She asked if I was all packed and I responded with: nope I have done literally nothing, but don’t worry I’ll be back in an hour and clean and pack! She said she would take care of cleaning the small kitchen and to not worry about that. I insisted that I would clean it but of course when I got back it was spotless and she was gone. Just another example of how truly blessed I am.

Anyways, then I went to Seton to pick up all of the surveys -- so far I think around 200 have been done but it was clear that they were working on inputting them and Akshay informed me that they have been asking him a wonderful amount of intelligent questions. So that’s good! Unfortunately, hermana Irma the director of Seton wasn’t there so I wasn’t able to say goodbye but I sent her a couple of nice emails so I think we’re all good on the relationship front.

Then I went home and actually packed and cleaned and made dinner - high quality meal. At 9pm on the dot Rodrigo’s parents and sister came to pick me up. They are just such nice people. Honestly it does get lonely sometimes without my family and just riding in the car with them and talking to them made me feel like I had people who actually cared about me. Like a real family. I have a lot of issues with feeling like I have a real family --surprise! -- so it just felt nice to have them drop me off at the airport. Rodrigos mom and sister even walked me in and had a coffee with me before my flight because they declared I was too early and would have nothing to do. Just so nice! Then I got on the plane and posted some emotional stuff on social media and now I’m in La Paz waiting for my lovely 3 am flight to Bogota and then to Quito. To anyone whose wondering I get to Quito at 10am on the 10th and will be spending the next 2 months working with La Universidad de San Francisco in helping out some of the earthquake relief victims in the coastal regions. I’m also going to help Maria Eugenia look into the possibility of creating microfinance groups in rural communities outside of Quito. Oh yeah and I’m supposed to be studying for the MCAT… Honestly standardized tests are so ridiculous. I get that they’re supposed to test your knowledge and what not, but how is that supposed to test my humanity? Don’t you want your doctor to be a human -- to actually care about you? If it was all about the science and numbers then you should just be a scientist. I love people (contrary to Akshay and Harsh’s strong belief) and I really do want to help. I’ll work hard to study on this MCAT but just for the record I am against the MCAT as an institution. Not that I have any other alternative or that anyone is reading this/ cares. Anyways that’s it for the part one. Thanks for reading everyone! This summer has been awesome!

Part Two: Random Emotional stuff

Where to start. The first time I landed in Cochabamba I was cold, alone, 19 and scared. Maria Teresa picked me up – not the warmest of ladies, I don’t know why but she was just never like super nice to me. She laughed at my fear and didn’t do a lot to comfort me. I had just taken over Refresh Bolivia that year, with little to no guidance. Right now I’m in the process of training Akshay and Harsh to take over and I know I’m being annoying with the amount of guidance I’m giving them but I don’t care, they will be prepared and they will want this job and know the responsibilities that come with it. They’ve already been to Bolivia twice and are going to go with me at least one more time before I leave them alone. It was a real blessing to be given this job at such a young age but it was hard. That first summer was so hard. I cried the first night that I landed. Hard. And I called Andrea freaking out, she was helpful I guess but then later she made fun of me for crying. I don’t know I don’t like being vulnerable with people so that wasn’t super appreciated even though it was two years later. I hate feeling weak. I felt weak that day. I felt scared. I had just finished my freshman year, I was still a child struggling with the responsibility of what it meant to run an NGO of what I wanted to do with it of how I wanted to lead the trip. I didn’t know anyone in Bolivia, that first summer was about making connections and getting to know the city. Karla and Akua were with me and I’m so happy that they were, but I always felt like I had to take care of them. I like taking care of people so maybe that’s why. Every day I would go on walks to try to explore the city. It worked, after my first summer I knew Cochabamba well. The first volunteer trip went well but every trip after that has gone even better. This past J-term 2016 one went super well in terms of volunteer logistics but our project could have been better. But this is supposed to be about this summer.

May 12th. That’s when I landed in Bolivia. I came straight from school – a mistake because I was tired. Never underestimate just how much you recuperate when you go “home” for even 5 days. I landed on Thursday and Rodrigo immediately sent me a message. I didn’t do anything that Thursday, except of course have a 2 hour meeting. When I landed in Cochabamba I felt happy, tired, but happy. Walked into SIM House like it was my real house. Went out and joined a gym, ran my typical 3 mile route, talked to Roxanna and Tiamara. It was good. I realized this past January that I was happy in Bolivia and looked forward to returning during the semester. But I did feel tired. I hoped that 3 days would be enough to recuperate. Yeah right. I had a meeting that Thursday and essentially every day after. Friday night came around and Rodrigo took me out. It was fun, he was nice, still didn’t really get who this guy was. He had made all sorts of promises during j-term and I remembered he really tried to talk to me while he was at Harvard. But I ignored him because it takes me a decent amount of time to warm up to people. He was nice enough during j-term and took some of the volunteers out and to his country house and took care of Simi for 3 days while she was stuck in La Paz. So I went out with him and it was fun. Daily life went on.

Akshay landed on Monday and our first CHW training session started – in my head CHW’s are like the pinnacle of sustainability in global health. You are literally training someone in the community to be a public health resource. It was crazy to me that we were implementing it. Crazy in general how much the organization has grown in the past 3 years. In January Nick had to deal with my random emotional nonsense on how I got involved in this. But it honestly still baffles me. Like who am I to be doing all of this stuff. Literally started as a college freshman, came into Bolivia and started building things and trying to figure out how to run an NGO. This past summer we’ve been on TV 6 times, in the news paper once, implemented a CHW program, built a super sustainable bathroom and managed to take over the lives of 100 nursing students for a day. Like what. How does that even make sense. What is this. What are we doing. Who are we. I get that the Harvard name has opened all these doors for me but it’s still crazy. And yeah I know there are 21 one year olds out there who are billionaires and owning companies but sometimes when I’m in sitting in a meeting with a room full of women and the head of a university and the head of an international NGO and they talk to me like an equal it just blows my mind. I’m not going lie and say that I totally deserve all of this, that clearly I’m the best person for the job. That’s just not true. I didn’t know anything when I started, I went to high school in South Carolina for crying out loud. I didn’t even know what global health was until I joined Refresh Bolivia much less the theories behind it. Luckily I’ve managed to make some decent decisions but in terms of knowledge I wasn’t ready to take over and I don’t know… in terms of any measure of preparedness I still don’t really get why I managed to get at the front of all this. Honestly, the only thing I have is a lot of will and good intentions – a lot of people get offended when others call them a try hard but that’s exactly what I am. I try so hard every day at everything I do, I always have and I always will. When people talk to me I think they like me or trust me or whatever because they feel that I try hard. I don’t talk at a high level or write that well or even have that fantastic of ideas. But I really want to help and this project has let me do that, I’ve always just wanted to do something in this totally messed up world and this let’s me do that. Yeah it’s a small difference, I get that. But it’s something. And I’m trying. And I’m learning every day. And I love it so much.

The other day I was just listening to the women talk and really paying attention to the way they talk to me – respectful, thankful, open. They trust me, they know me. Somehow I’ve managed to make it into these women’s hearts. That’s an honor, they are so inspiring and powerful. It’s an honor to work with them to be able to do this. An honor that once again I don’t know where it came from. I remember my actions in RB my freshman fall before I took over. I just asked questions and had some ideas. I was eager and that’s all it took. I’m a pretty religious person and I’m also a pretty lucky person. It’s not like I just walked into Harvard for example, I was all set on going to state school. I had even finished 2 years at state school. I was pumped. It was going to be great. I was going to go to college for free and then med school. Then I got this sketchy email from MIT inviting me to go to this program. 6 weeks of free food and housing? You’re going – said my parents. They were interested but no one really knew what MIT was. Surprise it was a nationally competitive program. Surprise I made friends. Surprise I did well. Surprise I won an award that was essentially a $100 to apply to a college. So I applied to Harvard. And I got in. Like what. Who does that. Who has that kind of incredible luck to open their email and take it seriously and apply to this national program that has a literal 1% acceptance rate – I applied in like 30 minutes, didn’t proof read or take it seriously. Of course I don’t think it’s luck, I think it’s God. God’s always been there for me, helping me for no reason like with that email. That program was why I got into Harvard and why I even applied. Then my freshman year I happened to interview for this random organization it wasn’t well established and honestly I should have been de-motivated given the high levels of nothingness we did freshman fall. But I wasn’t. I kept on going. And then I just took over. God. Then I went to Bolivia 3 times and it went well. It went super well. Every year went better. Every year we thought of new and better ideas.

Well I guess that’s it. My flight to Bogota is boarding right now. I just wanted to get out all the memories I could all the emotions. All the feelings of joy and write down that I literally want to cry right now because I’m so happy of everything we’ve accomplished and just in awe. Thank you God for everything, I love doing this work so much and it changed my life. Every day I strive to be a better person because of this work. Without it I don’t know what my life would have been in college. Definitely would have had a lot less meaning. Thanks for always taking care of me. I’m glad somehow others have been motivated and inspired to take on and continue this work. I love it so much. This experience has really proven that anyone can help and make an impact all it takes is dedication. But sometimes it’s hard, you know? It’s hard to remember that you can do something, that you can make a change, however small or large. Sometimes when you walk into those multi million dollar wood paneled classrooms at Harvard you develop a sort of amnesia where you forget what the rest of the world is. But this matters, to me at least, and I never forget about it. So I guess in general, I’m so thankful to have been able to spend the last month doing something that really matters.

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