by Austin Wyatt
During the entire month of July, I had the opportunity to be a volunteer with HOPE worldwide Bolivia in La Paz. This was my second visit to La Paz and, just like last year, it wasn’t long enough!
The majority of my time was spent volunteering at Hospital Arco Iris (HAI) within the Sala de Juegos (playroom) and it was so rewarding. I taught the children how to share and be respectful of one another. I saw how a person could change the world of a child just by saying “you are special” or “you are so smart”. These phrases I often take for granted when someone says them to me. However, for these kids they feel an abundance of love when they hear these words. I’ve never seen such genuine smiles!
My favorite thing about my time in the hospital was hanging out with the young patients on the pediatric floor. And without a doubt, my favorite patient was a young boy named Andres.
Andres is a 13 year old Bolivian boy who has lived on the streets for most of his life. Both of his parents died several years ago from alcoholism. He has two younger brothers. Andres has been in and out of shelters and orphanages as well as living on the streets. Recently, he got involved with a gang and with drugs and alcohol. He was hit by a car and nearly decapitated and was immediately rushed to Hospital Arco Iris.
Hearing his story was so touching and heart breaking, but also it also made me feel overwhelmingly grateful for my life. Andres is only 13 years old and yet he has already experienced such pain, loss and hopelessness. I asked myself, “Why not me? Why am I not in his shoes?” It blows my mind how my life has been so comfortable.
When I initially met Andres, I felt a little overwhelmed not knowing exactly what to say or do. But I also remembered what my mission was here in Bolivia. It was to love every child and person unconditionally, serving them and showing them an example of Jesus’ love.
Most of my time with Andres was spent getting to know him, playing the popular board game ‘Trouble’ and playing soccer within the hospital hallways. Andres is so funny and is such a joy to be around. I felt like he became the little brother I never had. He brightened my day, and I brightened his.
It was a miracle to watch Andres change before my eyes during his hospital stay. At the beginning, he was guarded and quiet. He had no family to care for him. He was also unable to speak because of his tracheostomy tube. I can only imagine how frightened he must have been. It was incredible to witness how the staff at HAI and the HOPE volunteers showered him with love. By the end of my time in La Paz, he had warmed up to everyone around him. He not only was playing games and soccer, but he was also serving by helping me pick up toys from the other pediatric rooms…and always with a smile.
Andres became such a blessing in my life. I’m inspired by his example. I now am asking myself, “How can I connect more with the people who are in my life…whether it be at work, school, or at church?”
After two months in the hospital (and an overwhelming hospital bill he will never be able to repay), Andres is recovering and getting stronger every day. Last week his tracheostomy tube was removed and he is now talking to everyone! He has recently decided that his purpose in life is to return to the orphanage to help care for his two younger brothers. He also has dreams of becoming a doctor or an artist.
Bolivia is a country that is filled with so much beauty, whether it be from the gorgeous terrain that takes your breath away, or from the love you feel from the church or from the kids in the hospital. Every day I woke up and felt like I had received a kiss from God. There is no other place like La Paz. It will always have a special place in my heart and prayers. It will always be like a home to me.
If you are interested in volunteering with HOPE worldwide Bolivia, click HERE for more information.
Austin Wyatt is a twenty year old college student living in Atlanta, GA.