-by Rebeca Alguilar Walkley-
I am a graphic designer, half spanish half english, who embarked on a 6 month travel across south america. Prior to leaving, I was eager to do a volunteer job or two while away; after weeks of google searching I came across Pintar en Bolivia, who were calling upon graphic designers and creatives. Today, I am here in Cochabamba, it’s been almost two months working with Pintar en Bolivia, and what an experience. Not only did I have the joy of getting to know the Founder Lisan van der Wal, a friendly and amazing woman, I was given the opportunity to work openly and creatively, and learn about the wonderful work she does.
Oh Cochabamba! All I would say is I was only meant to stay one month which turned into two. The city is lively, full with amazing people, markets and places to go out. Not only is the city beautiful, it’s the heart of the country, with surrounding areas of all types (jungle, mountain, planes). Another wonderful thing about Cochabamba is the food! The food culture is delicious and you are constantly eating, whatever time of the day. Known to be the gastronomic centre of Bolivia, there is no way you can come to this city on a diet. The north of Cocha is the wealthiest side, and the difference is clearly visible when visiting the south, passing the biggest market (La Cancha) and the city’s bus terminal. It’s recommended to stay in the north, I would agree; however, a visit to La Cancha and further south I believe is a must, you can see more traditional clothing and their way of life. An eye opener for someone that has never left a developed country.
Centro de Atención a la Mujer, a private women’s shelter where Pintar en Bolivia does a Art Therapy session every Wednesday. When in the office designing an infographic on statistics about domestic violence in Bolivia, I was shocked by the numbers: 93% of women suffer some sort of violence their ex husband or ex free union partner, aged 15 to 49. This in conjunction with the first few art therapy sessions I attended, I came to a huge disturbing realisation of the gravity of this issue. One of the things I realised instantly was how mature, brave and strong these women were, majority were actually teenagers (15 to 20 years of age); most of them had at least one child already, a 19 year old had four, and even after everything they had been through they had found the courage to change their life around with the help of CAM. It was over the weeks I saw how these women actually had no idea of the strength and bravery they had inside them, all of them were full of insecurities and doubt.
I couldn’t believe it, it broke my heart how low in confidence and self esteem they were. The first session that astounded me was when they were told to paint a canvas about themselves as a woman, we help them think of ideas with a few questions; a question that seemed so easy to answer in my mind, no one had anything to say: What are my rights as a woman? (Read blog about this session). A few of the main reasons I stayed was because the exhibition was postponed to a later date, another was I didn’t want to leave these women after such a short time, and I truly wanted to see how maybe I could help them become more confident in themselves.
My stay is coming towards an end, and I wish I could stay longer, but my journey must go on.
I can say that I will leave Cochabamba and Pintar en Bolivia with many happy memories, new friends, experiences, and new knowledge of what art therapy can do to help women like those at CAM, who deserve so much!
I have loved every moment working in Pintar en Bolivia and will never forget this experience. I am leaving but I have the feeling I will be back.