-by Chris Lucas-
I am a musician from Australia and I have been in Bolivia for three weeks now, and have throughly enjoyed my time here so far. Although a walk through Cochabamba makes it easy to see that a large sector of the population is living in poverty, I have been pleasantly surprised by how developed and modernised much of Cochabamba is (albeit through my limited experiences within the more affluent northern part of the city). In terms of lifestyle, there is nothing that I have access to at home in Australia that I have been wanting in Bolivia (aside from beaches and a car of course). Although I’ve heard plenty of stories about the high crime rate in Bolivia, I have not yet experienced any crime here myself, and always feel pretty safe walking around. The city is full of fun places and interesting people. Having a bit of Spanish up your sleeve makes all the difference in the world when it comes to a place like Bolivia, and it makes you realise that it’s not about getting your sentences spot on – all that matters is being brave enough to try and interact with people, and making yourself do it as much as possible.
The music therapy side of things has been a particularly rewarding experience, and has also been the avenue through which I have met most of my favourite people in Bolivia. As it stands, I split my time between Viedma Hospital and CAM (Centro de Atención a la Mujer) – I do 2 or 3 sessions a week at each of these places, as well as some light administrative work for Lisan from time to time.
At the hospital, I basically go from room to room playing guitar and singing to the children, and trying to get them to play along on percussion instruments. Sometimes it can be a struggle – the children are often tired and can seem more interested in watching TV (which is normally up full ball), but none of them have ever told me to shut up or go away, and I think that at the bare minimum, they all appreciate that I’m at least breaking up the monotony of life in a hospital bed. I have two favourite kids at Viedma – Noemi, a 3-year old blind girl with cancer, who is constantly reaching out between the bars of her crib to touch my guitar or trying to play all of the percussion instruments I give her at the same time. In the bed across from her is Sofia, a young girl who only speaks quechua. It took a few sessions for her to warm to me, but now she smiles a lot, and laughs when I am trying to play along on guitar to whatever random rhythm she creates when she is rattling her favourite toy. We have encountered a bit of resistance from nurses who seem intent on denying us access to the ward, but most of the time those obstacles can be overcome with a bit of persistence, and eventually becoming a familiar face to them.
The Centro Infantíl at is a very different experience to Viedma – it has more resources, very welcoming & helpful staff, and kids who are full to the brim with energy and enthusiasm. When we showed up for only our second visit to the center, we were immediately swamped by little smiling kids trying to hug our legs and swing from our arms. The activities we do with these kids are far more interactive than what happens at Viedma – from basic things like singing, dancing and playing along to songs from the Coco soundtrack (the latest Pixar film), to music bingo (where they have to identify the sound of instrument and cross it off their sheet of paper if they have it), to creating their own harmonicas out of ice cream sticks, string and paper.
I have no background in actual music therapy, so my main prerogative has been to just involve the children in music on a basic level; developing their sense of rhythm and their understanding of the importance in listening to each other in order to properly coordinate their efforts.
The most rewarding part of my time with Pintar En Bolivia has been watching the children rapidly increasing in musical ability and evolving their approach from session to session, both at Centro Infantíl and Viedma; as well as those precious moments when you see a predominantly withdrawn child letting their guard down and getting fully involved in an activity.
If I were to do my time here again, I would put far more time and effort before arriving in Bolivia into sourcing effective and engaging activities for the children (as well as learning more spanish nursery rhymes on guitar) – as there has definitely been a strong correlation between effort involved in preparing a session and involvement and enthusiasm on the part of the children (which was not always the case during the time I spent teaching in Australia).