By LAURA TESTER
Two university students from Burman University arrived in the foothills of Bolivia’s Andean Mountains.
After months of fundraising and preparation, Mikelle Wile of Yellowknife, N.W.T. and Joshua Bradburn of Tillamook, Ore. had come to help less fortunate children.
With their university’s endorsement as “student missionaries” and receiving logistical support from it and A Better World Canada, the pair was set. Their adventure began in September 2015, ending in May 2016.
Bolivia, they would find out, has a number of societal challenges. This South American country has rich biodiversity including more than 3,000 types of butterflies. It also ranks as having the highest income inequality in Latin America.
Wile and Bradburn headed off to different orphanages to teach English. However, they found their responsibilities had changed due to staff shortages.
Wile became a “house parent” to six girls and two boys at Foundación El Sauce orphanage near the village of Samaipata and three hours from the city of Santa Cruz.
Most of the orphanage’s children had either been abandoned or were taken by government authorities due to neglect, she said. Some were very young mothers who had become pregnant due to incest.
There were challenges with speaking Spanish, disciplining the children and doing the laundry when the water stopped running.
“The hardest thing was that I wanted to give so much to the kids and I saw that they had a great need,” said Wile, 21. “They had gone through a lot of trauma. You were wondering if you were helping them enough.”
She lifted the children’s spirits by singing them “silly songs” as well as hymns, including Peace Like a River. The volunteers took the 26 children on a short, fun-filled Christmas vacation to eastern Bolivia. Wile also enjoyed going to the children’s soccer games and even attending parent-teacher interviews.
Wile experienced loneliness at times at the short-staffed orphanage. She found relief when three young German women came to volunteer along with Bradburn.
He brought along six boys after the orphanage he was at closed due to financial difficulties.
Bradburn remembered his experience in Bolivia as rewarding because he was truly helping the children and staff. While at both orphanages, he typically got up at 5:30 a.m. for some quiet time and then worked steady until 11 p.m. to assist the house parents. Duties included cooking, gardening and tutoring.
He felt exhausted at the end of the day.
Looking back, he said, it was a time of personal growth.
“You learn quickly how to put people first and you don’t always get affirmation and you don’t always see results,” said Bradburn.
Bradburn described how good it felt to see changes at the end of his time there, including the problem child who had “really developed a lot.” He knew he had been a part of that change.
Burman University sent them as student missionaries so they could live out their Christian faith through active service, he added.
Bradburn said his future career, whether that be medicine or something else, will involve servicework.
“There is so much need in the world and if those opportunities could be presented to youth, I think they’d be more willing to step up and get involved,” said Bradburn, 21.
As a result of this trip, Wile discovered her true passion. She is now taking social work at Michigan’s Andrews University instead of education.
She recommends university students go on a long mission trip like they did.
“When we were in Bolivia, we really felt we were doing something really purposeful,” said Wile, who’d like to return to volunteer this summer with her mother.
Bradburn may return as well for a shorter time. He’d like to see A Better World develop more projects in Bolivia.
“The projects that A Better World is supporting are one of a kind,” said Bradburn.
Both Bradburn and Wile are thankful that A Better World and Burman University helped them with preparations.
“Burman helped us with facilitating the paperwork that we needed to go through,” said Bradburn. “A Better World helped us find the project and gave us the expectations that we needed to do and also helped us with groundwork of people that could help us with visas and transportation.”
A Better World Canada aims to get youth involved early so they will become lifelong humanitarians and even philanthropists. “We are developing (young) volunteers and giving them opportunities to understand the world and giving them hands-on experiences about poverty, lack of clean water and so on,” said ABW co-founder Eric Rajah.
A Better World helps individuals who have no homes or families to go to. Various projects, including agricultural, are helping this group in Bolivia.
A concert held at Burman University on Jan. 14 raised $3,340 for ABW projects in Bolivia.