How Backpacking Through Bolivia Became A Life Defining Moment

Recently one of my good friends, Hannah Watkins, left on her dream trip of backpacking though South America. When no one had heard from her for a few weeks, we started wondering if we were going to have to send out a search party to find her but sure enough, Hannah popped up again online.

I asked her to share some of her experiences from South America as I havent been there yet myself. I am so glad that amongst all of the incredible things Hannah has seen and experienced so far in that amazing part of the world, the most rewarding thing for her so far, has been the time she spent in an orphanage in Bolivia…  

Enough from me, be prepared to be inspired! – Ash

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I have been contemplating what the word justice means to me. What do I believe justice is, especially for people who themselves probably don’t fully understand the meaning of being free?

For the last month I have been living in an orphanage in Bolivia. The community I have been living in are apart of numerous social justice projects in the area. This surprised me, as I didn’t know what to expect when I came to Riberalta.

The town is a little village set amongst the Bolivian Amazon, close to the border with Brazil.  Like all the villages near by, it’s at constant risk of Malaria and even worse Dengue. Just yesterday three people in the neighbouring village died of a bad case of Dengue fever.

Photo: Hannah Watkins

Photo: Hannah Watkins

During my time here, I have been thinking about what it is these people really need.

Bolivia, like most of South America, is a very fertile country. There is an abundance of fruit, water and animals and people don’t lack the essentials of survival, yet it’s still a third world country.  I feel like I have stepped back in time as I ride through the town and take in my surroundings. The people here live like it’s still the early 1900’s, their houses are made of wood and most have dirt floors, they wash themselves and their clothes in the nearby rivers and use drop boxes or whatever they can find nearby to dispose of their human waste. It’s what I imagine the early colonies were like, but with old motor vehicles, television and some poor excuses for Internet.

The health and hygiene of the people is not of an appropriate standard with disease carrying rats and mosquitoes running rampart everywhere. It isn’t helping that the local people who live here generally aren’t educated on the necessity of hygiene and other essential needs. For instance a lot of the families in the jungle here don’t actually know what causes the conception of a child, so it’s not uncommon here for families to have a large amount of children, often numbering between 6 – 12 or more. One cultural change that the orphanage is trying to teach their children is that girls are able to live their lives how they want and don’t have to succumb to the pressures their culture often puts on them – many girls in this part of Bolivia become mothers as young as 12 years old.

Photo: Hannah Watkins

Photo: Hannah Watkins

There were a few things in particular that impacted me during my time at the Orphanage. As I worked along side the people at Casa Segura, I believe I experienced what justice truly looks like.

On a weekly basis the orphanage would take it’s teenagers to buy a month’s worth of food for a family. They would then go out into the village and look for a family in need. What you have to understand is this orphanage has nothing and relies on the donations of people from Australia on a monthly basis, so by faith, the poor give to the poor. On one particular day, they went out not even knowing if their donation money had come through for the month, but they knew that one particular family relied on their donations to survive. This particular family was a single window with 9 kids and have no government or church support. By the grace of God they continued to survive. My whole perception of what justice truly is was shifted that day as I watched an orphanage that lives on nothing give food and love to this family.

This is justice.

Photo: Hannah Watkins

Photo: Hannah Watkins

I had a lot of time to reflect on life whilst living at the orphanage. It made me realise how much I took for granted the first world country I grew up in and just how selfish we who are lucky enough to grow up in the first world can be. There is the new saying in our generation, “first world problems…” mainly used when someone complains about technology going wrong. Here at Riberalta, it wasn’t uncommon to have constant power failures that would leave you in complete darkness or have all water cut off for over 12 hours. It made me laugh as I remembered a time recently at home in Sydney when the water in my shared apartment was cut off and how it felt like the end of the world for my housemates and I.

This place has opened my heart and I hope my story has started to do the same for you. It’s like nothing else really matters anymore but showing love to your neighbour. When sacrificing a couple of coffees a week can buy school books or uniforms for kids in developing communities all over the world, it definitely puts a whole new spin on the word “waste”.

There is a Martin Luther King quote that says, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” I have learnt a lesson from the orphanage and that is to help a neighbour in need with whatever I can.

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I don’t know about you, but this story has really showed me how fulfilling life can be once you start living for others and what better place to put this into action than when you’re travelling! – Ash

Were you inspired by Hannah’s story? What has inspired you while travelling? Let us know below in the comments!

Hannah Watkins in BoliviaAbout Hannah: Hannah has spent the last seven years living, working and studying in Sydney, Australia where she worked professionally in the corporate event industry. She is a recent full-time traveller deciding to quit the rat race and explore the world. She hopes to inspire people to live their dreams as she lives out her on. Only new to the writing game she hopes to captivate people with the lessons learnt and the stories gained from the travellers road. You can read more about her travels and experiences on the road on her personal blog “Blue Marble Adventures”

If you would like to find more information on the Casa Segura Orphanage in Bolivia you can see their homepage here, although they prefer contact to be made through their Facebook page due to the poor Internet where they are located.

10 thoughts on “How Backpacking Through Bolivia Became A Life Defining Moment

  1. Inspiring and well-stated in reflection. Thank you for the thoughts and actions. May your travels bring many more such experiences of connection and meaning.

  2. Pingback: Backpacking advice, information and photo's from Southern BoliviaThe Most Alive

  3. Hi, my name is Cherie; me and my boyfriend backpacked around the USA we live here lol so that was just for fun. I would really like to travel and help people around the world, any tips?
    I don’t have a job my bf does but I heard if you just get out there you kinda fall into place. We have a passion for helping people and backpacking. How can we help the world?

  4. Could you email me the cent back lol sorry I forgot to mark the button for notifications

    Much love

  5. Beautiful post by Hannah, really inspiring and eyeopening. I lived in Bolivia for 5 months, and saw for the first time what a third world / developing country looks like. My experience definitely put day to day life back in Australia into perspective and now, every morning I wake up, I find myself asking, what can I do to help someone else today? P.s. how beautiful is Bolivia!

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