“Bob’s notes” are reports from CFCA President Bob Hentzen, who regularly accompanies mission awareness trip participants. You can see Bobís full update on his Facebook page.
All sponsors arrived well in Bolivia. We are very grateful for this, considering the airline challenges caused by Hurricane Irene.
Lee Ann Schwope from Ohio arrived with her arm in a sling, after suffering a dislocated shoulder the day before she left for Bolivia.
She is doing very well. Never misses a side trip or an invitation to dance. Thank you, Lee Ann, and God bless you.
The beginning of our mission awareness trip in Bolivia has been enjoyable and inspiring. In the morning, sponsors received a general orientation to Bolivia and to the CFCA project in Cochabamba.
Bolivia in general:
- roughly the size of Texas and California combined
- 70 percent of residents are indigenous
- three climates according to altitude
- altitude in Cochabamba: 8,207 feet (2,558 meters)
- sponsored children in Cochabamba project: 2953
- sponsored elderly: 221
- scholars: 110
Most sponsored children live in their own homes. Some are in orphanages and centers for children of special needs and abilities.
We spent an afternoon with our sponsored friends of Barrio Primero de Mayo. Faces and hands speak of hard work, adobe dust and lots of sunshine.
For this fiesta in honor of the sponsors, everyone contributed.
Colorful indigenous dancers had us all out there on the concrete floor.
Traditional foods gave us the energy to visit families on rocky hillsides.
Sister Leonor, who coordinated this group of families for several years in the early days, came by for a visit, toting a thermos of hot coffee and mate (pronounced “ma-tay”) tea.
Tuesday started with a Scripture reading, and we reflected on the life lessons and realities in the passage.
Diversity, both personal and cultural, was a central theme, together with overcoming obstacles by working in community.
We witnessed this lesson practiced at the CEOLI center for special-needs children and youth. Of the 150 people enrolled at CEOLI, 100 have CFCA sponsors.
We enjoyed the presentation by Ronald Caballero, center director and local CFCA office coordinator. We enjoyed a few folk dance numbers, presented by the students.
A snack prepared by students kept our group supplied with delicious empanadas and breads, served with hot mate or coffee.
In the afternoon, we enjoyed meeting five groups of mothers and their families in Barrio Don Bosco.
They treated us to a variety of traditional dances. Naturally, everyone wanted pictures taken with the padrinos (sponsors).
Small groups of staff and sponsors visited homes in Barrio Don Bosco.
My group visited the family of sponsored youth Paola. The story of Paola, her mother and siblings is dramatic and inspiring.
Paola is the oldest of six. The father abandoned the family 14 years ago.
Two valiant women (Paola and her mother Paolina) faced tremendous challenges over these years. Paola in her spare time works as a waitress.
Her brother Daniel is working as a mechanic’s assistant. Both are able to bring home a little money for the family.
Paola’s main job is working on a college degree in civil engineering with a specialty in water systems. We are with you, Paola.
Japo K’Kasa indigenous community
Tremendous reception by hundreds with musical groups (zambollas and goatskin drums) in a world of bright colors.
Japo is that magical place in the Andes where one cold, rainy morning on Walk2gether they offered us the best hot chocolate ever.
Our gathering with the sponsors took place in Tapacari.
Small clusters of sponsored friends and their families live in the deep valleys and meadows of these amazing highlands, two to four hours’ walk from Tapacari.
Groups of sponsored children’s parents are creating savings accounts and offering possibilities of loans.
After the reception and a generous hot lunch, we headed out in three vans to visit sponsored friends in their own homes, not realizing that blowing sleet awaited us or that the visit would take until dusk.
I met the original “Nina Campesina,” of my song. Eufronia was tending sheep at about 15,000 feet when we arrived.
Her father, Francisco, and mother, Maximina, welcomed us into their one-room adobe home.
When Eufronia saw us from on high, she led her 20 sheep to their home corral and offered me a woven wristband in gratitude for her sponsorship.
She walks 3 kilometers one way to attend her rural school.
God bless you, little shepherd child. I will think of you prayerfully whenever I sing Nina Campesina.
Indigenous dances ruled the day even at 14,000+ feet.
All sponsors graciously accepted invitations to dance Ö at least until they realized that the dances were unending. Strong campesina women threw us around like ragdolls.
I find the way to survive these dances is to go limp as spaghetti and listen to the strong beat of bombo drums and the zampollas Ö and most of all just listen to the messages of God’s people.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Just a short flight to Santa Cruz and into a project with new life. I am thoroughly enjoying the confident, transparent spirit here.
I find this group of young CFCA staff to be smart and creative. They brought in from near and far the sponsored children, youth and elderly related to our group of sponsors.
This included Raquel, my sponsored child. Listen to the note (beautifully adorned) she handed to me (translated):
“Dear Sponsor Robert Hentzen,
I am very happy to receive your visit and to have the opportunity to share with you these days. I give thanks to God for your life and for being your sponsored child.
My Dad in heaven sent you to me, so that I can continue to have a Dad in my life. My mother and my brothers and sisters send you many greetings and thanks. They all accompany you in prayer.
May Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin bless your whole family … Mom Cristina, your children, grandchildren and your other sponsored children. I love you much.”
Visit to Buena Vista
The families who came together this day are from Buen Retiro, Yapacani, Okinawa and Nuevo Horizonte.
The bus ride from Sta. Cruz was another good trek on these fertile flatlands, dotted by hundreds of beef cattle.
Our talent festivals in Buena Vista featured children, youth, moms and dads. We saw dances, listened to original poetry and appreciated six baroque numbers, performed by the parish youth orchestra.
Our second full day in Santa Cruz was memorable and enjoyable. I was delighted to visit the home of our sponsored girl, Raquel. I was able to meet her mother and eight siblings. The father is deceased.
I feel confident that the young religious sisters, with the encouragement and enablement of CFCA, will continue to do great pastoral work in this humble neighborhood, and will lovingly watch over this family and many more.
Our main gathering was at the CFCA Centro de Esperanza y Community/Center for Hope and Community. The name says it all.
One mothers group has an outdoors beauty salon, so I was able to get a badly needed haircut before lunch.
Both in the morning and afternoon, we visited families in their homes. Again we found ourselves in the holy presence of struggling mothers with hope and gratitude in their hearts.
Later we stopped at the CFCA main center in Santa Cruz. Making it very pleasant was a choral group of sponsored teen girls with performances and testimonials from CFCA scholars.
We started Sept. 4 with Holy Mass celebrated by Father Mark Neal.
Dynamic Sister Josefa had everything nicely prepared, including the music.
For the cold at these altitudes, we received an attractive and warm chaleco/vest from a mothers group. This vest is provided to sponsored children.
The mothers have their own marketing plan. It’s working. Sales are up. No wonder this group is called “Las Triumfadoras.”
At every opportunity we can tell our mothers that they are our heroes and that we honor them as such, that we will walk with them down that long hard road.
For those who have suffered the violence of neglect, abandonment or worse, we can sing with all our heart: “Then let me be your father, your mother and your friend…Together we can form one family…And we’ll fight for the freedom of the children of our God…And smile, for we’ll never be alone.”
“El Dia del Peaton/The Day of the Pedestrian”
On this Sunday, almost no traffic was permitted in the entire country.
I say almost, because we were able to obtain a special permit to mobilize the sponsors with sponsored children, parents and staff.
We were part of a great gathering, 201 sponsored children in 162 families, in El Alto called “Huayna Potosi.”
I find the spirit among these families as open and affectionate. We heard moving testimonials from several mothers.
The various ethnic dances were colorful and well prepared. I enjoyed the children’s participation in my interpretation of “Son de la Sonrisa.”
Our visits to families in this area were both inspiring and disquieting. A united and struggling family of 10 (two sponsored) are facing orders to evacuate their rented two rooms by December.
The owner wants to sell the property. This family could not even dream of meeting the owner’s asking price of US $25,000.
Visit to Carmen Pampa
We left La Paz at 6:30 a.m. to journey down the Bolivian Andes to Coroico and then our project headquarters in Carmen Pampa.
The reception was spontaneous and warm.
Here’s some background on our work in these mountains, published by the staff in La Paz: The name of the CFCA community in the Aymara language is “Ayllunaka Tatitu Munasiriwa”/God Loves Our Communities.”
With the loving initiative of Catherine Quiroga and Loretta Murphy, CFCA began offering support in 1998 to 80 sponsored members.
The CFCA presence here now touches 337 families. The 325 children sponsored plus 12 aging live in 18 mountainous communities.
In our visit to the community, I note a healthy production of fruits and vegetables on the slopes of these mountains: mandarin oranges, limes, plantains, tomatoes, pumpkin and more.
They enjoy a good level of solidarity through their mutual support and respect. This is coupled with sports activities and music festivals. It was worth the long, winding journey.
On Sept. 6 we heard the story of one of our scholars, Edgar.
At the age of 23, meningitis left Edgar paralyzed and totally unable to speak.
In spite of being older, Edgar was sponsored as a special-needs young person.
Through sponsorship, Edgar was given physical therapy and has completely recovered the use of his limbs, to the point of being able to play soccer. He has also turned out to be a very good speaker.
CFCA and his sponsor saw his potential. Edgar received a CFCA scholarship. This Friday, he will graduate as a certified teacher.
He now teaches 20 children in the same school where he received help. He calls himself “a standing miracle.”
Our wrap-up day proved full of enthusiasm and inspiration. We started off this day at the Centro de Educacion Mururata.
Here we are privileged to work with 129 special children (I would say very special).
We were invited to visit classes in session, soldering, bakery, gardening and sewing.
After class and enjoying homemade bread, our community gathering included children’s performances and parental testimonies.
To keep things moving, Pancho Lopez (Bob) showed up on his horse “Broomstick.” We wrapped up our visit with an “Everybody Dance” number.
After lunch, on this last afternoon of the Bolivian mission awareness trip 2011, the 218 sponsored friends and their families in another CFCA community offered us a very memorable afternoon.
Hope and Godspeed to each of you.
Please know of my love and prayers.
La Paz, Bolivia
Sept. 7, 2011