SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (Mennonite Mission Network) – Ten young women put their muscles to good use enacting the vision begun by a Bolivian church.
For two years, the Samuelito Day Care Center, a ministry of Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana (Bolivian Evangelical Mennonite Church), has provided responsible child care for children in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city.
Before Samuelito, parents did not have a safe, affordable place to leave their children while at work. Now, day care staff care for 50 young children each day, and they constantly field requests from mothers to care for more children.
“The day care was begun out of our preoccupation for kids of the neighborhood of Esmirna Mennonite Church,” wrote Magrit Kipfer Barrón, who, as a Mennonite Mission Network worker, has helped to begin and lead the day care. “We have also seen the problems the mothers have in this neighborhood. Many of them are single mothers, and others have to work because their family is so big that what the husband earns isn’t enough to maintain them.”
Families may be large, but the current day care facilities were small - packed tight with no room to expand.
In response, the Bolivian church purchased a large plot of land and made plans to build a new facility to house 150 children. But beyond purchasing land, they had not found the means or legwork necessary to continue the project.
So for three weeks in July, 10 Youth Venture
participants and Gina and Chris Walczak, the team leaders, and their 3-year-old son, Christian, volunteered in Santa Cruz to kick-start the building project.
Youth Venture, one of Mennonite Mission Network’s Christian Service programs, offers youth (ages 14-22) the opportunity to join teams for one to four weeks of service in June, July or August.
The team of young women worked alongside Kipfer Barrón; Daniel Lobo Vargas, the president of the Sinai Youth Group in Santa Cruz; and other community members to prepare the building foundation. They cleared and burned the building lot, dug foot-deep trenches where walls would be built, filled the trenches with heavy rock, and mixed and poured concrete.
Despite language barriers, team members found ways to connect through song, facial expressions, and gestures.
“Communication was a challenge for me because I don’t speak English well. Some of the girls can speak Spanish well, but others can speak only a little. But after we did mime and spoke 'Spanglish,' we could begin to understand each other,” wrote Lobo Vargas.
The group also spent time praying and sharing together each day, and took day trips to visit Inca ruins and hike the mountains around the city. Each participant lived with a host family within Santa Cruz, and the group often shared meals and times of fellowship with church members.
“I loved the relationships I created with my host family and friends [in Bolivia]. Even though there was a slight language barrier, there was a connection between all of us because of our faith,” wrote Grael Miller, a participant from Kalona (Iowa) Mennonite Church.
So far, the Bolivia Mennonite Church has raised $5,000 to continue constructing the day care. The Youth Venture team prepared the foundation and they are ready to begin laying the building.
During their second week in Bolivia, participants joined members of the church to dedicate the plot of land to God.
Other members of the Youth Venture team were Alyssa Graber of Salem-Zion Mennonite Church in Freeman, S.D.; Kirsten Halfhill of Martins Creek Mennonite Church in Millersburg, Ohio; Amanda Hunsberger of Emma Mennonite Church in Topeka, Ind.; Sara Lefever of Mellinger Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa.; Kassidy Love of Life Spring Community Church in Goshen, Ind.; Rachel Love of Shalom Mennonite Church in Indianapolis, Ind.; Sara Metzler of Skyridge Church of the Brethren in Kalamazoo, Mich.; Margo Regier of Zion Mennonite Church in Elbing, Kan.; and Leah Sharick of Shore Mennonite Church in Shipshewana, Ind. The Walczak family are members of Harmony Mennonite Church in Nashville, Tenn.