SH/FT Fellow on a Mission to Help

Shift CollaborativeCommunity

by Becca Burns, SH/FT Collaborative Fellow 

In two days, I will be Bolivia bound, sipping on ginger ale 30,000 feet up in the sky.

My vision was to travel after graduation.  Peace corp, mission trip, or backpacking through Europe – it didn’t matter.  Pursuing a passion to help others and experiencing something big, different and life-changing was the goal.  When learning about Bolivia, my dream began shifting into something that could not only change my life, but change others lives as well.

Alexis and Becca

Alexis and Becca

In February 2012, I met Alita (Alexis) who moved here from La Paz, Bolivia with her husband who is studying for his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh.  She emailed me, asking if I would help her with her English.  I jumped at the idea without any experience what-so-ever in teaching anyone English.  I assumed speaking English was enough experience.

Three months of confused conversation and laughter later, Alexis began speaking English well and her stories of Bolivia and the children there began taking hold of my heart. Alexis was passionately searching for ways to help these children and I began to brainstorm ideas with her.

In August, Alexis and I sat down after receiving an outline of an idea from her church in Bolivia.  The goal was to create a home for children that provided them with physical, emotional, and spiritual care.  The church postponed their vision five years ago because of a lack of resources.  We took this idea, sat on it for about two days and then ran with it.

Children from Bolivia

Children from Bolivia

While in Bolivia, Alexis “Alita” and I will be observing the land where the shelter will be built, meeting with the architect and building relationships with people in the community.  The project is moving forward.  Pittsburgh is amazing with its community of visionaries and individuals who want to help others.  I’ve put on my forced-extrovert face and mentors have pushed me farther outside of my comfort zone than ever before.  The combination of Alita and my passion with other’s passion for community development and philanthropic dreams is inspiring.  It is an incredible force that is moving this project closer to reality.

Of course, there are challenges present. I tell people about this project and see them lose focus after saying that it is in Bolivia.

Me: We’re working to build a temporary shelter for children in La Paz, Bolivia.

I can see their minds wandering, trying to picture a map, recollecting memories from past geography classes.

People: Oh… that’s cool.

A few ask immediately.

People: Wait, where is Bolivia?

But many wait until we are invested in conversation about the mission of the project.

I can’t deny the overwhelming thought that maybe this is too big for me.  I am way under-qualified to be working on a project like this and the idea of developing a nonprofit organization – yikes.  And, frankly, most people believe Bolivia is somewhere in Europe.

So it had to be Bolivia.  No, not in Europe, it is a little country in the heart of South America, rich with culture and quinoa.  It is also a third world country where many live in extreme poverty.  And, with passion and people, it is also the country where Alita and I will soon begin our journey towards building a temporary shelter for children to play, grow and learn.

Children from Bolivia playing

Children from Bolivia playing