The Novogratz Bridge Year Program in Bolivia introduces participants to a variety of social and economic concerns facing this astonishingly diverse nation. Participants live with homestay families in the semi-rural community of Tiquipaya, located on the outskirts of the vibrant metropolis of Cochabamba. Host to a wide range of important social, cultural, political, and environmental organizations, Tiquipaya and Cochabamba are ideal places to explore contemporary issues in environmental preservation, indigenous heritage, and the nation’s current political transformation. Working with local service partners, participants support community development initiatives in human rights, environmental education, climate change, the arts, gender equity, LGBT rights, and public health. Along the way, Bridge Year students deepen their understanding of local culture, develop their language skills, and visit some of Bolivia’s most captivating places.
In Bolivia, Princeton University partners with Where There Be Dragons, an organization specializing in overseas experiential education. Since their founding in 1993, Dragons has managed hundreds of unique small-group service learning programs in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Dragons is dedicated to inspiring youth leadership and responsible global citizenship through community-based service projects and cultural exchange.
Arrival and Orientation
Upon arrival at El Alto Airport, the highest international airport in the world, students descend by private transport to the Yungas, a lush cloud-forest region north of La Paz. Here the group settles into an eco-lodge for a week of orientation, planning, getting to know each other as a group, and learning about safety and cultural norms in Bolivia. Inhabited predominately by Aymara and Afro-Bolivian coca-producing communities, the Yungas offers a striking first glimpse of Bolivian geography and culture. In between orientation activities and workshops, students have the opportunity to explore local markets, hike to nearby waterfalls, and take in stunning panoramic views.
Fall Cultural and Service Learning Experience
After completing orientation, Bridge Year participants engage in a two-week service learning and cultural immersion experience in the ethnically Aymara city of El Alto. El Alto, one of the fastest growing cities in South America, is a fascinating place to begin exploring the rich cultural, social, religious, and political complexities of Bolivia. Based in the Ciudad Satélite neighborhood, overlooking La Paz, students settle into homestays with families associated with Teatro Trono, an arts-based organization and community center working with low-income youth and their families. One of the most socially organized cities in the Americas, El Alto provides an ideal vantage point for learning about indigenous representation and community activism in Bolivia. The Bridge Year partnership with Teatro Trono includes workshops with young artists and activists, immersion into the local community, and exposure to the vibrant history and political mobilization of El Alto. While in El Alto, participants also begin intensive Spanish language classes with local teachers. The experience concludes with a multi-day project in collaboration with El Centro Para el Desarrollo de la Mujer Campesina (CADEMCA), an organization that promotes social, educational, and income-earning opportunities for Aymara communities in El Alto and surrounding rural communities.
Arrival in Tiquipaya
Bridge Year students arrive in Tiquipaya at the end of September. Upon arrival, the group participates in a five-day orientation that helps volunteers better understand regional socio-political issues and prepare for service placements. Orientation also provides students with a thorough introduction to both Tiquipaya and nearby Cochabamba, including practical skills to help participants find their way around and begin to integrate into the local community.
Program participants live with families in and around Tiquipaya, a semi-rural community 30 minutes west of Cochabamba. The homestay provides a unique opportunity to deepen language skills, establish a relationship with a local family, and integrate more fully into the community. While most families are of Quechua descent, Spanish is the primary language spoken at home. Participants can expect modest but comfortable accommodations within easy access to public transportation. Most meals are prepared and eaten with the homestay family. The bonds developed between students and families often prove to be among the most memorable and meaningful aspects of the Bridge Year experience.
From October to December, Bridge Year participants receive intensive Spanish language instruction two to three hours per day, five days a week, from trusted and respected local teachers. From December through March, language classes continue, but with less intensity and depending upon individual student interest. Additionally, Quechua classes are offered for those who wish to acquire proficiency in the most common indigenous language spoken in Cochabamba province. Language instruction and mentoring are available to students for the full duration of their time in Bolivia.
Community Service Placements
Participants spend 3 to 5 hours per day, 5 days per week, at their service placement. Travel to and from the service site depends on the assignment but can range from a 15-minute walk to an hour-long ride on public transport. Staff orient students to their respective assignments and provide continuous support throughout the program. Below is a list of host organizations in and around Tiquipaya and potential participant service assignments. This list is not comprehensive but provides examples of the types of service assignments in which volunteers might be placed.
- Kusi Kuna Escuela Ecoactiva is a small alternative school and learning community that strives to nurture the growth of young people in ways that prepare them to face the challenges of our modern world. Kusikuna is situated on a small farm with sustainable, ecological structures and works with children and families from a diversity of backgrounds. Volunteer opportunities depend on the volunteer’s interest and skill set but could include developing an arts or music program, leading after-school and athletic activities, supporting the agro-ecology program, teaching in the natural sciences, and community and family outreach.
- Fundación EnseñArte/Performing Life is an arts-based NGO that supports children and adolescents who are working and/or living on the streets of Cochabamba. The organization provides skills training in the circus arts and other creative activities that boost income-earning opportunities for children and their families while ensuring school retention and safer livelihoods. In addition to arts workshops, EnseñArte provides after-school support with homework, a music program, meals for the kids, and a micro-credit program. Volunteer opportunities include supporting arts and music workshops, facilitating tutoring and after-school programs, English language teaching, technological support, and documentation of the organization’s programs and activities.
- Mano a Mano supports rural communities through comprehensive projects in health, education, and infrastructure. Mano a Mano’s primary work is to build clinics, schools, and roads and provide training for local professionals in health and education. The organization also provides medical supplies to clinics around the country, enhances access to clean water, and facilitates training in agro-ecology and environmental conservation. Volunteer opportunities include supporting agro-ecology projects, environmental education initiatives, construction projects, and training programs in mechanics and furniture making.
- Infante provides psychological support, skills training, and safe living spaces for women and children who have suffered domestic abuse or other forms of violence. The organization also engages in research, public policy initiatives, and awareness campaigns promoting principles of respect, dignity and equality. Lastly, Infante operates a Montessori-inspired primary school. Bridge Year volunteers typically support the English-language program at the Montessori school.
- mARTadero is a multidisciplinary arts center whose principal aim is to promote social development through art and culture. Their activities include art workshops, urban revitalization events, environmental awareness trainings, and support of the local arts movement. mARTadero also provides financial support to young emerging artists. Volunteer opportunities depend upon volunteer skills and interests, but may include facilitating arts workshops and assisting with community outreach, as well as publicity and marketing.
- La Fundación Abril founded in 2002 in the wake of the Cochabamba Water War, is a grassroots organization that advocates for water rights in the city of Cochabamba. The organization’s mission is to work collectively with communities to develop democratic and alternative political processes in water management. Currently, they also work closely with local schools to build water catchment systems and school gardens. Volunteers typically support Fundación Abril’s school projects and/or provide administrative support.
- The Bolivian Institute for Human Development (IDH) works to improve the quality of life of the Bolivian people through research, education, and activism in the fields of public health, human rights, and environmental justice. IDH is one of Bolivia’s leading organizations in the research, prevention, and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Volunteer opportunities include supporting HIV/AIDS prevention education programs in local schools, organizing and participating in public health festivals, assisting with advocacy work, grant writing, web design, editing, and general administrative support.
Cultural Enrichment Activities
Over the course of the program, local experts and other guest lecturers are invited to discuss diverse topics including Bolivian history, Andean spirituality, land relationships, gender issues, the arts, and environmental justice.
Bridge Year participants also take part in at least two program-sponsored, multi-day excursions. Excursion destinations depend on many factors including weather, time constraints, student interest, and relevance to the overall program, but a number of different options are available. These include a trek in the Andes, a visit to the coca-producing region of Chapare, a trip to the mines in Potosí and the colonial capital city of Sucre, a hike through Tunari National Park, and a trip to the Salar de Uyuni. To the greatest extent possible, participants are given ownership over the research, planning, and management of logistics for these group expeditions.
Finally, Bridge Year participants have the opportunity to engage in independent projects or mentorships in topics such as Bolivian music, dance, weaving, cooking, organic farming, and Andean cosmo-vision. The activity may correspond to or directly enrich the service assignment or may simply serve to enhance understanding and appreciation of Andean and Bolivian cultures.
Student-led Spring Excursion
In the final months of the program, Bridge Year participants work as a group to plan, organize, and execute a three-week excursion that takes students overland from Tiquipaya to La Paz. Departing Tiquipaya in early May, the excursion offers opportunities for rural homestays, service learning experiences, meetings with local organizations, and a multi-day trek in the surrounding mountain ranges. The experience invites students to broaden their perspectives on service learning, development topics, and environmental issues, as well as further explore Bolivia’s cultural, spiritual, and linguistic dynamism.
The final week of the Novogratz Bridge Year Program in Bolivia takes place on the shores of the three-million year old Lake Titicaca, which the Incas believed to be the birthplace of the sun. Here, participants engage in a Transference Workshop to examine lessons learned from their Bridge Year experience and reflect on their return home, their goals for the future, and the ways in which they can best integrate their experience into daily life at Princeton.
- Program Location: Tiquipaya, Bolivia
- Country Name: Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia (Spanish)
- Population: 11,509,580 (Bolivia); 53,904 (Tiquipaya)
- National Symbol: llama, Andean condor
- Languages: Bolivia's 2009 constitution designates Spanish and all indigenous languages as official; 36 indigenous languages are specified.
- Religions: Roman Catholic 76.8%, Evangelical and Pentecostal 8.1%, Protestant 7.9%, other 1.7%, none 5.5%
- Currency: Bolivianos
- Fast Fact: Bolivia has the world’s largest salt flat, which covers 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi) of the area and is 3,656 meters above sea level. It is almost 100 times larger than the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.