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La Guarderia Samuelito ~ The Samuelito Daycare

I could never describe la Guarderia Samuelito, its needs, and its culture like Isaac Shue did in an article he wrote for The Mennonite, a monthly denominational magazine. Please read that article here to gain an understanding of the daycare and the community that it serves: Samuelito << Click here

The day we arrived in Santa Cruz was a national holiday. As with any holiday, most people did not go to work and the daycare was closed. Isaac and his girlfriend, Karina, spent the day with us. We decided to visit the daycare to take a look and make a plan for the work that Chris and Isaac would engage over the next few weeks. We traveled by micro (pronounced meekro, short for microbus) toward the outer rings of the city. The streets of Santa Cruz are designed like the spokes of a wheel. The roads (rings) encircle the city, the first ring nestled near the city center. Connecting those rings are the radial roads which, in essence, radiate out from the center of the city taking travelers out from the city and into the country. Within the first 2 rings is mostly commercial, with a few homes scattered among the businesses once you pass the first ring. For the first 4 weeks, my family lived one block past the 4th ring on the south side of the city. The Mennonite church we attend is located about 4 blocks inside the 4th ring, slightly north east of the city centre. The home we live in now, for the last week and a half, is about 3 blocks from the church, one block before the 4th ring. The further one travels out from the city, the poorer and less safe the neighborhoods become. The daycare, located between the 7th and 8th rings, is literally on the “other side of the tracks.” One day as we explained to someone where the daycare is located, he asked, “Is it past the railroad tracks?” When we said yes, his demeanor changed and he said, “Oh, that’s in the ‘hood.” So we rode the micro out to the “hood” and walked along the bumpy dirt road to the bright colored posts that watch over the daycare and guard it from the dangers that may lurk about.



Chris and Christian walking down the dirt road to Samuelito. You can see the colored posts to the left of them.







Looking at Samuelito from outside the fence.




Waiting to get inside.










The colorful playground had recently been built. There were, however, some things that needed to be added or changed. Those were the things, it was decided, that would be worked on for the next few weeks. There were some safety concerns, and some things that could just be better. Whatever the reason, the playground gives the children a chance to have fun and be kids in a safe place where they can learn to play together and work out issues and resolve conflict in the way that Jesus teaches.

“Santa Cruz . . . bella tierra de mi corazón!”

We arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia about two and a half hours late on June 7 after an overnight flight. The flight went smoothly, but the delay was the fault of the two planes that didn’t pass inspection to fly into La Paz, Bolivia’s capital city. Apparently, to land at such a high altitude, planes need to be equipped with some sort of cabin pressurization system. I’m not really sure what that is all about, but the plane at our original gate did not have one. We were sent back to another gate near where we had originally landed upon arrival in Miami, which meant riding a tram to get there, and sat for another 1.5 hours waiting for that plane to pass inspection. I’m not sure if the issue here was the same as that of the first plane, but another aircraft was finally approved for us at the gate directly across the hall from where we had been waiting.

We went through customs rather quickly once we reached our destination. We were soon greeted by our welcome crew: a small Bolivian man and a tall American. Ona, who stands roughly 5’4″, is the pastor of Principe de Paz Mennonite Church in Santa Cruz and president of the Bolivian Mennonite Church, which is made up of 7 small churches in the department of Santa Cruz. All are within an hour of the city of Santa Cruz. Isaac, who towers over most of us at 6’8″, is a volunteer from Kansas who has spent nearly 2 years working with the Bolivian people helping with the youth group at one of the country churches and helping at la Guarderia Samuelito (the Samuelito Daycare) by teaching and building. These are two of the many friends we would spend time with during our five and a half week stay in Santa Cruz.

June is the beginning of winter in Bolivia. It is also the beginning of the windy season. During these windy days it seems I can’t leave the house without becoming covered with a layer of sand, which makes up most of the ground on which we walk. The wind can be so fierce and has no mercy on anything in its path. I can almost hear the wind laughing as twirls around and slaps me in the face with sand with a blinding force. While it can get fairly cool during the winter months in Santa Cruz, temperatures remain mostly in the 70’s and 80’s. But the cold days, sometimes dropping into the 40’s and 50’s, can feel especially cold considering that most of the homes don’t have heat. It was that kind of weather that greeted us when we arrived.

Santa Cruz is not a beautiful city. It’s very dirty with trash strewn about everywhere you look. Graffiti litters many of the cement or brick walls and aluminum pull-down doors, of which most of the buildings are made. Homes are hidden behind tall cement or brick walls, often adorned with bars, protecting them from unwanted intruders. Though many of the main roads going through town are paved, most are covered with a layer of sand. As you leave the main roads, you will mostly find bumpy dirt roads that have been worn down by the many people and vehicles that have traveled those paths before. The streets are crowded, as are most cities around the world, and the sidewalks are lined with individuals and shops struggling to make a living by selling their wares. While the outside appearances can look rough, there is an intrigue and beauty about Santa Cruz that has grasped on to me and hasn’t let go. There is a good reason for the popular slogan: “Santa Cruz . . . bella tierra de mi corazón!” (Translated: “Santa Cruz . . . beautiful land of my heart.”)

Bolivia Update

Our family is headed to Bolivia! You can scroll down to read my original post about our trip to Santa Cruz this summer.

We have not raised the original amount that we had hoped for, but we do have enough money to cover airfare and pay our expenses. We will also have some left over to give to the daycare. There is still time to contribute so that we can add to the amount that we give to the daycare to help cover building or operating expenses.

We will be heading to Bolivia on June 6. We leave Nashville at 5:00pm and fly out of Miami at 10:40pm. After an overnight flight and a short stop in La Paz (one of the highest cities in the world– hello altitude sickness), we arrive in Santa Cruz at 7:40am. The best part of this trip is the flight from La Paz to Santa Cruz. Some of the most gorgeous scenery I have ever seen as the snow-capped mountains tower through the clouds. Definitely a nice thing to have to wake up for. We will return home on July 16, leaving Santa Cruz at 9:00am and arriving in Miami at 4:00pm.

I’m not sure, at this point, what our schedule will be like while we are there, but I hope to update here at least a couple times per week. If you would like to be notified when there is a new blog post, you can send me your e-mail address and ask to get updates that way, or you can friend me on Facebook, where I will post links to my posts. You can also subscribe to the blog, which will notify you of new posts.