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Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 3] - Santa Elena
The town of Santa Elena was around 45 minutes walk from the Foundation, and about half of it was uphill, which was not fun in the middle of the day (but considerably better when drunk!) The town was pretty small and yet I could never find my way around, no matter how hard I tried. Shops were just never where I thought they would be. Most days of the week we used to end up in Santa Elena at some point, usually to use the internet cafes, and at weekends we’d go out for meals since there was no rota for cooking then. On a few evenings we went to a pool bar in the middle of town where I learnt how to play South American pool. Apparently it’s actually quite common in America too, where you have to hit the balls in number order, whereas in England we always play spots and stripes. One evening we into Santa Elena because here was a fiesta. They'd put up a massive stage and just as we arrived there was a Michael Jackson tribute act performing. We met two guys who were also from England and were looking for a place to stay. We ended up chatting to them all night (and drinking lots of beer). It was fairly weird to meet other Brits there who were just passing through and not on the Aldeas de Paz program.
I guess I should talk a bit about the children because I’m on my third hub of the series and still haven’t mentioned anything about the volunteer work I actually did. I am getting to it, I just thought I’d do some background first. There was a hospital in town where we went once a week to play with the sick children. We took jigsaws, puzzles, lego, pens and paper so that the children would at least have an hour of fun to break up the monotony of this most basic hospital. There was nothing for the kids to do there, they literally just had a bed in a room. I mentioned several times at the Foundation that an hour a week was hardly enough time to spend there, when some kids could be there for weeks on end.
One week there was a father and son from Guyana there (which is an English speaking country) so we were able to communicate fairly well with them. The father told us that the boy had been playing football and had cracked his heel on some kind of metal cannister. He said that they’d done nothing for two weeks and then the boy had got ill so they had been all over Guyana and Venezuela (I think) looking for a hospital that could help. We played all the usual games with the boy and chatted to his dad, who said (if I remember rightly) that he’d had a son and a daughter who’d both come to that hospital with malaria and had died. The dad said he wanted a photo of us volunteers to take back and show his wife. He was so grateful for the attention Aldeas de Paz gave both him and his son, because not only was it the kids we were helping but it gave the parents someone to talk to, who are equally bored. When we went back with a copy of the photo a few days later, the boy looked really ill and the dad told us that they thought he had malaria now! Luckily the story does have a happy ending. I found out that the boy had got better by the following week and had been allowed to go home. I did spend a week really worrying that he might die.
Every Friday at (supposedly) six in the morning, we went to the Santa Elena market to buy food for the week. I say supposedly because the first week we were supposed to be up to leave at six, but didn’t end up going until almost seven. So the following week we were up at six thirty and didn’t leave till nearly seven thirty … I think you can see where I am going with this. Anyway, the first time I went to the market was an interesting experience, mainly because I didn’t realise it would be so muddy (it had rained the night before) so I got my flimsy sandals and my legs caked in mud. From that moment on my toes were destined to remain a kind of browny/orange colour for the remainder of the month. Whenever I think back to the market I always think of it as being colourful. There were boxes of spices of all colours, and brightly coloured peppers and chillis! We were buying for often up to 11 or 12 people, so when we bought food we really went for it! Bags and bags of vegetables, sometimes a bit of meat, eggs, coffee, flour. Then we loaded it all into the large car/truck/vehicle that Aldeas de Paz owned, and we were back in the centre of town by eight for some internet time.
On my last weekend in Venezuela we went to a waterfall just on the outskirts of Santa Elena. It was literally in someone's back garden, although thankfully they weren’t there. It was very pretty, and the water was, well, very cold, but it was still really cool. You could climb up onto this platform (as you can see in the pictures) and stand right under the waterfall. I think this was the first time during the whole stay in Santa Elena that I actually felt properly clean! Then we walked to the ledge and jumped back in. I watched some of the guys climbing around (much like monkeys), they found a much higher ledge and decided to jump from there. Having spent the entire trip doing things I wouldn’t normally do, and being brave, I decided that I too wanted to climb up and jump from the higher ledge. It was one of those stomach dropping moments, but still wicked fun!
You can learn more about volunteering and Venezuela in: Walking With Lions by Alistair Mirfin
Other hubs in my Venezuela series
- Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 1] - The Long Journey
I spent August in a small town in Venezuela called Santa Elena, volunteering with under-privileged children. This is a hub about the epic journey from England to Santa Elena
- Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 2] - Aldeas de Paz
When I went to Venezuela to volunteer with under-privileged children, I was working for an organisation called Aldeas de Paz. This is all about the place I was staying!
- Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 4] - The Invasion
When I was volunteering in Venezuela we were working with kids from what was known as The Invasion. This hub is about their lives and what it was like working with them!
- Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 5] - Manak-Kru
This is the final part of my Venezuela series. We volunteered with children in an indigenous village nearby called Manak-Kru, using a mobile school.