Living Simply – Lessons learned from a year in Bolivia

By Allison Reynolds, Good Shepherd Volunteers

When I first learned I would be serving in Sucre, Bolivia with Good Shepherd Volunteers I don’t think I realized how different my life would become. If I could describe life in Bolivia compared to life in the United States, I would just have to say it is a complete 180-degree flip. Almost nothing is the same, and living out the Good Shepherd Volunteers tenet of Simplicity is not hard considering the lifestyle here is already so simple. However, living in a place that has taught me to embrace simplicity, has shown me what is really worth it in life compared to what I might think is better for me. I have learned to live without TV, Access to Wi-Fi, water, a gym, laundry machines, and other resources I have been lucky enough to have in the United States.

Have you ever gone out to eat with your Friends and just stare at your phone. Not always having Access to Wi-Fi has forced my community member, Andrea, and I to have real conversations. We laugh until we cry, or we discuss social justice issues of the world until we are both convinced we have come up with the solutions to solve all the problems. We have become more aware of our surroundings without always staring at our phones, as well as more intuitive. Instead of easily looking things up online all the time, we have been forced to think for our jobs and ourselves. We have learned to share our own ideas confidentially, instead of turning to an online source for ideas. I have learned googling something comes so easily, most people have forgotten how to collaborate with a team to figure out new ways of doing something. I have realized I have missed out on the adventure and fun of figuring something out on my own, it reminds me of being a kid again, and nothing is as simple as the life we once lived as a child.

Living in a space where it is not safe to use the water for almost anything, you don’t realize how much water you use in life until you do not have it. Andrea and I have had to think of ways to conserve our water and use it wisely. We quickly learned we have to boil water in order to drink it, so we started recycling 2L water, soda, and juice bottles after they have been finished. We now boil water and save it in those bottles, because who wants to drink hot water all the time. That process can take a while, but we save money and have water to drink! At the beginning of the year we had little to no running water at all. So we quickly learned how to save rainwater. Anytime we Heard rain drop, we would run outside with a bucket to start collecting!

We have spent many of our weekends washing our clothes by hand. Just figuring out the process of how to do this has left us laughing the entire time! All though washing your laundry by hand does not sound ideal, it has been some of my favorite memories from my year. This simple living laundry life style has taught me a skill I now have for life, and memories to last forever.

Yes, there are gyms in Bolivia actually. However, living on a volunteer stipend Andrea and I have decided to save our money to use for travel and other international volunteer experiences, rather than spend it on a gym membership. For me, this has been tough because in the United States I had been an athlete and loved to work out. So, I took this as a simplicity challenge, and it has been one of my favorite simplicity challenges this year has given me. I have used my background knowledge on exercise and athletics creating workouts for us in our own home! We use our collection of clean-filled water bottles as weights, a staircase, and the mini hill right outside our apartment for all our exercise needs.

I work for Sayariy Warmi, an institution that helps women and children suffering from domestic violence. Since Bolivia is one of the poorest countries, we do not always have the money or resources for things we might need or want in our office space. This has shocked me from day one.. And I am still getting used to it! I have learned to make full notebooks, manuals, decorations, pencil boxes, and many other things simply from using things we find in the office! We have repurposed light bulb boxes, pasta sauce jars, water bottles, Styrofoam, scotch tape rolls, notebook spirals, and things you wouldn´t think serve a purpose but Bolivia has taught me that they do! Did you know if you cover one side of an empty scotch tape roll and decorate it makes a cute paper clip holder? Learning the skill of repurposing has taught me to be resourceful, economic, and mindful of our resources because you never know what could be useful down the road!

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