Brittni Palkert, of Minneapolis, USA, spent five years as a healthcare consultant before arriving at NPH Bolivia. She is now using her skills to support fundraising initiatives, while also providing care to our children.

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Who would have thought back in February how the world would look now? I can certainly say that when I arrived to NPH Bolivia on 1 February 2020, I had no idea what would transpire over the coming five months and how much my volunteer experience would dramatically shift.

My first month at the home looked like a typical NPH volunteer experience: meeting staff and children, traveling to the nearby town on Sundays for mass, off-weekend trips into the city of Santa Cruz, and planning for all the exciting holidays and events that would take place over the coming months, like our home’s 15th anniversary.

Then the weekend of 13 March arrived, turning our volunteer experience on its head. Seemingly overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic became truly ‘real’ in Bolivia and within days – which felt like months at the time – the majority of our staff left the home, including my direct manager, without a specific return date in mind. The kids underwent a series of handwashing workshops and were no longer allowed to eat nor pick up food in our food hall, everyone received facemasks, and we were no longer permitted to leave the home nor receive outside visitors unless absolutely necessary. Expected visitors from NPHI cancelled their flights, and we as volunteers had to have difficult conversations with the National Director to determine whether it was safe and appropriate to stay in the home.

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Ultimately, the four US volunteers were permitted to stay, but our greatest challenge as a community was having to say goodbye to our German volunteer who was required by his government to return home. We’ve undergone significant changes and restrictions to keep all of our staff and children safe, but through it all we’ve managed to remain positive and see the rainbow peeking through the clouds. We’ve taken on new responsibilities and roles most volunteers have never nor will ever experience. For example, every 1-2 months when one caretaker shift leaves and another enters, all the volunteers have been asked to serve as ‘tios’ (caregivers) in the homes while the newly entered shift spends a week or two in quarantine. This new challenge has given us a fresh perspective on the home and the daily lives of our children, as well as the joy that comes with being closer than ever with our beautiful children. For me, one of my proudest moments as a volunteer was using my limited high school chemistry knowledge to help a few of the girls complete their 150-question chemistry homework!

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On the weekends, especially if our kids are in the middle of a two-week quarantine because the new shift of caretakers has entered, I enjoy baking or making my Grandma’s pierogi recipe. We’ve also begun watching a Civil War documentary which has kept (most) of the volunteers very entertained. While there are many weekends where we long to take a trip to Santa Cruz, we strive to keep in mind that this is the reality for our children most of the year; they are on the home nearly 24/7 without access to stores or restaurants. Even without school, our children remain as happy as ever with the necessities provided to them on the home. This kind of inner peace and minimalism is something I hope to take with me into the future. Honestly, most days it feels like the kids are teaching me just as much as I am teaching them!

Here at NPH Bolivia, I am very lucky to be surrounded by supportive local staff and an incredible group of volunteers that are helping me remain positive. I am truly grateful to still be living in the home, particularly because our presence is needed now more than ever. In addition to being caretakers in the children’s homes, we are supporting enrichment activities in the absence of formal schooling nationwide. Our volunteer English teacher has been leading homework sessions in our computer lab, running our library and reading classes, and supporting piano practice.

The two volunteers and I are working on a local fundraising campaign to cover the cost of rising food prices, face masks, hand sanitiser, and other unforeseen expenditures that protect the well-being of our children. However, I was not originally hired as an Assistant Fundraising Coordinator. I came to NPH after working as a healthcare consultant for five years and I was excited to gain professional work experience in an NGO as an Assistant Projects Coordinator. While my role now looks a bit different – as many of our projects have been put on hold – being one of the leaders of a local nonprofit fundraising campaign has provided me a wealth of knowledge I could not have imagined: like social media marketing, brand management, building corporate partnerships, and more. It’s extremely challenging to fund raise during a national pandemic like coronavirus, but we’ve responded to these challenges by digging into our creative minds and gaining insights from fundraising experts.

Through these triumphs or heartaches, we’ve remained centered on NPH’s mission: providing a loving and safe environment for children living in extreme conditions. Although the coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on this mission, we have not and will not fail to continue providing safety and love to our children. NPH volunteers and staff live and breathe this mission day in and day out, now more than ever.

Please note that the NPH New Zealand volunteer program is currently suspended until further notice.

If you’d like to support our children in Bolivia during this challenging time, please make a donation here.