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Four months ago, a group of UHS students, staff members, and families embarked on an adventure that positively impacted all participants in ways that we couldn’t quite begin to process until many weeks after we returned. It began as a great partnership a few years ago with an alumni family that encountered the non-profit organization called Niños con Valor which literally translates to “Children with value.” That grew into this year’s 10-day service experience in Cochabamba, Bolivia with Niños con Valor.

What we encountered was a supportive leader and organization filled with some of the most precious smiles and upbeat attitudes one could ever encounter. The children awaiting our arrival in Cochabamba, despite the difficult hands they had been dealt, were happy and were being treated with respect by their caretakers. Spending time with these children wasn’t “work” in the traditional sense, yet we were all exhausted at the end of the day. Mackie Malinzak, a freshman who participated with her family, said, “Working with these kids made me grateful for everything that I have, and motivated me to continue helping people that are less fortunate.”

This experience with students and their families was so much more meaningful both to me as one of the UHS staff leaders and also to them than many other trips we had experienced before. I don’t know that any of us could have predicted the vast array of emotions that we would experience in such a short period. We laughed, we cried, we hugged, we danced, we played, and we worked hard. We helped to get a new soccer field started at the school where many of the children of Niños con Valor will be able to play for years to come; we took a TON of pictures; we saw some famous sites; we ate amazing food; we learned about the political climate and history of a truly fascinating country; we saw a glimpse of the need that exists throughout the city of Cochabamba, and we did a little bit of shopping to bring some Bolivia home with us.

As a teacher that has traveled with students many times prior to this, I have never been as moved as I was when I watched the bonding of children with their families throughout that week in June. Giving of ourselves to others in a variety of ways deepens the impact of the activity more than simply being an observer or passerby. Sandy Moreira, a parent participating in the experience, shared that “The Bolivia trip was an incredibly meaningful experience for me and my entire family. I was truly inspired by the work that Niños con Valor does for some of the most vulnerable children in Cochabamba. Many of these children have suffered trauma and hardships from a very young age, and seeing the love, joy, and optimism in their lives now is a testament to the positive impact that Niños has had. It inspires me to do more to try to make a difference in the lives of others.”

I feel confident in saying that our entire group from the June 2018 experience left behind a portion of our hearts when we departed that Saturday night and our group is forever connected through this experience.

Tyson Malo, the founder of Niños con Valor, will be at UHS during the morning assembly on Tuesday, October 16. He has created an environment built on respect and personal growth, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to experience Niños con Valor first-hand. To learn more about the Niños con Valor organization, please visit their website: www.ninosconvalor.org. Also, some of our returning UHS students were so impassioned by the children at NCV, that they have started a club and have organized a T-shirt campaign to raise funds to support the NCV organization. Please follow this link to get your T-shirt today and a portion of the shirt cost will go directly to Niños con Valor!