Thursday, November 13, 2014

Engaging with English

The new students from the social wellness program Manos de Libertad are all studying English. For half the class, we have an English-only interactive round table.

Immersion is key to learning a language
Everybody is engaged
Getting outside changes the classroom and keeps students attentive

Speaking helps students' pronunciation

Monday, November 10, 2014


Duolingo is the new program we are using to teach English. Right now, we actually have more English students than math students, and the program has been very successful. Duolingo engaging and easy to navigate, allowing the students to work without the constant attention of the tutor. One student who has access to a computer has even continued to study at home! The program teaches English beginning with basic word-image associations and then simple translations. To augment the online learning, we also hold short conversation lessons each class. All of the English students gather around a table to speak in English about what they've learned that day and respond to the tutor's questions. This provides the students with a limited immersion in English and a chance to practice their pronunciation. Furthermore, it forces the students to actually apply the language in a spontaneous way, complimenting the more passive lessons they receive online. All in all, the English program, though new, has proved popular and successful!

     Students using Duolingo to study English
Moises is extra intent on getting this translation right                  

Thursday, October 23, 2014


The reinitiated Bolivia 4WARD program has been going strong for the past week. Some five students have been studying, on and off, during our open hours and are becoming familiar with their learning environment. Yesterday, the first student to study english arrived. The student, named Ignacio, used the program Duolingo, an ambitious online project to teach languages for free while translating the entire Web (links below). Ignacio got very excited about his success in the program, and made sure that he knew how to log in on his account so that he could keep his learning streak before the next class. It is good to see that the English program is as engaging as the Khan Academy math site.

Much of this past week has also been spent gearing up the program for more students, and we're happy to say that they begin in earnest next week. The orphanage Niños con Valor is participating again, as well as kids from the social wellness project Manos de Libertad. The program is looking for volunteers to assist with all the new students. The program is growing fast, the classes are going well, and Bolivia 4WARD is set to take the next steps to become an even bigger part of the Cochabamba educational landscape.

Duolingo Links

TED Talk:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Taking Off

Great news! Yesterday the first students of the new program arrived. Four kids between the ages of 8 and 16 came to study math. It was somewhat hectic, as always on the first day, but once the students settled in, they really enjoyed the site. The kids came to the program in response to the article published about us by Los Tiempos (link below). While we are still committed to teaching the children of AHA Bolivia artisans, it is exciting to see that the program is growing and interests different people. Official classes have not been finalized, but we have begun offering "open hours" three days a week, where students can drop in as they are available. During the school year, this seems to be the most helpful to students, as their schedule is not overburdened with regular classes, but they can reinforce and receive help for the material they are learning in school. It is great to have started with the program again and we are busy getting ready to have even more students!

Los Tiempos Article (in Spanish)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thanks to our Donors!

Bolivia 4WARD is moving forward! After our Indiegogo campaign raised nearly $6,500 (net return), the program is ready to develop a more sustainable and efficient learning environment, establish a regular class schedule, and expand online learning, both within the classroom and around Bolivia. All of this is made possible by the generous sponsors of our cause, and we would like to thank some of them here:

Daniel Goldstein, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University who has extensively studied Bolivia and given voice to the marginalized members of its society. Moreover, he is a good friend to AHA Bolivia.

Terry Beltran, CEO of Vista Latinos and Beltran Media who is involved in the Latino community in the United States and around the world.

Cecilia Foxworthy, founder of Revision Ventures, an organization that educates and employs youth doing SEO for local businesses. She is also a longtime friend and supporter of AHA Bolivia.

Marshal Hammons, a Santa Clara University student and friend to Elahdio Aliaga.

Artisan Connect, an associate of AHA Bolivia that connects local artisans from around the world to customers online, empowering communities while sharing art.

and the many other contributors to our cause. Thank you all for investing in the kids of Bolivia!

Finally, I would like to quickly introduce myself, Ian Petty. I am currently in Cochabamba coordinating the new development of Bolivia 4WARD. I will be updating the blog with the program's progress, but I also encourage any of you readers to contact me at with your questions, comments, and ideas. Best, Ian

Friday, July 11, 2014

Interning with AHA Bolivia: Jeffers Guthrie

When I volunteered for this program I had almost no knowledge of Spanish besides the menial skill of being able to crudely count to ten. In the months leading up to my departure I experienced constant self-doubt. And for obvious reason. I would be traveling internationally for the first time on my own, and entering a foreign country with an entirely different culture and environment. A country that has been voted one of the most unfriendly to foreigners, not to mention that the majority of its population speaks only Spanish. My only solace was that I had taken Latin for 4 years, an unspoken language that I was told would greatly improve my ability to learn this new language.

This anxiety followed me, unwavering, throughout my journey to and arrival in Bolivia. On the flight from Miami to La Paz everything around me seemed to confirm my helplessness. Even the flight crew did not speak English! The difficulty and nervousness I encountered when trying to decipher the immigration forms compounded my feelings. Everyone and everything seemed to be hostile and new. All I wanted to do was to turn around and go back to the safety and comforts of home. Going through immigration everyone seemed to look down on me for being a “gringo”. When I was met by the people escorting me to my next flight their first question was, “How is your Spanish?” Defeatedly I answered, “zero.” The answer hit me far harder than the altitude sickness I was feeling. I was supposed to be coming to this country to teach; how was I going to communicate with these children, let alone teach them math skills, knowing so little of their language?

Arriving in Cochabamba was the greatest culture shock. There was almost nothing familiar that I could hold onto to give me some hope of success, at least in the way I perceived it. I felt completely overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and, of course the language, especially knowing I would be there for a month, the longest time I had ever been away from my family. Upon my arrival we headed directly to the office from where we would be heading the Khan program. I met Elahdio and Jose, and sat idly by, watching nervously as they taught the kids effortlessly in fluent Spanish. I looked at the kids, understanding none of the sounds that flowed from their lips. Once again questions of doubt flooded my brain.  It was intimidating to say the least.

The next morning was when the ‘fun’ really began. I had my first Spanish lesson, which was both encouraging and discouraging. I realized I knew more than I had originally thought, but there was also the realization that I was learning kindergarten level Spanish. Equipped with a few simple phrases, I prepared to begin the task of tutoring fluent Spanish speakers in mathematics. With broken words and sentences I helped the kids sign up for Khan Academy and begin learning. I looked around. Everyone around me seemed to be able to approach and teach the kids with ease. I looked around for someone who was struggling. In the corner I saw a little boy who was having difficulty with fractions. Nervously and cautiously I approached him, greeted him and asked his name. “Fernando,” he replied in a quiet voice. I could easily read the nervousness and shyness in his voice and face. But there was also the keen and almost desperate desire to learn and understand. It felt familiar. I looked over the problem. It seemed to be simple enough. In single words and poor attempts at pronunciation I explained to him that a fraction was equal to part over the whole. In this case red rectangles over the total sum of all the rectangles. As I spoke he seemed to read in me what I had read in him -- a feeling of nervousness and apprehension, and it put him at ease. His expression was one of contemplation, that slowly gravitated to understanding. Quickly, as though afraid he might forget, he scribbled ⅗ down on the whiteboard.  I smiled, relieved, and said with a terrible accent “Si! Muy bien!” He entered in the answer and a smiley face appeared on the answer button, which he quickly mirrored.  I found the rest of the session, while a challenge, very enjoyable and very gratifying. Leaving the session, I allowed a smile to creep onto my face; I knew that I would be able to contribute here.

Over the past few weeks teaching has only gotten better. My desire to help these children who are faced with a very limited educational system and few opportunities has grown. Although I still constantly need to ask my fellow volunteers for vocabulary, somehow I have been able to teach the kids and impact them in a positive way. The students enjoy my poor attempts at the language and they are learning the material, even calling me back to explain something they don’t understand. Despite our very different backgrounds, we are connected. Because of my limited Spanish I think they see me not as a symbol of authority or intimidation but as someone who is just as hungry for knowledge as they are.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Interning with AHA Bolivia: Vicente Nagel

This being my first time volunteering with the Bolivia4ward program, I knew very little of what to expect throughout my time here. All I really knew in regards to my involvement in the program was that I would be assisting Bolivian children and teens in expanding their math knowledge using the Khan Academy website. My lack of knowledge about the project compounded with my lack of confidence in my Spanish-speaking abilities and my inexperience as a teacher instilled in me an apprehension that followed me from the time I departed from Chicago all the way to the first time I decided to sit down next to a student in need of some extra assistance with a tricky problem.

Coming out of a full week of teaching, however, I have to say that I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to participate in the program from the perspective of a nervous foreigner and a true newcomer to the field of education. What I began to realize, and what became my mantra every time I felt overwhelmed by a particularly difficult concept to explain, was that the girls and boys whom I was teaching weren’t here to judge me on my Spanish or scold me for making a simple mathematical mistake—they were here to learn about math just as I was here to learn about their culture and language. The moment I realized this simple fact was the moment that the program turned from a daunting test of mathematical skill and command of the Spanish language to a mutual journey for knowledge.

In this new reality, what I had attributed as my weaknesses turned out to be the biggest advantages that I could muster in the quest for truly understanding how best to impact the lives of these bright children that I had the joy of surrounding myself with. The feelings of unease and self-consciousness that I experienced as I tried my best to appear as someone who was fit to teach a roomful of children mathematical concepts, while stumbling through the most elementary of Spanish phrases was the same exact feeling that my students had. Just as I had felt that I wasn’t worthy to be teaching math in Spanish to a bunch of native Spanish speakers, the students felt as though they weren’t worthy of asking for math help from someone who they assumed was a master of the material. When they saw me bumble around and asking my fellow volunteers for help with vocab or with some insight as to how to explain a topic as simple as division, the intimidating nature of my presence was replaced with the notion that I, just like them, had a lot to learn.

This realization from them made learning less about saving oneself from the embarrassment of failure and more about learning alongside someone who was truly as clueless in other topics as they had convinced themselves that they were in math. Instead of looking confused at some nonsensical Spanish phrase that I had thrown together in an attempt at basic communication, they would help me work through what I was trying to say, offering encouraging words when they could tell that I was embarrassed about my butchering of their language. I would say things like “Lo siento, mi español es muy malo,” and they would instantly respond with “No! No! Es bueno!,” and offer back a smile that made it seem as if they were grateful to know that I wasn’t some perfect human being who was there to force them to learn what they assumed must be expected of people to know where I come from.

Perhaps the most important thing that I have learned from helping these kids with their math is that the best way to teach someone effectively and to open their minds to accepting failure is to connect with them on an equal playing field, making it apparent that you are learning just as much from them as they are from you. I think that, if more people realized that they can learn something from every single person out there, they would realize just how equal we all are at a basic, human level, and be more driven to ensure that every person has a chance at achieving their full potential. What the Salman Khan espouses in his Khan Academy manifesto, The One World Schoolhouse, and what I have experienced first hand with the Bolivia4ward project, is that it is for everybody’s best interest to make quality education accessible to every person out there because not doing so could be depriving the world of some of its greatest innovators and game changers whose full potential was being oppressed at the hands of societal boundaries such as class and financial status. All in all, this experience has most definitely left me with a drive to level the playing field for all who have a will to learn.