About Me

My name is Molly Clesen and I currently work as a teacher of students with visual impairments in Springfield Public Schools. I interned for 5 weeks this summer with the Manuela Gandarillas Center for the Blind in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This was an opportunity to empower and contribute to an amazing program in this local community by working with the clients to help them complete tasks independently, teaching lessons on writing, Braille, and other techniques, and participating in games and exercises to stimulate other senses. My goal has been to keep all supporters informed with up to date information about my fundraising efforts and experiences abroad. Even though I have returned, the center for the blind continues to need support. If you would like to donate to a very worthwhile cause, please click on the "Donate" button below. Thank you and any support you can provide is very appreciated. --Molly

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Feliz Ano! (Happy New Year!)

With a new year has come some new developments with the Manuela Gandarillas Center for the Blind.  As a "parting gift", I sent the $500 extra that was raised to the blind center to help them establish a store.  The money was meant to help build an inventory so they could begin training students in artisan work, taking inventory, money and social skills.  Here are the photos as of December 2011, thanks to Michelle from Sustainable Bolivia.

Director Nico has expressed his gratitude and shares that the store is coming along nicely.  He is waiting to see if he can get windows and a door and looks to open the store soon.  Thanks again to all of you who gave to the trip.  This is just one example of how a little effort can do a lot of good!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shirley, braille instructor, with a poster of the Spanish braille alphabet (left)
and a poster of the Perkins braille writer (right)
Pictures taken by Katrina Best

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reflejos (Reflections)

I just arrived last night and am having a difficult time adjusting.  Even though it was sometimes difficult not to have the modern conveniences, it still made life much more simple.  Now being back I feel like I HAVE to have the conveniences but I know I don't need them.  I actually started to feel Bolivian and pride for the country when I was down there.  I love my country but I feel like my experience abroad has been life changing.  I thank all of you for taking this journey with me and I look forward to continuing this blog with information and updates about the Manuela Gandarillas Center for the Blind.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

I want to apologize to all the people who read my blog...it has been very disjointed and scattered (or so I feel).  This is because I typically only have about 20 minutes at the Internet Cafe to write so I am not able to write as much or as clearly as I typically would.  I´ll be able to fix and add a lot more when I return to the States so please keep following!  I plan to update my blog with information about resources regarding Spanish language Braille and the correspondance I plan to maintain with Manuela Gandarillas.

Now for the interesting stuff...
As many of you know, I celebrated my 27th birthday yesterday in Cochabamba.  It was definitely very memorable.  It started off with Katrina leaving her camera on the public taxi, her debit card not working, and neither of us had clean clothes because the laundromat closed early the night before.  When we arrived in the morning a told Sonia (the in house dentist) of our sad tale, she decided it would be a good idea to create a cuento (story) using pictures about the sad life of Katrina and I in Bolivia.  Please stay tuned for pictures when I return to the US.  It was HILARIOUS.  After our arrival, we immediately went to the orientation and mobility classroom to practice singing for this Saturday.  Right before we broke for lunch, the staff and students sang Happy Birthday to me in English AND Spanish.  It was awesome!  Then they all bum rushed me with hugs and well wishes.  I also met a very nice young lady from Japan, Anan is her name, and she speaks very little English and no Spanish.  She was there to learn about the center for the blind and also to study music with Nico.  It ended up that I have been translating between her and the Spanish speakers, which has led me to wonder if becoming a translator is something that I would like to work toward...

In the evening, Katrina and I went to dinner at Sonia´s house with the majority of the staff at MG.  We ate, we danced, and we sang, A LOT.  It was a blast!  Apparently people here eat tons when celebrating birthdays.  We had chicken, pork, rice, twice baked potatoes, vegetables, flan, and a cake also!  The food was amazing (as has been all of the delicious food we´ve gotten to try here) and the company was too. 

Just like my blog has illustrated, every day has been completely different.  Today I had the opportunity to work with the orienation and mobility instructor, Paola.  She is 28 and a ball of fire.  I really enjoy spending with her :)  We worked a lot on separating small objects and distinguishing textures because one student has issues with both fine and gross motor activities.  We also worked on marching in step and practiced the dance for the August 5th celebration at the center.  One of the activities that I thought was incredibly interesting was that Paola rolled the student with fine and gross motor issues into a bed and had her push and pull to work her way out of it to strengthen her muscles.  I was the one holding the poor kid down and I knew that if I was in the States, someone would´ve called Child Protective Services.  It´s amazing how things are different south of the equator.  Anyway, after our daily cocoa break, students from a local public school came to check out the rehab center, played music for the students, and shared a treat.  It was great because the MG students also were able to sing one of the songs that Nico wrote that talks about seeing with the eyes of their souls.  It´s really beautiful. 

Tonight we´re going to meet with the director of Sustainable Bolivia to discuss the time she spent in the Dominican Republic in the Peace Corps and also (hopefully) find out if we won the mini-grant that we applied for for MG.  The idea was to use the money to host a Capacities Clinic, where public school teachers would come to the rehab center to be taught by the staff and students about visual impairments and how they can best serve them in the public schools.  We were hoping that by making it free, more people would be likely to come.  That´s all for now!

¡Felicidades todos!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We Can Dance If We Want To...


To catch you all up on the AMAZING last few days we´ve had:

Sunday--I relaxed with my host family during the day and went to visit a man from Uruguay who makes ceramics and ask him to join us for lunch at our house.  Jhovana, my host sister, usually purchases ceramic pots, vases, etc. and paints them and then sells them at the shop she owns with her fiancé.  Again, in a time of emergency, I had to use the restroom outside.  This time, however, I had ants crawling all over me and boy was I glad that I stocked my luggage full of antibacterial hand sanitizer and tissues.  In the evening, I acted like a grown-up and went to see the 10:30pm show of Transformers with Sarah before she left on Monday.  For those of you who have not seen the movie, it may be long, but it´s GREAT!  Lots of action and great special effects.

Monday--I had the hardest time getting out of bed, as happens each and every morning, as we´re roaring into the winter in the southern hemisphere.  We arrived at work and I had the pleasure of working with the little ones, assisting the professor in calming a 3.5 year old with low vision and cerebral palsy who had a cold and who was really upset.  We ran around outside and played games with the remainder of the students in her class (4 in total).  In the latter part of the morning, we practiced singing a song that we will be recording with students and staff at a professional recording studio this Saturday.  After work, Katrina and I met Luxembourger Sarah at the archeological museum near downtown and checked out some of the excellent indigenous history Bolivia has to offer.  Next, the three amigas walked to the shop of Jhovana to look at and purchase jewelry that she makes as a hobby.  It´s amazing how inexpensive her hand-made jewelry is!  One thing that Katrina and have really tried to do while being here is support local artists, which includes the students and staff at MG (they make purses and bracelets).  In the evening, we returned home to find Pablo, Ruben, Lenny, and Linda making dinner.  We ate and had great conversations and decided to turn their living room into Discoteca Morató.  Ruben and Pablo taught Katrina and I how to do some dances and we attempted to teach them the Cha Cha Slide, haha.  I think we had more fun in the living room than we have had so far in a club.  It was free, and we didn´t have to worry about people putting ruffies in our Coke!

Tuesday (Today)--Katrina and I arrived at MG and everyone was called to practice the song that Nico wrote.  During practice, Katrina asked me to sing with her during her solo to help her with the words and tempo.  It was during that time that Nico decided that he wanted me to practice harmonizing with Cristian (the music teacher) so that Katrina and I might do a duet during two verses of the song.  The awesome thing is that I´ve never done anything like this before and am really humbled by this experience.  Not only that, we´ll be going to the best recording studio in Cochabamba to record the song and as it turns out, the boyfriend of the director of Sustainable Bolivia is the sound engineer who will be working with us!

This trip has been filled with divine appointments and the building of lasting relationships.  It is hoped that we can make a music video for the song we´ll be recording with photos that we take of the students, teachers, and additional staff who make MG the fantastic place it is.  Thanks for reading and for the continued support. You are all very near and dear to my heart and would not be here without your help.  Thanks again and thanks for watching, San Diego.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sábado de Sol (Saturday of Sun)


Today, Sarah, the Luxembourger and I, went to the Palacio Portales.  There they had an exposition of Bolivian authors with their books in Spanish.  Not only was the garden of the mansion grounds beautiful (and historical :)) but meeting the authors and talking to them about their works was so interesting!  I ended up buying 5 books (which may have been an over indulgence, haha) and having them all sign them.  After spending the better part of 2 hours at the garden/palace, I walked home and enjoyed a salteña and Fanta.  This food is similar to an empanada but has more liquid in it and is a bit messier to eat.   Upon returning home, I found our family eating lunch so we discussed my experience in the morning and Lenny and I read outside in the sun together.  I then took a power nap for 2.5 hours to prepare for a fun evening of festejar-ing (celebrating) the bon voyage of Sarah and the birthday of Carolina (a Cochabambina).   It´s been an all in all relaxing day and I´m trying to decide whether I want to scale a mountain tomorrow or go clean up outside of the Cristo de la Concordia...I guess I can always clean another weekend :)  Well this has been the latest installment of Bold Babes in Bolivia.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Integracion Escolar


This entire week we've been working diligently with the professors of school integration.  This has included transcribing Braille in Grade 2 in Spanish, teaching students how to use an abacus, and laying down the smack on kids that get out of line (KIDDING!).  The kids are a blast; they're friendly and sweet and we feel part of the MG family.  The staff are excited (as are we) to show us their resources and daily activities.  We've played goal ball, watched a socio-drama presented to the students' families about visual impairments and the need for fostering independence, and discussed upcoming festivities in the coming weeks.  Yesterday we were able to enter the public schools and see how the students are integrated into the regular education classroom.  The students looked at us like we were either white devils or white angels, touching our hair and complimenting us on our blue eyes.  They were so adorable and well mannered, rising from their chairs to say "Good Afternoon" and "good bye" when we left.  The students who are served at MG are integrated into the classrooms with almost no assistance from the itinerant teacher.  If something needs to be read or transcribed in print, then the teacher is there to help.  Otherwise, she pokes her head in to make sure everything is okay and then is off to the next classroom.  It is during the morning hours when students receive the bulk of the support/instruction from the specialists at MG.

Today we spent the majority of the day meeting with the director, Nico, to talk to him about some ideas we had for grant opportunities and how we can support MG after we return to the US.  One idea is that we would like to finance the opening of a store that sells products that the students and staff make at MG during their manual skills class.  They first have to create an inventory of products and then work with students on money and social skills.  This would be a student/staff run endeavor and it is hoped, would help earn money to create/support additional programs at the center for the blind.  In addition to this, we have also applied for a grant (Please pray that we get it!) to hold a "Capacities Clinic" that would bring as many staff as possible from the public schools to the MGCB for a one day seminar/practical experience with working with people with visual impairments.  Students and staff alike would teach the attendees how to cook, read braille, and travel while under blindfold.  It is meant to help open the eyes of the professionals who will work with the students with visual impairments so they can better assist them in the regular education classroom. As usual, time is flying, but we are creating lasting relationships with the people who live and work here and I hope to return in the future.

It's hard to believe that we only have one more week, but we are trying to make the most of it.  Tomorrow, I'll be spending time with a friend from Luxembourg who leaves on Monday and celebrating another friend's birthday.  It's really interesting how many volunteers travel here from the US and across the globe.  We also plan to see the sites of  Cochabamba before our last weekend here.

And I can't forget, next weekend, July 30, we'll be hitting the recording studio with the students and staff to record a song that Nico and Cristian wrote called Los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights), that will be played during their annual educational fair in September when representatives of blind centers across Bolivia come to share information.

That's all for now, peace and chicken grease!