Working at the CMA you might be one of several international volunteers working alongside our full time team of Bolivian technicians, manager and doctors. Time here is usually a varied and fulfilling experience for our volunteers. We are a close team and the atmosphere in the centre is friendly, with support there for you if you need it. There are often many patients around which keeps the centre busy and is a pleasant reminder of the importance of our work.
What our volunteers do depends entirely on their skills and our requirements at the time. Some roles, such as physiotherapy, require qualifications and involve very clear work. For others you could be doing something a little different everyday. You might be in the office, updating patient records, creating advertising materials and translating documents. You might be interviewing patients, researching social issues or investigating new materials and technologies. You could use your creative skills to take and edit photographs and videos for us, for fundraising materials and social media. If you are helping out in the workshop you could be making part of a foot, taking a cast of someone’s leg or drilling parts for a knee. The environment is relatively unstructured and our requirements vary as challenges arise. This is why we look for volunteers who are proactive self-starters that can spot what needs doing. Likewise our centre is often busy and it can be an emotional place for our patients, so we need people with good interpersonal skills who are sensitive to their surroundings.
Starting Sept 8th I was blessed with the opportunity to begin a 3 month volunteer stint at FUNPROBO. The experience met all my expectations and beyond. The staff at Centro de Miembros Artificiales was incredibly welcoming and helped me adjust to La Paz the best South American city comfortably. Even with the language barrier communication was relatively easy and enjoyable, I did my best to learn as much Spanish as I could.
I concentrated on document organization as well as video production. I also had many opportunities to get into the build area to work with Sergio, Jorge & Florencio learning and helping them put together a prosthetic leg. The process was extremely precise. My experience was unforgettable. I look forward to being able to carve out some more time in the future to be able to go back and visit and volunteer again.
“The work that is done at the clinic is heart-warming; in my experience the patients were incredible determined and a pleasure to work with, a lot of laughs and meals were shared. It felt like a family.”
“I spent one month at the CMA during the summer of 2011. I worked closely with Matthew Pepe and the local team of Bolivians to explore a new type of prosthetic foot, the Duc Loi foot, and improve the construction process for several of the knee joint components. The people at the center were very welcoming and the work was extremely engaging. The CMA team taught me something new everyday as we worked together and the patients, who are so hopeful of a new beginning, kept me motivated and excited. My experience as an engineer and ability to speak Spanish were extremely helpful, but not absolutely necessary.
The market at El Alto is a massive gathering of people and vendors. Definitely worth visiting, but stay aware and watch your pockets. The streets in La Paz are full of energy, and you are never far from a crowd. I took a minibus to go hiking just outside of La Paz. It was a great option to get out of the city for a day.”
“Working at the CMA guarantees the opportunity to work on projects that matter. You will see an individual’s life change the instant they put on the prosthetic leg. I was extremely happy to play even a very small part in this process.”
“After a month here in Bolivia, I have grown accustomed to the smell of fresh bread baking every morning, the small dance my feet make avoiding the cracks strewn on the street, and the sight of the sun cloaking the far away mountains, illuminating a seemingly far away world. I was born in Bolivia and moved to the United States when I was five, but every time I visit Bolivia, her charm never ceases to amaze me. In the United States, I am currently a senior studying engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech with a concentration in biomechanics. For years I have dreamed about working with prosthetics and giving people limbs that will erase the physical limitations placed on them.
I have been touched by all the humbling stories I have heard. Their voices will always be in my head, reminding me to push for innovation and improvement, especially for the people that are often forgotten. I will forever be grateful for the experience with the CMA. Aside from volunteering, I enjoyed visiting various different markets and parks in Bolivia. I also traveled quite a bit and explored the diverse culture that Bolivia has to offer. And of course, everywhere I went, I took advantage of savoring the complex flavors of the traditional Bolivian dishes I have grown up on. Thank you, CMA and Bolivia, for taking me in and allowing me to give back some of my time, effort, and talent. Until we meet again.”
“While volunteering at CMA, I got to see first-hand the immense impact a leg can have on a person and their everyday life.”
Volunteering at the Centro de Miembros Artificiales was a life-changing experience. I worked with a twenty-six year old girl named Pamela who has been living without a leg for eleven years. She was so inspiring! She was determined and strong, practicing her exercises over and over. Even though she has a hard life she confronts it with a positive outlook and cheerful demeanor. Each day she progressed and walking became easier for her. She never missed a day at the Center, making the two hour commute every day. Ivonne, the Director, asked me to jump right in and start giving Pamela exercises. I drew upon my Pilates background and trained her to work her abdominals and gluts and to feel length in her spine when she was walking. For the first few weeks it was impossible for her to walk without the support of the bars but little by little she made progress.
I´m so grateful for the experience to work at the Centro de Miembros Artificiales because it has given me perspective about my own life. The chance to help Pamela was life-changing. We developed a close relationship, building trust and understanding with one another. It’s something I will never forget and will strongly impact my own life from here on out.
“When the day came that she took some steps without holding on to anything we were so happy! I think that I may have been more excited than Pamela!”
Bolivia is a very inexpensive country. Our volunteers tend to live in a hostel or rent an apartment during their time here. Hostels vary from about $6 – $20 a night, depending on your requirements and frequently offer discounts for longer stays. Apartment prices vary, but you are looking at approximately $200 per month. It is best to stay in a hostel when you first arrive and then look around. There are many shops, markets and restaurants and if you know where to go you can get an excellent meal for $2. Our staff will happily point you in the direction of the best spots in the city.
Bolivia is an incredibly interesting and diverse country. La Paz is one of the most modern cities, however it still distinctly displays it’s ethnic roots on a daily basis; you will rarely be aware of the fact that you are in the administrative capital. The city is rich in culture and there is an abundance of interesting places to visit and things to do. You can learn more about the history and culture in the city’s plentiful museums. You can hike neighbouring mountains, explore the Tiwanaku ruins and even cycle The World’s Most Dangerous Road. With many travel agencies and transportation links La Paz also makes a great base to explore the rest of Bolivia – you could spend a long weekend at Lake Titicaca, on the iconic salt flats of Uyuni, or even in the Amazon Basin to swim with the pink dolphins. Volunteers with a little longer to explore often head up into Peru, to explore the ruins Machu Picchu or down the Chilean desert pass into the Atacama Desert.
If you have any questions about living in Bolivia or the kind of work you could be doing with us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.