Students Create Connections in Bolivia


After 28 hours of travel and five different flights, students on a mission trip from Southern Adventist University arrived in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, to volunteer at Familia Feliz, an orphanage that cares for 75 children, ranging from three months to 18 years old, across five houses on the campus.

This mission trip to Bolivia was one of Southern’s Vision Trips, which are short-term mission trips over the spring and summer breaks that provide opportunities for students to learn from and serve communities around the world. While there were hurdles to overcome, students found that the connections they made were more valuable than the inconveniences they faced.

During this spring break trip in early March, 22 students helped with maintenance projects, provided dental cleanings and medical screenings, cared for the children, and taught classes at the orphanage with other student missionaries. Additionally, the students led church services on both Sabbaths during the trip. Alexis Dewey, senior mass communication major, preached the first Sabbath, and Joey Cirigliano, sophomore finance major, preached the second Sabbath. The group also conducted a Vacation Bible School Monday through Friday, which included song service, student-led skits, crafts, and games.

“Sabbaths were unanimously our favorite day because we were able to spend more time with the kids,” Dewey says. “The children called each of us ‘teacher’ and wanted to be friends right away. Despite their challenging backgrounds, they were quick to trust us.”

Dewey shares that she connected with the friendly children who joined her early each morning while she read her Bible and wrote in her journal. Even though she didn’t speak much Spanish and longed to have real conversations with the children, they were still able to communicate with short phrases and smiles. “Seeing the kids smile made it all worth it,” she says.

For Giancarlo Leonor, junior allied health major, this wasn’t his first visit to Familia Feliz. He spent 9 months there last year as a long-term student missionary from Southern and was excited for the opportunity to return, mostly because he wanted to see the children again.

Leonor shares that the children at the orphanage see a lot of people come and go. “What I have found is that just being a part of a ‘love-starved’ person’s life and being a vessel for God’s love to reach them is potentially the most valuable role you can play.”

“What's always the most memorable to me is the connections you make,” he says. “I’m blessed to know enough Spanish to communicate more than most, but seeing how other students bonded with these kids—the smiles, hugs, and laughs they generated—convinces me that language is but a small barrier to making a difference.”

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