Laura Sprinkle is a senior at Gettysburg College and 2009 alum of SIT Study Abroad’s Bolivia: Multiculturalism, Globalization and Social Change program. Sprinkle is the most recent recipient of the Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship, which provides grant money for SIT Study Abroad alums to pursue projects relating to human rights. This summer she will use her fellowship to work with Kids’ Books Bolivia, a multilingual publishing project founded by SIT students and staff.
Why did you choose the SIT Study Abroad Bolivia program?
Choosing a study abroad location was a long process, but I talked with people in the Globalization Studies department and with Off Campus Studies at Gettysburg, all of whom highly recommended SIT programs. The theme I chose for my major was Social Development, and I knew I wanted to study in Latin America, so I looked at SIT programs that had to do with development. At the time, the program in Bolivia had a theme of Culture and Development, so I met with a couple of Gettysburg students who had done the program in the past. They both said amazing things about it, and it got me really excited. I was really interested in all of the excursions, living with a host family, and especially the Independent Study Project. I had never really come across a program with experiential learning before, and that was especially intriguing. It definitely lived up to and even went beyond my expectations.
What was your independent study project?
For my ISP, I studied the practices of Todos Santos, or All Saints’ Day, in Bolivia. I wanted to look at the ways that Bolivians retain their cultural heritage amidst development, and so I used this holiday as a lens through which to see that interplay. I traveled to a small town outside of the city of Cochabamba and stayed with a family during the celebrations, and also attended workshops and some celebrations in the city. Instead of writing a traditional research paper, I also wrote a bilingual children’s book (Spanish and English), which was then translated into Quechua (one of the Indigenous languages), and then edited and published by the Bolivian publishing company Kipus. I was able to do this through a project founded by one of the Academic Directors, Heidi Baer-Postigo, which was called Kids’ Books Bolivia.
Why did you choose to write a book for the Kids Books’ Bolivia project?
Throughout the semester, we discussed the idea of reciprocity and how important it is to always give back to those who you are learning from. Writing a children’s book through this project seemed like such a wonderful opportunity to have something concrete to share with the people who helped me so much in my research. They were honestly some of the nicest people I’ve met, and I really wanted to give back to the community in a positive way. Heidi told us that there aren’t many culturally relevant children’s books in Bolivia, and so the books from this project can really be useful to people.
How will your Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship project advance the work already being done with the Kids Books Bolivia project?
Unfortunately, after the books written by SIT students are published, the chain of events kind of lags. There are a couple of children’s libraries in Cochabamba that have the books, and many are sold in the United States to family and friends of SIT students, or at fairs. In order to really make an impact and have the full circle of reciprocity, it is important that there are programs by which the books will be utilized in Bolivia. Through this Fellowship, I’m going to work with the two children’s libraries, Th’uruchapitas and Atillku Community Library Network, in order to develop workshops that can then be implemented in the libraries and elementary schools.
In these workshops, the students will read the books, and then take part in relevant activities. For example, my book is about Todos Santos. It would be nice to have them read the book, and then talk about the traditions practiced in their own households. As a group we can create an offerings table, which is part of the tradition, and write stories about the holiday. The most important part of the project is fostering a love of reading and instilling a sense of value for culture.
Even before studying abroad, I was always interested in being a part of social change and making a positive impact on the world, but didn’t really know how I was going to go about doing that. The SIT program in Bolivia really showed me what humans are capable of, in terms of surviving on what most people in the U.S. would think of as next to nothing. It also gave me so many tools, from being unafraid to make mistakes in language, to interviewing people I don’t know, to understanding that a situation is not always what it may seem from the outside. More than anything, I now know that in order to fully understand something, you have to experience it. My experience in Bolivia has also changed the world map in my mind, and opened my eyes to all of the wonderful things Latin America has to offer the world.