On Sunday, July 11, a group of courageous students, drawn from Santa Barbara Middle School and elsewhere, boarded a flight out of Santa Barbara Airport. Their destination: Bolivia, the country with the lowest GDP per capita in South America, and a poverty rate of 60 percent.

The volunteers will work — as part of the Rio Beni Health Foundation — to provide much-needed medical care and health education for inhabitants of the isolated Rio Beni region in Northern Bolivia.

Netzer-Brady International, a charitable organization based in Santa Barbara, supports the Foundation’s work in Bolivia through donations, and by encouraging local students to participate. Crister Brady, son of the organization’s founder, described how the aid work is conducted by mobile clinics on a 4WD vehicle or small boat. Community health workers are trained in preventative as well as emergency health care, and potable water initiatives involve community participation.

Crister Brady is somewhat of a walking advert for the Rio Beni health project. He said that Bolivian families welcome volunteers into their homes as one of their own, and the gracious town mayors hand the “keys to the city” to aid workers.

Mr. Brady also believes that volunteers will “gain even more than they give” while in Bolivia. He is referring to the incredibly rewarding cultural and skill-building experience that the trip represents.

The Independent caught up with Christina Tebbe, one of the young volunteers, in the airport departure lounge. She said that, “this experience will open my eyes to the world” and “help me prepare for the future.” Christina has never been to a foreign country before, but she showed no signs of nervousness, and she rates her Spanish as “pretty decent.”

To get involved with the aid work, visit this Web site.


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