Senior Center – El Torno, Bolivia
The “Centro de Ancianos Vida Feliz” (Happy Life Senior Center) is a day center that has been serving the elderly in the town of El Torno, Bolivia for over 20 years. The Center began as an initiative of Iglesia Vida Nueva, a local Baptist church. In September of 2001, a crew of “12 disciples” from Zion Mennonite, Pacific Covenant and Calvary Mennonite Churches spent several weeks working to begin the construction of the Center’s building. Wendell and Karen Amstutz, who are members of both Zion and Vida Nueva churches, have been involved with the center since its beginning in 1997.
The Center is administered by two local psychologists, Willan Villagomez and Sulma Becerra, who oversee an amazingly diverse program including:
- “The people’s diner” -a soup kitchen and hot lunch program
- a large garden
- integrated health care and health education
- occupational therapy and recreational activities
- Bible teaching groups
- home visitations for elderly members who are bedfast or ill
ACTIVITIES: The Center has different activities for the elderly every day of the week. Let’s see what’s going on at the Happy Life Center this week!
- Monday is health care day. The Center’s nurse Medarda Aguilera attends the aches and pains with therapeutic massage and good humor and gives advice on better diet and preventative medicine. Youth volunteers (from the boys home at “El Camino”) often assist her on Mondays.
- Tuesday is Spiritual Life day. Pastor Ernesto Vargas leads the group in singing and Bible stories. The folks really enjoy coloring Bible story pages every week.
- Wednesday is for Cultural activities and occupational therapy. Handicrafts of different types keep motor skills sharp and there are often cultural presentations from visitors or on the screen.
- Thursday is BINGO day! Medarda calls the numbers and gives out the prizes. Bingo at Vida Feliz is a competitive sport and participants don’t want to miss a week .
- Friday is grounds keeping and garden day with Agronomist Salustiano. Under his direction we prepare the soil, maintain the plants and harvest the bounty for the kitchen. Nature is so generous to us. This year we have a brand new park with a waterfall to enjoy and to maintain.
- Saturday is socializing day: we celebrate the birthdays of the week, and we often receive visitors from other senior centers, or volunteers from schools or local institutions.
- Every day of the week our cook Berlinda keeps our stomachs happy with a breakfast, snack and hot lunch from the kitchen. The State governor’s office supports the “People’s diner” with a ration for 80 persons a day. With local donations and our garden production, the kitchen staff stretches this to serve up to 100 persons on many days and up to 150 on Saturdays.
SUPPORT FROM DONORS: The Center enjoys support from a broad base of individual donors and institutional partners, local as well as national and international partners. Here are a few of our supporters in action:
- The Vida Feliz Association of Elderly is the founding organization of the beneficiaries and maintains their local leadership. Don Juan Duran is the current president. Each participant pays a nominal monthly due and contributes volunteer labor according to their ability.
- Ruben Heredia, pastor of the local Vida Nueva Baptist church that has supported the center since its humble beginnings as an outreach project of the church. He represents the church as a founding member on the Center’s Administrative board. The church contributes a stipend to support the weekly Spiritual Life program.
- The city of El Torno’s municipal government donates foodstuffs for the elderly every year, pays the center’s utilities and provides the salaries for the center’s cook(and nurse).
- The Office of the Governor of Santa Cruz provides the budget for the kitchen, a major contribution that came to over us last year. (They also pay the nurses salary.)
- Anton X?, a German volunteer who is living and serving at the center through an arrangement with XXX, a Catholic volunteer program.
- Zion Mennonite Church in Oregon is a founding partner for the Center and every year since 2005 has raised funds to pay the Center’s Administrative directors, Willan and Sulma. This year Willan is leaving the Program Director position to conclude his studies at medical school, continuing as a volunteer director with the Administrative board. Sulma will begin working full time to assume those program responsibilities as well as the administrative tasks she has done so competently for the last 14 years. Wendell and Karen Amstutz currently represent Zion on Centro Vida Feliz’s board of directors along with 4 local persons from the community of El Torno.
- The Vida Feliz center has initiated several self-sufficiency projects to supplement donations and provide local services.
The Center rents the facilities to local institutions for workshops and to families for social events and receptions. It is a popular local destination for birthdays and weddings. Last year we enhanced the facilities with a beautiful park complete with a waterfall, the premium spot for selfies!
We are bringing this 1950s International truck out of retirement to sell fruit drinks at the plaza. The renovation is almost complete: it includes a new bed and adapting the thirsty V8 engine to more economical LP gas. The center had a carriage built by a local shop to give buggy rides on weekends when many local visitors come through El Torno. This year’s challenge is to get a carriage horse and driver to man it!
Updates from Bolivia
Jan 10, 2019: Thursday is BINGO day. It’s well attended by the elderly who some are still learning the numbers. Most exciting are the prizes.
Nov 8, 2018: An administrative meeting on November 8 with Sulma and Willan (on the right) who work full time for the Center as directors, Sra. Tita and Sra. Flora, faithful persons from the community, and Pastor Ruben from the Baptist church, and with Wendell Amstutz in the middle.
Sulma shared about her recent trip to Germany where she met with 5 volunteers who have served at the Center in Bolivia.
Tuesday, October 8, 2019 Update
The past 3 weeks since we arrived in Bolivia after 2 months in Oregon, Wendell has dedicated full time working on a new water system for the Espejos community. Margret Shetler’s son David has been a God send, directing the project with his engineering expertise. The last picture is of the community leaders who get together to evaluate the weeks work. Click on image below for photos.
2019 Vida Feliz Report
An administrative meeting on November 8 with Sulma and Willan (on the right) who work full time for the Center as directors, Sra. Tita and Sra. Flora, faithful persons from the community, and Pastor Ruben from the Baptist church, and with Wendell Amstutz in the middle. Sulma shared about her recent trip to Germany where she met with 5 volunteers who have served at the Center in Bolivia.
Check out this 2014 report from Vida Fleiz will take a bit to download this 28 page report