Welcome to The Alalay Project blog! Over the coming weeks and months we will be updating this page with photos, videos and information about our progress in Bolivia.


Ok, so only four weeks behind schedule, the blog update is FINALLY here! As you may have guessed, things this side of the world have been extremely hectic and busy for us and there is certainly a lot to tell from the past few weeks…

We last left you at the end of week 4 when we were in the midst of pouring concrete for the foundations. Since then we have finished that stage and already constructed out main columns, levelled the site and started on the timber framework. However, before I get ahead of myself, I will jump back a few weeks and go from there.

We finished the foundations during week 5 and called in our trusty friend Eloy to shift the many mounds of earth on the site to create a flat, level area on which to start the preparation for our flooring. By this stage we had also started working with a group of around 8 skilled workers from La Paz who helped speed up our work and provided us with some good laughs and many ‘lost in translation’ moments!

Then came the weekend when our group had booked to cycle Bolivia’s infamous ‘Death Road’ from La Paz to Yungas. Everyone was very excited for the exhilarating downhill descent along a gravelled road with a sheer inclined drop on one side, however, within an hour of starting, disaster struck as a car came too close to Chris Niem causing him to brake hard a fly head first over his handlebars! Unfortunately Chris suffered a dislocated shoulder, torn ligament and fractured elbow, and to make things worse, this day was his 21st birthday! Certainly not the best one, but definitely a good story for the future!

Chris was taken straight to hospital in La Paz where he was told he would need surgery. So within a few days Chris had rearranged his flights and sadly left us to return to Hong Kong to undergo the surgery. Fortunately we have had news that Chris’s procedure went very well and he is making a speedy recovery. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Chris for all his hard work and for making us all laugh on so many occasions! He is sorely missed and we hope that one day he will get a chance to return to Bolivia and see the success of our efforts for the children of the Alalay.

So one man down, and with numerous others suffering from regular stomach upsets, we really thought things could only get better! But oh how wrong we were! Within a week of Chris’s accident Matt suffered a hole in his lung, a condition he has had numerous times over the past few years. However, on this occasion it was entirely unexpected as surgery earlier in the year had supposedly guaranteed no future lung collapses! The doctors in La Paz checked him over and confirmed Matt’s suspicions but couldn’t do much more than advise lots of rest. However, another week after that Matt had a full collapse of his lung and had to be checked into hospital where he underwent surgery to drain the air from his lung and enable him to sustain a flight back to the UK within a couple of weeks.

Fortunately Matt is back with us in Huajchilla now and trying his best not to work! It is great to have him and Sam back with us and hopefully he will be able to return safely to the UK next week.

So, as you can see we haven’t had the best of luck health-wise! And it was at this point that we started to pray for our newest addition to the team, Lynn Ho (from Taiwan, but brought up in Canada), to be some kind of super-human to replace everyone we had lost! Now that she has been with us for a few weeks I can say she hasn’t disappointed as she has worked extremely hard and been on site every day!

Speaking of additions to our team, we also received an entirely unexpected boost to our workforce in the form of ‘The Italian’, Andrea. He had volunteered for The Alalay Foundation and was meant to be working in El Alto, however, upon his arrival he heard of our work in Huajchilla and as an architecture graduate requested a change of location! It has been great to have him with us and he has certainly become as much a part of our group as anyone else.

Now back to the work side of things. Week six saw us laying the brick floors in the workshops, levelling the site and preparing the metal plates for the timber frame, meaning we were finally working above ground! This definitely boosted the morale within the group as we could now start to see tangible outcomes for all our efforts. The timber fruit and vegetable crates, which we are using for part of the workshop walls and interior furniture, also arrived during this week and we were able to get on and begin to assemble all 650 of these! This leads me nicely on to our good old friend, ‘Bolivian time’. As we have mentioned before, Bolivians may tell you they will deliver a product by a certain time and date, but typically you can add up to a week (if not more!) to that time just to be safe! And the fruit crates were no different. With a due date of Monday during week 6, we soon found out that the truck driver had got blind drunk the night before and simply couldn’t manage to get out of bed, and so, true to form, the crates eventually arrived on the Friday after!

This, however, I could handle. But what really put us all in a panic was the timber arrival date…having already been pushed back to an uncomfortably late date due to extraction and drying times, we were told that further two week delay would be necessary! So, with only two weeks to go till the scheduled conclusion of the project, we were faced with the mammoth task of building the entire workshops above ground level!

It took one whole day to unload the truck packed full of timber. Some of the pieces were so huge that it took up to 10 people to carry them…just! However, the beauty of the wood was wonderful to see and certainly made us excited, if not a bit exhausted, by the prospect of getting it all up and into place!

One week on and I am happy to write that we have completed just over one third of the timber frame and the pace is picking up as we gain more experience and increase our numbers on site. Whilst we have little hope of finishing everything in time for the volunteers’ departure, we are certainly moving ahead steadily and with a bit of luck and not too many delays we hope to complete the bulk of the construction within the next few weeks. Su, Julissa and myself will be staying out in order to ensure we leave something truly beneficial and wonderful for the children and the Alalay Foundation.

Part of our work also includes running workshops, and it has been great to see the team working with the children in dance, art and football.

We would also like to make a special thanks for the help of many individuals over the past few weeks including Daniel who has helped us find many materials and worked on site despite having one arm in a cast! And also, Tatiana and JP who have been wonderful in assisting with our many casualties and and also grouped together many of their friends and colleagues to help out on Saturdays with the work. Thanks also to Dareo, Pablo, Hidaya and Carla for coming down and volunteering over the past couple of weeks! And finally thanks to Claudia, Franco (and his parents!) and Elizabeth for their continued support!

We promise to update you again next week (on time!) and thank you all for your support and for following this blog!

Finally, we would like to invite anyone who still wishes to donate to our work here in Bolivia. As with all construction projects, we are running on a tight budget and now that we are nearing the end of the project, any additional support would be very gratefully received!

Love, Orkidstudio x

photos from these weeks continued below through week 4 etc…

Kevin making funny faces

Gaby drawing - 2 yrs old and very talented!

yoga on the columns!

working on the column formwork

during week 6

Matt, Andrea and Listy

Daniel helping out on site

levelling the site

column formwork

Lynn, Bindi and Sam making the lattice roofing

James setting the bolts for the metal column plates

bolts are set in the concrete foundations

foundations completed!

working with the children

the children on site - photo time!

Matt, Renee and Daniel

the four main columns completed!

Lynn working with the children at one of the art workshops

Su at the art workshops

working with the children


On Monday, we had a half day of work, although we had 3 lovely helpers come to aid us, we could only get the reinforcement bars and some minimal work done as we did not have a concrete mixer. We decided to head down to La Pay for lunch, Namaste, a vegetarian/vegan place which was greatly appreciated by the two Chris’. After lunch, we joined the other volunteers of Alalay for ‘street work’ where they interact with the street “kids” of La Paz. Some of which had children of their own. We had a friendly football match and celebrated a volunteer’s birthday, Bolivian style which involved eggs and flour in hair, as well as smashing the poor chica’s face in the birthday cake!

In the evening, we had a group charette, which was basically a brainstorm of ideas as a group, we managed to make some useful amendments to the design as we are already half way through the project and need to make up for some lost time in order to get our building built. This was an extremely useful exercise to get the entire group’s opinion as well as ‘gelling as a team’, in Listy’s words.

The rest of the week was mainly devoted to pouring the concrete foundations. Thankfully we enlisted the help of some skilled concrete workmen, the group of eight men who were about 10 times faster than us in mixing and pouring the concrete. We learnt their method and worked together with them, shovelling sand, gravel and wheelbarrow-­­­ing the concrete into the trenches. They had an extremely efficient method, mixing about 100 bags a day!

These days were described by some to be:

“Some of the hardest days of physical work they had experienced in their lives”

On Friday night, the girls were invited to a party by Wendy, one of the girls we met at Kairos church, it was an 70’s themed party so Su Mei’s entire wardrobe came in handy. However Sam could not come as she was not feeling well this week. It was amazing to celebrate her 25th birthday, which involved an amazing dinner, crazy disco dancing and a piñata at the end of the night.

We really enjoyed working with the Bolivians and after a half day of work on Saturday, the boys picked their tired bodies up and had a game of football with the concrete workforce! We were trying hard to convince them to come back to work with us next week but unfortunately they had been contracted to another building site L

After a hard week of work, some of us decided to head to La Paz. There was a festival of the universities in town where the students paraded the streets in folkloric costumes for 12 hours! We caught the end of it as well as some fireworks as the sun went down.

Some of us decided to stay the night in a hostel downtown for a change of scene and also because our showers in the Alalay had run out of water for about 3 days over the course of the week. We stayed at the Wild Rover hostel and had a great time over a few drinks taking our minds off the project. Although we had to share 3 beds in between 5 people which was more pleasant for others and mentally scarring for the rest.

So now, about halfway through the project, we are having a great time and looking forward to getting above ground!!

Love, Orkidstudio xxx

our friends from Argentina visit the site!

Sam guarding the bricks.

the upper part of the foundations start to take shape.

university parade in downtown La Paz

Matt and Sam

Wendy's 70's party!

Julissa, Su and Bindi at the party

Lorena modelling Su's sunglasses.

formwork for the concrete section of the foundations.

a delivery of timber for the formwork.

Listy mixing the concrete

constructing the formwork panels.

cement bags on site.

Su with one of the street children we worked with.

Rob showing his camera to one of the street children.

one of the street children at San Pedro.

playing football with the street children.

Bindi and Su with Gaby.

street work by the notorious San Pedro prison.


the group at Moon Valley

The primary aim of this week was to complete the foundations in order to have the crate walls ready for assembly during week 4. This early stage of construction can often be the most labour intensive but the group were up for the challenges we would face in the week. The process required us to break off into smaller groups to create a mini production chain.

The first group began by sawing over 200 sections of reinforcement bars initially began with hacksaws however, after finding the correct disc for the angle grinder the pace quickly picked up. The next group worked on manually bending the bars.  After numerous attempts at perfecting the right angle the repetition became rather satisfying despite our aching biceps. Rob proved to be a pro bender and we were pleased to have imparted these skills to him. The final group focused on assembling the cages which proved to be a bit tricky the larger they became.

Rob, our pro bender...

Wednesday’s aims were to pour the first layer of concrete throughout the trenches. 35 bags worth of cement enabled us to complete a 10cm thickness. A great group effort to complete this was exerted with Matt in the trenches levelling out the mix and the remaining group members spread out between shovelling, pouring and transporting full wheelbarrows of the mix for pouring. No doubt the team was exhausted and a little short of breath even after getting a hand from Franco and Martin (a member from Kairos Church).

getting ready to mix the concrete

The following day, we (James, Julissa and Su) tried to revive the extremely fatigued group by a ‘surprise’ full cooked breakfast. However due to the method of waking up the rest of the volunteers, our efforts were not appreciated immediately! Sorry guys. Work consisted of more bending, an art now perfected by Rob and Su. James, Listy and Matt were on site positioning the finished re-bars. We hoped to continue the next layer of concrete. However despite our ambitions, once again we experienced the meaning of `Bolivian time when the cement delivery never quite made it. As result we’ve had think of a potential plan B so as to keep the pace during week 3. In spite of this fall back the success of our hut for a crate supplier boosted the moral on Friday. The goose chase to find the source of fruit and veg crates that will be used to construct the walls of the carpentry workshop lead us from market place to market place where we eventually found ourselves 4200m above sea level in the fastest growing South American city of El Alto. Although the altitude did affect us slightly views across the terrain were priceless and well worth the trip.

view of La Paz from El Alto

Over the weekend we gave everyone a bit of ‘free time’ to look around La Paz and relax before the hard week ahead! Hopefully there will be some photos of this to follow soon!

Love, Orkidstudio!

Volunteer comments below…

Chris Niem

We were warned before arriving in Bolivia that we would be visiting a country of extremes, and indeed we have witnessed that in our day to day lives, having to combat the searing heat in the day and the bitter cold at night. We are also planning trips to the world´s most dangerous road and the world’s largest lake at altitude. However, here at the facility at Huajchilla, we have also witnessed the extreme underuse of contraception amongst the Bolivian population. Two weeks in, we have gotten to know the kids much better, despite the massive language barrier. It was extremely disheartening to learn the extent of the sibling ties within Aldeas Huajchilla, with some children having as many as four brothers and sisters at the facility. We have also learned that some of the kids here are not street children, but were brought to Alalay by their parents simply because they could not afford to raise them. Children in this position, such as Pamela and Kevin, are visited by their parents fairly regularly. Whilst witnessing such a meeting between Pamela and her family, I was again reminded of why many Bolivian children find themselves in such dire situations. Pamela is one of the most cheerful children we have come across so far, and I am sure it must have been heartbreaking for her parents to give her up. However, she sat there feeding her new baby sibling, with two older ones looking on. Until the Bolivian people address the problem of having too many children, Alalay will continue to have to care for the abandoned and disowned children of Bolivia.


My main activity for the week has been bending metal bars into squares, this has been oddly rewarding, and I think I might have found a calling if architecture doesn’t work out. Wheel barrowing concrete around the site has been the other activity for this week, which was not so much fun, but great to be part of the awesome group effort which was concrete day! This has left everyone feeling pretty exhausted, with not much energy to spare for the kids, but hopefully this will change next week with the possible arrival of a readymix concrete truck (halilujah!).


Updates from last week. Success with the pillow, I managed to take half the stuffing out which infinitely improved my sleeping pleasure. I noticed about half of the group have following my lead hence we had a evening of pillow massacres.

This weeks 3 observation by Listy:

1. Alalay – is the existing childrens charity that we are building the new facilities. Having worked with other charities before all to do with helping orphaned children, I can say this is by far the most organised and disciplined charity I´ve been involved with. The Children are up early every morning making the beds and carrying out house hold chores with little prompting. This kind of discipline comes naturally when one has parental role models to look up to but I have to keep reminding myself that these children have never had this privilege that we all take for granted. So I understand Alalay has had many children go on from here to work in different professions and even working for government, I take my hat off to their achievements and I´m delighted to be helping them grow with our new development here.

2. Climate and landscape – it´s much working on Mars I would imagine. The landscape is stunningly beautiful by the redie colour and baron appearance. There are no trees or plants growing as the soil is totally dry and has a hard clay texture. Most of this area is named ´valley de luna´ which translates to valley of the moon. The days are hot and dusty, this combined with the altitude made conditions challenging and exhausting. Normally a cloud in the sky is a rare sighting.

3. Working is Bolivia, manyana manyana – this is our biggest obstacle for completing this project in the time scale set. When the cement is ordered and promised to be delivered for Tuesday morning we´ll be lucky to see it before Friday evening. The Bolivians seem incapable of giving accurate time to what is actually achievable for them to deliver a product. They seem to want to give you the answer you want rather that what is realistic for them. For me this is cultural and some way off changing, I don´t see Bolivia being part of the G8 countries for some years!

Ok, second week here; this week has been pretty busy(and by `pretty` I mean I have not worked this hard in my life, we finish work at about 7 and i blackout at about 8.. i miss the kids, i`ve failed to do the crack-of-dawn wake up plan that a few people are managing) I think we are all getting used to being disappointed by the construction help that never shows up, nevertheless, fingers crossed that they come this next week! This has been a great weekend, its been great wondering around LaPaz and eating at like every restaurant, I`m quite happy(and full), and after taking public transport into the city centre and managing to find our way around town pretty easily, I am getting just a bit too comfortable here, I might start writing a letter tonight;.. ´Dear Uganda, its not you its me…´


This week has been crazy for me! As Project Director I have had to monitor on site progress as well as deal with the endless delays from suppliers and spend my time chasing them up! So I have driven the length and breadth of La Paz this week making sure things run as smoothly as possible! Fingers crossed, it will all come together this week!

At the weekend I had a big highlight though. Whilst the rest of the group went off and explored La Paz, I went along to the city’s gymnasium to watch one of the 13 year old Alalay boys, called Christian, compete in his first gymnastics competition! This is where The Alalay Foundation, in my mind, work on such an incredible level. They really get to know the children they care for and identify their talents. Only one month ago, it was commented to Claudia that Christian was very energetic and flinging himself off trees and walls etc…so she decided to take him along to the La Paz Gymnastics Club, and he hasn’t looked back! He won a silver medal in one event and it has been so amazing to watch him running around the site at Huajchilla showing off his medal and getting so excited about his new hobby!

one big family! Gabi, Monica, Carolina and Sergio

our visit to the crate suppliers

James and Franco bartering for crates at San Miguel market

looking between building in downtown La Paz

Julissa, Sam, Bindi and Chris

rooftop view from San Francisco Church in downtown

Sam and Su in San Francisco Church

the fruit and veg crates that will make our walls!

the orange-roofed houses of La Paz spread haphazardly across the Andes.

a young child is carried by a Cholita on her back

cholitas at El Alto market

Julissa with a local market seller

the reinforcement cages are set into exact positions within the foundations.

Rob and Julissa constructing the larger reinforcement cages for the main pavilion columns

Sam and Julissa taking a break!

Curtis (an Alalay volunteer who has been kindly helping us) and Chris with Omar.

Matt and Sam on site

naively enthusiastic before a hard day of concrete mixing!

Rob adding sand to the mix

Claudia makes a visit to the site

Matt and Listy

the older girls at the centre playing with the wheelbarrows!

Bindi cutting the steel rebars

Listy doing yoga in Moon Valley

the whole team at Moon Valley

view across Moon Valley

Listy, Sam and Julissa


The Alalay Project Team!

This has been the first week ‘on site’, and we set out bright and early on Monday morning to mark out the position and dimensions of our design on the ground. In countries like Bolivia this is a far stretch from the precise laser-guided methods seen in the UK and primarily involves us staking the key points and corners on the plan and using measuring tapes, water-levels, string and good old Pythagoras! However, despite the lengthy process, it was highly satisfying to see it all marked out at the end of the day and stand within an area that would soon be a workshop!

measuring out on site

On the other hand though, it has shown us how large our proposal is! At approximately 420m2, this project is around ten times the size of what we produced in Uganda! And at a budget that is only twice as big! Still, we are very optimistic and have developed a number of systems using found or reclaimed materials to help make this building remarkably inexpensive.

The next stage was excavation, and so with the same spring in our step that we had on Monday, we made our way down to the site with pickaxes and spades in hand, ready to tear up the Bolivian soil.

One hour later…

Exhausted, dizzy and slightly deflated, we stared exasperated at our foot-deep blemish on the ground where we were had hoped to dig 1.2m deep! Unlike the lovely clay soils of Uganda, this earth was packed full of large rocks, layers of solid clay and gritty, crumbly sand. So…time to call in the digger!

excavation underway!

This, it seemed, would be pretty straight forward. The local area is full of construction activity and JCBs are a common sight. We therefore ended up meeting Hulio. And what an experience this was going to be! It would soon transpire that Hulio’s idea of 6pm on Tuesday evening was actually 3pm on Thursday afternoon. Small miscalculation I’m sure…

It took so many attempts in fact to get him to site, that we eventually gave up on Thursday and called in the far more friendly and reliable, Eloy, to come in that evening. But to make matters that much funnier, we ended up with both Hulio and Eloy turning up on the same day!

Still, by Friday lunchtime our site was fully excavated and we were back on schedule!

Julissa and Bindi had arrived on Wednesday morning to La Paz and began work on Friday after a couple of days rest to get used to the altitude. Whilst the digger was busy all morning, we set about making the steel reinforcement cages for the foundations. It was great to have the whole team together and we managed to get quite a fast work-rate going!

Julissa and Bindi working on a reinforcement cage

On the more social side of this week, there have many standout moments and memorable stories! Perhaps the most notable was Chris Lister’s (aka Listy) beautiful connection with the Alalay pig, now known as black Chris (female). Chris’s new friend would follow him devotedly around the site all day and even when he got a bit close for comfort, Listy remained ever the gentleman and had a chat with his porky friend.

For legal reasons, we cannot show what happened next!

We have also now split the team for the project. Not as anticipated however! As Project Director, I had hoped to organise people into teams for various tasks and skill-sets, however, by Monday evening, half our group were in their beds suffering from a range of ailments from stomach upsets to headaches and lingering altitude sickness. So for most of this week we have had ‘The Strong Team’ and ‘The Weak Team’! I am pleased to tell you though that we are all now back on our feet and ready for Week 3!

Chris is definitely ready for week 3!

We have just spent about 8 hours at a huge Christian conference held by the Kairos church in La Paz (linked to The Alalay Foundation) which was amazing and we were so lucky to meet loads of new people and probably have our social calendars for the coming two months fully booked now! Tomorrow (Sunday), we will be joining the children at Kairos church and will be back with more pictures and updates of our progress next weekend! So stay tuned!

Also, we were interviewed this week by The Scotsman, so please looks out for a full page spread on Orkidstudio in this Tuesday’s edition!



***below are some thoughts and musings from our volunteers along with a few more photos!***

Chris Neim

We’ve only been here a week but it feels like we’ve been here for a long time.  Since we have been delayed by some local tradesmen, we have gotten a chance to spend more time with the children. Some of the boys here have got good skills on the football pitch, but their passing games could be developed further. I hope to run some football clinics in the near future. The kids are split into 5 houses, 3 for boys and 2 for girls. I have spent the majority of my time with the younger girls. I was really struck by how friendly and loving they were, considering the majority of them were abandoned on the street. I can speak for us all when I say that the children are all very disciplined, as they have chores to do every day. It is also encouraging to see the older girls looking after the younger ones, as it is very hard for one of the workers to look after 10 kids at a time. I look forward to spending more time with the kids and continuing to work on the project.

Matt and Eloy

Samanta Chaitoo

If I had to say what the best part of the project so far is, getting to know the children of Alalay. Seeing them every day and slowly learning a bit of Spanish so we can communicate better really makes our trip worthwhile! Also learning how buildings are built from scratch is a bonus too.  It will be a week today that Matthew, Rob and I have arrived in La Paz but it feels like we have been here longer. After meeting the volunteers and all the people involved in the Alalay Project, it made me really appreciate the opportunity I have been given to help here in Bolivia with Orkidstudio. I’m really happy with the group of volunteers that I’m with, we are all pretty diverse and we are getting along well. I am looking forward to seeing this project unfold and becoming more a part of the children’s lives.

Julissa and Pamela

Rob Ellis

As someone who had never strayed beyond the borders of Europe or North America, I`m still coming to terms with the people, culture, climate……the list goes on. Sometimes it can be frustrating when timekeeping and promises don`t mean the same out here as at home, but it`s also inspiring that this project and the Alalay are on the ground helping in a very tangible way. The setting for the Alalay in Huajichilla is stunning in a mountainous valley, and I guess the kids amazing optimism (considering what they`ve been through) and the recent progress on site has given a very optimistic end to the  first week.

the children playing basketball

Chris L

As there are 9 of us writing weekly updates each week, which will probably end up being mostly about construction and the kids. I’m going to concentrate my writing on the other things happening around us. So each week I’ll give you my 3 observations of the week.

So here are Listy’s 3 observations for week one:

  1. The showers – generally cold which is unpleasant in the already cold climate of Bolivia especially after a days work. There is a technique to getting the shower hot but there is only the choice of boiling or freezing.  After a week of showering I’ve manage to have about half boiling and half cold.
  2. The Pillows – They are way too hard. I’ve getting used to the new sleeping position but my neck is less happy with the situation. I think the only solution is the cut the polystyrene type pillows is half with the wood saw. I’ll keep you updated.
  3. The pigs – there are 2 pigs that live on site next to where we are working. They have been more than welcoming for the new arrivals. Secretly I may have developed a secret love affair with one, black Chris as we’ve named him. Photo evidence to follow.

More next week. Listy

Mariela, Gaby, Shandira and Sam


Ok, first impression; Bolivia is shockingly beautiful! (even after travelling for ages and getting here at the crack of dawn, the view as we left the airport managed to wake me up) waking up to this everyday is surreal..but, it does come with a price; after three days my head feels like I`ve been swimming non-stop for days(and so do my muscles!) The kids are great and at least half of them are small enough to fit in my suitcase so, I`ve got 2 months to pick one….kidnapping is no big deal in Bolivia, right?

yes, we have been working late!


As some of the other volunteers have spoken about their first impressions of Bolivia and, the children, I thought I’d focus more on the project side of things. Our progress is good even though we have been let down by some workers. The contrast between how a construction develops here in Bolivia to the Uk is massive. I know builders in the UK are often accused of having one too many cups of tea but at least they turn up on site in the first place. However, after changing our digger contractor (to Eloy), the on site work ethic was impressive. He powered through the whole excavation in 6 hours. Spending time on site is so rewarding,  I have really started to understand the business side of things along with measurement tolerances compared to what we may specify as architects. So far I,m having an amazing experience, If you,d like to hear more of mine and sams experiences then please visit our personal blog: https://matthewandsamanta.wordpress.com

Matt, Rob and Listy

concentrating hard...

Matt and James (black Chris is in the background!)

the children head to church on the bus...

marking out

Pamela pulling Matt's hair!

Sam and Gaby

taking the children to the bus for church

James walking with the children - our Photo of the Week!

Matt lifting up Juana

Su teaches the children hip hop dance!

Sam and Bindi making steel cage ties

Rob hard at work cutting steel rebars!

Fully excavated!!!

Su, Sam and Bindi

Franco...always the ladies man!

Listy, Omar and Chris

The Orkidstudio Directors!

learning to play rugby!

how the new carpenteria should look!


James and Su Mei came out first to prepare and settle in to La Paz before the rest of the Orkidstudio group came out.

We arrived at El Alto airport at 5.40am, the weather at 1°C. Pretty chilly compared to the warm British summer we had been experiencing. However, not a single cloud has crossed the sky since our arrival, so rain is not a worry!

Claudia Gonzales, the founder of The Alalay Foundation, and Tatiana Salcedo, who has been amazing at helping us set the project up over the past year,  greeted us warmly at the airport and drove us back to the Alalay centre at Huajchilla which is about 45 minutes from the airport, and half an hour from La Paz. The drive through La Paz was amazing as we saw the beautiful mountains and terrain of the country.

We were amazed by how well cared for the children at the centre are and the dedication and love shown by the many staff and volunteers is incredible. We are hoping to join in on their street work as well, and it is great already to see how much of a difference the Alalay make to the lives of these children, given that so many of them come from abusive and neglective backgrounds.

We are sharing a house with a few other volunteers who work directly with the kids. We also found out that we would actually be replacing their old ‘carpenteria’ as the original had unfortunately burnt down last year. We were really struck to hear that it had only been one month since that tragedy that James contacted the Alalay offering to build and improve their facilities!

On the first day Claudia and Tatiana went through the soil test with us as it was all in Spanish. We also showed her the design and were very pleased to see that they really liked our proposal. The concept of ‘Bolivian Time’ worked out to our advantage as we were given a good period of time to adjust to the altitude – Walking up slopes and carrying bags left us out of breath within seconds. We were given strict orders of ‘NO BASKETBALL’ much to our dismay as there is a court 10 metres away from our accomodation!

We were introduced to Franco who has become our translator and ‘walking road map’, though now, one week in, James has mastered most of the roads and directions! The first things on our agenda were to meet with Jennifer Sheppard, a local architect who has been helping us source materials, and get a vehicle so we would be able to move around freely. We would like to say a huge thank you to her, Tatiana, Claudia, Franco and everyone else who has welcomed us so warmly and helped us get off to a great start!

Apart from meetings, vehicle hunts and procurement of tools and materials, we were also introduced to the local delicacies. Bolivian cuisine is divine and one of our favourites is the ‘Salteňas’ which are filled with spicy meat and vegetables. (Do not come to Bolivia if you are vegetarian as they LOVE their meat!) Apparently the tradition is to try and eat the pasty so that none of the filling spills on your plate, which is extremely tricky. Su did pretty well on her second attempt after the pro teachings of Tatiana, however,  James failed miserably and usually the person who has the messiest plate pays for the round!

We had a surprise on Friday when Christopher Niem arrived at the airport a day earlier than we expected and we were stranded in Huajchilla waiting for our ride was about an hour late! However, all worked out in the end and we met Chris in La Paz and headed to Franco’s house as we went to get our first warm shower of the week! While James ran around town buying bolts and getting the materials, Chris and I stayed at Franco’s as the altitude sickness hit Chris slightly harder. We were treated to a lovely home cooked lunch and Su made friends with Franco’s adorable niece Camilla!

On Saturday we woke up at 4am to go and pick up most of the volunteers (Rob Ellis, Samanta Chaitoo and Matt Bell) at the airport. It was great to see everyone and we quickly rushed them down from the staggering 4,200m heights to the slightly easier 3,200 of Zona Sud, where we got a much-needed breakfast!

We then arranged to meet Chris Lister who had been backpacking down through central America to join us. With the group complete, we headed back to our site at Huajchilla where all the children were excitedly gathered to meet everyone! Cries of ‘James’ and ‘Su Mei’ met us and we are happy to say we now know most of the children’s names, so we could reply!!

On Monday we are due to start construction, beginning with marking out the building and excavation, which should be a challenge at this altitude as we are working entirely by hand! We hope to put up some pictures of our proposed design this coming week, so with next weekend’s updated to this blog, you can see what all the digging is in aid of!

Lastly, thank you to everyone who has made this project possible and donated so generously to The Alalay Project. Your support is always appreciated and we hope the following photos of our first week here will give you an insight into our time here and where all those valuable pennies are going!

If you still wish to donate, it is never too late, so please click on the Paypal link on our website (www.orkidstudio.co.uk) or visit the Donate page for further options…

Claudia and Su

James and Tatiana

The Alalay site at Huajchilla