Moments of hope in COVID-era Bolivia - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Cortney preparing a big pot of rice for a meal ministry during the COVID-19 lockdown in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Hope (noun): a desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment (Webster’s).

After having gone back to the United States for a visit, COVID travel restrictions have now grounded me here for the past few weeks. That has given me some time to process what life has been like for me in recent months in Bolivia, as I experienced how my mission changed during COVID-19.

I am generally an upbeat, optimistic person with what many consider a childlike energy. This energy helps me seek out the joy in each day, and hopefully bring that joy to others as well. It wasn’t until I was in strict quarantine and had my day-to-day interactions stripped away that I realized just how much other people had fueled that energy. It was my life source, in a way.

Looking back on those hard months in Cochabamba, I was consumed by many moments of darkness, confusion and loneliness. It seemed at times that I was floating in a cloud of disconnection — from myself and others — not quite knowing how to restore my energy source.

Yet every day, in one way or another, a light always seemed to break through the cloud. It took a shift in my perspective and constant reminders from others to notice the beauty that continued to surround us. Most of these reminders came, unknowingly, from the people my fellow Maryknoll lay missioner Juan Gomez and I served in our meal ministry.

One of these people was an older man by the name of Miguel. He came for a meal nearly every day, and we became friends through our quick interactions and conversations. One of those days, he had come later than normal, when the line was gone and the food nearly depleted. He told me how his clothes and belongings had been stolen that previous night on the street and asked if we had any extra to give him.

When I came back out with a few shirts and a pair of pants, he was profoundly grateful. We continued our conversation, and he asked to know my name. Knowing how genuinely difficult my name was for Bolivians to pronounce, I laughed and told him my name. His face immediately lit up, as he shared that he knew someone — his “best friend,” he said — in the States also named Cortney. This moment was one of many that have been engraved on my heart —some of which I probably would not have thought twice about had the times been more “normal.”

While my visit in the States has given me back some sense of normalcy with friends and family, I have found myself missing my friends and family back in Bolivia. On a whim, I messaged my host mom (with whose family I lived during my initial time in language school) to check in and put forth a thought-provoking question: “What is hope?”

Her response was immediate and simple, yet undeniably profound. “Esperanza es lo que se desea en algún momento,” she wrote back. Hope is what you wish for in a given moment.

Yes, in looking back, it was the simple moments shared with others — moments of laughter, gratitude, and connection — that gave me hope during those hard months.

Most times, I wasn’t even able to vocalize what it was that my heart desired or wished for in any given moment, yet I found myself feeling surprised by the joy that came and went with each day — joy from random people dropping off food and clothing donations; joy from a pizza delivered to us from a community member on our last day of meal ministry; joy from a friend willingly getting up at 3:30 am to drop me off at the airport; and joy from my parents loading a car with food and dropping it off for me to use during my time of self-quarantine at home in Ohio.

These are just a few examples of the good I experienced when I chose to open my eyes and see the light around me. It was all of these moments combined that fueled my energy source, made the darkness a little less dark, and allowed me to experience hope during a time when everything continues to be unknown.


Cortney Freshwater
Cortney Freshwater works in special education at La Casa de Los Niños and accompanies elderly people at Hogar San José in Cochabamba, Bolivia.