Up Close Bolivia


Up Close Bolivia is a family-run enterprise which has been welcoming volunteers into the small community of Mallasa, near La Paz, for the past ten years. Everything that we do is based upon the principle of “reciprocity”: we wish to ensure that the needs and expectations of our volunteers, visitors and the local community are mutually met and both parties are enriched and strengthened. We work directly with local people in order to respond to their needs and guarantee the sustainability of our projects. It is this unique relationship with the community which offers our volunteers a chance to meaningfully participate in and get a real flavour of Bolivian culture.



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Yes, I recommend this program

A truly reciprocal volunteer program!

I was lucky enough to volunteer with UpClose Bolivia for 2 months at the beginning of my one year journey in Latin America. UpClose is the perfect place to volunteer if you want to be integrated into not only the kind, modest town of Jupapina, La Paz but also the family of the program facilitators, Emma and Rolando. From the moment you arrive you are greeted with open arms and autonomy of how you contribute to the sustainable programs. I participated in the programs at the Children's refuge, Football (soccer) coaching, the Equine therapy centre and the Children's Centre. The programs integrate all levels of skills and experiences, and being a small organisation, you really see the results of all the volunteers hard work and how valued your time is valued by the modest and LOVELY people of the community of Jupapaina and Mallasa. This is another great thing about this program, is the authenticity of the relationships with the local people, i was shocked by the generosity and love of the people in these communities and it really has gone on to shape my life. Other activities offered include English classes which would be great for experienced or studying teachers, especially if they have a foundation of Spanish and assisting at the ever entertaining Zoo. Also during my volunteering period, varied skilled professionals contributed to the programs including Art therapists and Fashions designers. This programs are transparent and you see where the funding goes, the Children's Centre built by the program is truly amazing and really does need volunteers to assist the lovely Chef in keeping the young Bolivianos well feed. This programs gives you the foundation to learn, grow and build lasting relationships with locals and other volunteers. The friendships i made here from all over the world really will last a lifetime and the housing arrangements where beautiful. If you want to be part of a warm community and learn about the Bolivian culture this is the perfect place to do so. I could not recommend this place any more. If you come with an open mind and heart you will be overwhelmed with sadness when the time comes to leave!

What would you improve about this program?
It is perfect as is. I hope i can return soon! Also the pic of me is so cute on this hehe :)
Photo of Steph Dyson
Yes, I recommend this program

Worthwhile volunteering project with excellent staff to support your stay

I spent a month volunteering with Up Close Bolivia teaching English classes at the school in Mallasa, as well as helping out with some of their social media and communications and I had a FANTASTIC time.

Not only are the founders Emma and Rolando probably some of the kindest people you will ever meet - they will invite you into their family home for dinner and take a real interest in your experiences on the project - but the projects themselves are meaningful and are having a real impact in the local community. The fact that Emma and Rolando live in the community (the volunteers do too!) means that everyone is committed to the work of UCB and the results of this are noticeable. You feel welcomed by everyone in the local community who appreciate that you are giving your time to help in whatever way you can - believe me, in other volunteering projects I've worked, this isn't always the case!

Working in the local school was wonderful too as the children are so keen and attend the classes outside of normal lessons because they are desperate to learn which makes for really motivated and hardworking students and fun and interesting lessons as a result.

The accommodation and general support that you receive through UCB is brilliant too. Your fee covers super comfortable shared housing and means that you get the support of Anita, the Volunteer Coordinator. She is absolutely wonderful and fully committed to making sure you have the best experience and can be of use to the projects and community. She is exceptionally friendly, speaks impeccable English and will go out of her way to make all volunteers feel welcome.

This is a fantastic organisation who offer a great range of projects that are having a real impact here. You will honestly have a wonderful stay if you choose to volunteer with UCB!

What would you improve about this program?
Splitting the English classes into beginners and advanced groups. I understand this is not currently possible due to numbers of volunteers but it would be really beneficial in the future if there were more volunteers to teach the classes.
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Yes, I recommend this program

UpClose Bolivia- interesting and useful projects in a fun, caring and beautiful setting

I had a fantastic experience volunteering with UpClose Bolivia. As an older, retired professional I wasn't sure how I would find the experience of living and working alongside a lot of much younger travellers, but I loved every minute! The projects involve work which is important within the small community of Mallasa and UpClose staff work hard to ensure that volunteers are supported to be involved in work they like and which uses their skills and experience where possible. I worked in a Children's Centre and an wonderful Equine Therapy centre and, as a psychologist, I had the opportunity to be involved in parent groups and nursery staff training, as well as working with the (incredibly cute) little ones, which was amazing. The project provides lovely housing in a beautiful area and Emma and Rolando who run the project really go the extra mile to make sure volunteers are supported and cared for. The project is in a rural area, so night life needs a taxi to La Paz (about half an hour away), but when I was there the amount of barbecues, parties and other fun events on site and locally meant no-one was ever bored. I even got the chance to learn Tinku dancing to participate in the local carnival. All in all a fabulous project- highly recommended.

What would you improve about this program?
Hard to say, it was nearly perfect for me. I could nit-pick - there were some frustrations in working in a different culture, where things were done differently and plans sometimes didn't work out as planned, but I learned to go with the flow. Volunteers need to be flexible!


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Steph Dyson

Hi! I’m Steph, a 27 year old English Literature graduate, travel addict and former teacher from the UK. I’ve spent the past year volunteering, writing and travelling around Bolivia and Peru. Personally, I think that volunteering, and the chances it provides to use your skills (and learn new ones!), is the best way to get under the skin of a new country and culture.

Why did you pick this program?

Up Close Bolivia attracted me by their credentials as being community-directed and their commitment to long-term goals, such as sustainability and grassroots development. When I was researching the organisation, I saw that every project that they run – from English classes in the local school, to equine therapy sessions with disabled children and their families, to the Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre - are rooted in empowering and supporting the work of local people.

It’s really inspiring! It seemed like such a rewarding programme, and when I spoke with the founders, Rolando and Emma, they came across as having so much experience of successful and powerful grassroots community partnerships that I just had work with and learn from them!

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Volunteering abroad teaches you so much about yourself and how resilient and adaptable you can be in any situation. By the time I started working with Up Close Bolivia, I’d already be in Bolivia around eight months and had learned that life in this rarely-visited country can be tough at times, particularly when you’re working in small communities where few people speak your language. I've learned that you’ve got to be incredibly adaptable and not stress out too much when something doesn’t go as planned, or things change at the last minute.

Most importantly, I've learned that, regardless of where you choose to volunteer, getting some grasp of the local language will be the most important thing that you do. Suddenly, your interactions with people will be completely different, as even with a very basic vocabulary you can be friendly and polite with those around you, which is essential to put others at ease.

You also need to be humble and recognise that you’re a tiny cog in a much larger machine. Listening to others and learning as much as you can from them is probably the most valuable thing you can do, and will make the entire experience so much more rewarding.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

I am always trying to persuade my friends to leave their jobs and volunteer abroad! My own experiences have made me realise that volunteering can actually benefit your future career plans: I know that the skills of resilience, dedication, problem-solving and working with such a diverse range of people from different cultures that I have used during this experience will be invaluable when I return to the UK to get a job.

I keep reminding my friends that travelling and volunteering are viewed as really beneficial by employers these days, and not only that, they open up wonderful new experiences that you couldn’t have back at home. I think that people are often too scared to leave their comfortable little bubbles to embark on exploring the unknown, but the chance to see the world while using your skills and passions to benefit other people is surely one that no one could turn down!

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

Working in the local school teaching English was such a brilliant experience, and reminded me of how much I love working with young people. Although I don’t plan on returning back to the UK to teach, working with Up Close Bolivia really confirmed my desire to work in education, and probably in an international field. The students I worked with were so dedicated and interested in the prospect of learning English – recognising quite astutely how important it could be to their future lives – that I would love to work in similar settings in other countries. For children from small, poor, rural communities, the chances to learn English and meet ambitious and interesting people from other countries can change their lives: it reminds them that they can take control of their own futures and achieve their dreams.

Why should I volunteer in Bolivia?

Having spent 11 months travelling and volunteering in Bolivia, I personally love this often overlooked country. If you want the chance to learn Spanish then this is definitely your place: few people speak much English, so it can offer a fully immersive language learning experience. I also found that the local people, particularly those who I worked with through Up Close Bolivia, are exceptionally friendly and flattered that you’ve chosen to dedicate your time to supporting their community; they really show you their gratitude and friendship.

Added to this, on free weekends you have the chance to explore the local area and the incredible attractions near to the city of La Paz. I would strongly recommend a visit to El Salar de Uyuni (the largest salt flats in the world), Coroico (a tiny, semi-tropical village near La Paz) and Rurrenabaque (one of the world’s most diverse areas of jungle).