Community Champions: At Home in Sturgeon County and Bolivia

Above: Sonia, Hanna and Rotary Club of Morinville President Milissa Kilian with the Rotary Banner Exchange. Sonia also presented a souvenir from Bolivia.

Jan. 19, 2019

by Lucie Roy

From Sturgeon County to Bolivia, Rotary Club of Morinville Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) student Hanna Welsh has been travelling back and forth between two families.

Welsh took part in the Rotary Youth Exchange and was living and attending school in Santa Cruz de la Sierra Bolivia for a year in 2016/2017.

Welsh returned to Canada in Sept. 2017 and went on to complete Grade 11 & 12 at Sturgeon Composite High School and graduated in June 2018.

Welsh said the exchange does not end here. it is part of her life now. She learned a new culture and grew as a person and came out of her comfort zone in many ways.

She exposes herself to new situations and took up all the challenges life offered.

For her the RYE has bridged two cultures and expanded her mind while being immersed in a cultural family halfway around the world and how small the Global family really is.

Welsh has made a few trips back to Bolivia and was there for a few weeks from Nov.-Dec 2018 and also for two months in Aug and Sept and stayed at the home of Sonia Arias, one of her host families.

Welsh made a presentation to the Rotary members and translated for Santa Cruz de la Sierra Rotary Club member Sonia Arias, who is in Canada with her daughter Paula Garzo.

Arias is visiting with the Welsh family and also going to Vegreville to visit the host families her daughter Paula stayed with while she was in Canada as RYE at the same time Welsh was in Bolivia with Paula’s family.

For the first six months Sonia was her first host Mom and for the first three months, it was the three of them with Paula, Sonia and her and Paula speaking a bit of English.

When Garzo left for Vegreville it was just her and Arias, one spoke no English and one spoke no Spanish.

Welsh said one of her best moments was the first night Paula left for Canada and Sonia went around the kitchen and picked up one item at a time and said the name in Spanish. Total immersion said Welsh, sink or swim.

Welsh spoke of how family is so important in Bolivia and said Sonia now has “another daughter forever.” Welsh said she has a world over there that loves her and protects her, all cousins.
Welsh said she plans on going back to Bolivia as part of her life now, to attend family events, marriages, births as will Sonia and Paula.

At the initial stage of the decision to participate in the RYE Welsh decided why not, it sounded cool at the time.

Welsh said the experience was incredible.

She thanked Rotary and said it changed her life completely. “My life has been made better because of this Exchange and this experience.”

Welsh spoke of adjustments for her and Paula when they completed their RYE and said, ” my house is her house and we are part of the same family.”

Welsh is currently working and saving to go to University this fall or in 2020 and study International Relations.

She would like to go to Europe and apply for schools there or maybe Toronto. She wants to pursue maybe the field of ambassadorial or volunteerism.

Welsh said, “If it wouldn’t have been for RYE I wouldn’t have thought to do this. Before RYE I wanted to be a welder. After RYE there is so much more to life, it is about family, friends.”
Welsh said Sonia and her daughter travelled to be here in January as they wanted to experience the real Canadian winter.

It never snows in Bolivia and they have air conditioning all year round with the coldest temperature being maybe 28 degrees.

Welsh said Paula made a presentation to the Rotary Club of Morinville in November 2017 while she was in Canada as an RYE in Vegreville.

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