Why are we afraid to touch the leper?

I have been in Casa Main for almost 5 1/2 months. I have seen girls change for the better and change for the worse. Girls have run away and never come back while others come running home after they realize they made a mistake. I have seen many things in my time here but one girls in particular really shined today.

Maria Belen.

One month ago she was shy and timid. She has a beautiful smile but had a hard time letting it out. She wanted love but didn’t quite know how to ask for it. She would give me hugs but never say much. I even found myself commenting to the other volunteers that I think something is wrong with her. We have a lot of girls who are mentally damaged from their past and I thought that she was one of them.

Her life was changed drastically when Sor Ines took Maria Belen and cut off all her hair. She was left with about an inch of hair on her head. She was known to have really bad lice but I never took the time to really look at it. Her hair had already been cut to her shoulders to try and control it.

What they discovered on her head is unexplainable and the Doctor said not normal. Her lice was so out of control she was left with one giant hole in her head along with many other small ones. This might be a little graphic but it is worst than I can even put into words. But this explained so much to me about her as a person.

She was timid, shy, quiet but did her best to have a smile on her face. Now that her pain has been relieved she walks around with a different mentality. She is embarrassed because she doesn’t have any hair but she is no longer in pain. I have never seen such a big smile and so much love and joy beaming from ones eyes.

The problem is that she isn’t fully healed. She still has lice and eggs in the little hair that she has. The Sisters threatened to cut off ALL her hair if she can’t take care of herself. I am talking about they want to shave her head BALD!

The problem with lice is that it is impossible to fix by yourself. Her hair is too short to use a comb and the Sisters don’t provide the girls with lice shampoo. She has to have someone help her pick her lice out. But when you have holes in your head no one wants to even touch you. Maria Belen’s only friends in the Hogar left for vacation. Leaving her with no one to help and the girls just making fun of her.

At lunch we had a discussion about how bad her head is and how bad we feel for her. I even made a comment that I wouldn’t be able to pick her lice because i’m afraid. Later in the day I was walking to watch a movie with the little girls and passed by Maria Belen. She gave me a huge smile before I could even say a word and asked me how I am doing. She grabbed for my hand just to get a little love and attention.

At that very moment I realized Maria Belen is not a leper but just another child of God. That I am the lucky one to have her in my life. Without even a thought I asked her if I could help by taking out her lice. She again gave me that wonderful smile but asked “are you sure you want to do that?” I grabbed her hand and off we went.

All my fears and worries escaped my mind as soon as I saw her smile. I knew what I needed to be doing and it wasn’t watching a movie but taking action in helping her get her hair back and more importantly healthy. We talked about her family and her brothers who are in other Hogars. We have talked before but never at the level that we reached today. She was so willing to share with me stories and her life.

At one point she asked me what type of person I think she is. If she was pretty, smart, nice, stupid, or ugly. I told her how amazing she truly is and that if other people can’t see that it is their loss (in my horrible spanish of course.)

When I did as much as I could I told her that I will help her any other day that she would like. She turned to look me in the eyes and thanked me. I never knew a thank you for taking out someone lice would feel so good. The girls are afraid to help her and all she wants is to get better.

I thought that I had learned all that these girls could teach me. But I am still learning a new thing every day. I am counting the days until I go home because I miss everyone. I am also counting the days to remind myself that I have to live every day to the fullest because they are my last here in Bolivia. I will never have this chance again to spend 6 months in a foreign country and truly live out God’s needs. I am happy to go home to my family, fiance and friends. But I am terribly sad because I have fallen in love with some of these girls and don’t want to leave them.

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Where did Lent go?

Where did Lent go?

When I came toBoliviaI didn’t think about how different it would be living in a Catholic Country and I am in love! It all started with Ash Wednesday. The service was late at night but everyone in the area was there to receive their ashes. I didn’t understand the Fathers sermon but I felt Jesus’ in abundance. The girls loved receiving ashes and compared all their crosses. I remember doing the exact same thing when I was a child… oh wait I still do.

Throughout all of Lent I prayed my Rosary every day with special intentions given to me from people back home along with those from the girls. This helped me to feel close to the people I couldn´t physically be with during the Holy Season. One of the best parts of praying the Rosary was that I could always find one of the girls to join me. Even though they haveRosarioevery day at 6:30pm they would still take time out of playing to pray with me for a second time in the day. I greatly enjoyed this special time with the girls and their beautiful intentions they would add.

I got to participate in one of the most wonderful Holy Weeks ever. After working at the Church I thought that I had experienced it all but nothing compares to the worship and celebration that goes on inBolivia. On Palm Sunday hundreds of people gathered in front of the school to begin the procession to the Church. We walked through the street kicking up dirt and stopping traffic. Not a single car honked or hurried us along. On a normal dayBoliviais full of honking, fast drivers, and people almost getting hit. But respect was given immediately for those participating in celebrating the Lord.

On Holy Thursday we had a Passover feast at the Hogar. The girls were cloaked in their sheets looking almost identitcal to the apostles. We shared many blessings with our make shift meal of matzo, lettuce, carne and juice. Every single girl participated with perfect respect for the true meaning of the Passover meal. We switched into prayer mode when we entered the Chapel to watch a skit put together by the girls of Jesus and the Apostles. They performed the washing of the feet and the breaking of bread.

After all our fun at the Hogar we headed to the Church forMass.There were many rituals that I have never experienced before so I went along with whatever the girls did. It was an amazing mass that left us all exhausted. But just when you think you can’t handle any more we returned to the chapel with all the pews pushed to the side ready for Adoration. All the girls (except the little ones) fell to their knees and began to pray. They spent over an hour in complete silence just listening to Sor Ines pray in a way that I have never heard. She truly let herself go and even began to cry.

Holy Friday was one of my favorite days. We participated in Mass at the Church with the community. After we all filled out of the Church to gathered around a fire and began the Stations of the Cross. We spent the next two hours parading through the streets singing, clapping, and praying as we walked from station to station. Members of the Church set up altars at their houses for the whole community to enjoy. There was a truck with giant speakers for all ofBoliviato hear the word of the Lord and the amazing singing as we all walked together.

Saturday was a day of great praise and adventure. I sat patiently as I attempted to listen to the million readings. But it wasn’t horrible because I had a great laugh as I watched all the girls falling asleep. Oh and Mass inBoliviawouldn’t be complete without a stray dog walking through and greeting every single person in the Church. Poor Natalie was not excited about this as she squirmed into her neighbors arms to get away from the dog.

The girls returned to the Hogar for coconut bread, chocolate milk, singing and dancing. After putting the girls to bed the volunteers left for an all night prayer vigil (Bolivian style.) I grabbed my journal and Mother Theresa book assuming that there would be lots of alone time to sit and write. I was terribly mistaken when we spent the whole night working in groups, singing and dancing. There were a number of different Churches who participated. In total about 100 youth and young adults. Each Church had their band perform different religious songs that were sure to keep you awake until 5am.

After a few hours of sleep I rose to screaming girls getting ready for the day. By the time I finally got out of bed and left my room all the girls were on a sugar high. The mass was perfect because the girls did all of the readings and music for the Church. I think the best part of the day for the girls was lunch. The Sisters ordered chicken, french fries, rice, and noodles from a local restaurant. They don’t ever get food from a restaurant so it was very exciting.

As I said before this Lent was very different. I have never spent the whole time in constant prayer and worship. I have discovered a deeper meaning that I couldn’t see when distracted by my life in CA. I realize that part of the reason I came toBoliviawas for selfish reasons. I wanted to find out who I am and escape from “life.” I was hiding from the real world and used this as a chance to run away.

After three months all of my doubts and fears about my life are gone. I understand exactly who I am and exactly what I want. I could go home today and feel good about myself. But that is exactly why I have to stay. These next three months are no longer selfish at all. I am here only to do the Lord’s work and love these girls to the best of my ability. This is the best I have felt in my whole time here. I am no longer searching for answers for myself. I am focusing on only the girls and what I can do for them. My full attention is for their best interest and how I can give them all their needs.

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We can all walk with Christ



When I See a Problem… I Pray

I am going big and I hope you can help me.

If you haven’t read my blog on hygiene please go do that before reading on. This blog is asking you for a favor. Yes, money. Get ready because this is blunt and to the point.

I have many reasons for being inBoliviabut one is because I have the time. I was thinking about what my life would be like if I were in CA and it would be nothing compared to here. I would be hanging out with my family and friends going out to eat and simply enjoying life. But I don’t miss that life. I have never been happier to know that every day I am helping 130 girls by putting a smile on their face. That is why I am asking you for a favor. If you have given your time I am so appreciative of you! I understand how difficult it is to take time off and give your whole self in our crazy lives we lead.  I don’t want a single penny from you! If you don’t have the money I do want something from you and that is prayers. Prayers for the girl’s health. If you have the money I want it and this is why…..

After witnessing one girl almost stop breathing because of some kind of flu I knew I had to do something. Every day at least one girl has a fever, a tooth ache, a head ache, and the list goes on. I know that I can’t stop it all but if I can help one girl from getting sick I am more than happy. 

I am currently putting together a hygiene class along with the Bolivian Volunteer, Gina. This class will entail many different aspects of hygiene. Some of the following are: how to clean themselves properly, dental care, why we don’t pick up trash off the ground, and much more.

Every day I add something new to the list for the girls to learn. Luckily many of the girls are young enough to teach them these skills for life. Such as Alejandra’s teeth are completely rotted. She is only 5 years old and still has a chance to fix the problem if we teach her the skills now. 

This project is still in the works because I need to purchase many things before we can move forward such as dental supplies and soap dispensers. I would like to assure you that if you contribute to this project not a single penny will go to waste. It will all be spent on the girls and teaching them life skills that we take for granted.

If I can prevent one girl from not losing her teeth I am thrilled. If I can help just one girl not get sick I’m ecstatic. If I can teach one girl how to take care of herself for life ya’ll are saviors for helping me out!

Now to the uncomfortable money part and how to get it to me. Please do not send money toBolivia. The mail is not safe and I would not want your donation to go to waste. If you would like to send a donation please send it to my parents house. From there my Mama will deposit it into my bank account. I am the luckiest volunteer here inBoliviabecause my bank gives me the best exchange rate along with no withdrawal fees. Meaning that literally not a single penny will go to waste.

Hygiene Project

Thea Ricchiuto

572 Pebble Dr.

El Sobrante, CA 94803

If my description of the project was too vague please feel free to contact me and I would love to explain in greater depth. I am hoping to be able to start classes in a few weeks starting with the essentials that we all learned as young children, how to properly take a shower.

Thank you very much for taking your time to read this. I can’t explain how appreciative I am with just the thought of the girls receiving prayers for their health.

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Never Forget to Play!

Never Forget to Play

An angry person causes trouble


I made the mistake a few times and I will never make it again. I forgot to play. When I became frustrated with the girls during estudios my first thought was get to my computer and it will be all better. My computer is my link back to my life in California but that currently isn’t my home. My home is in Bolivia and I can’t run away from it by turning on a computer.

Estudios ends at 5:00pm and Rosario begins around 6:30pm. This leaves the girls an hour and a half to gather their clothes from the line, eat a snack (merienda), and most importantly play. This is the best time to play because the girls were just released from sitting and they are ready!

Once they have all had their snacks the numbers start to gather and the screams are heard across town. The girls have a few different games they love to play but most importantly they just love to scream. I now remember why I love working at my all boys camp… no screaming. The big girls are very athletic so I stay out of all the games they play with a ball being pelted at my head. It’s a special version of dodge ball that scares me!

I stick to the little ones during this time because they have an energy level that is astonishing. A few days ago I was lucky enough to enjoy the company of 5 little ones and a soccer ball. It began with us kicking the ball in a circle. Which turned into monkey in the middle with all the girls trying to get the ball away from Becca (volunteer from WA) and I. In the end it was me dribbling around and through the girls as if they were cones that were trying to trip me. I was holding my own until the swarm around my feet grew too large that I could barely move without stepping on them. But the best part of it all was their incredible laughs!

Estudios is the hardest part of my day but if I remind myself that I get to play it some how makes it all better. I no longer retreat to my computer for comfort but I play! It is easy to run away to my room and only come out when needed but that isn’t why I am here. I am here to love and show these youth what love is. I realize more than ever that my six months here are very short. I complain about missing people but it’s only for 6 months that I will be missing my family, my love and friends. But I will miss these kids for the rest of my life.

I am learning many lessons that I wouldn’t learn any where else in the world. I was placed in Hogar Casa Main in Santa Cruz, Bolivia for a reason. I will never know the exact reason but I know that I am doing what the Lord has asked of me. The Lord works in very mysterious ways and I am watching his blessing in front of me every day. Every time I have a problem with a girl I remind myself that she was placed here for a specific purpose and it might be for me to help her or her to help me. Every laugh and giggle brings me that much closer to God. After being here at the Hogar I will never again forget to play!

I now have a greater respect for parents especially my Mamabear. The way these girls act out with their homework is exactly what I would do with my Mama. She is one amazing person for putting up with my Sister, Brother and I.

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Time is flying by

Sorry again for the sound quality I am still working on it. These are some of my favorite videos of the girls that I have taken recently. They are so beautiful!

Life with Lice

Hygiene is obviously a problem when there are 126 girls living in small dormitories. I’m going to say it… the girls smell…. and I do too. Currently the weather is extremely hot and humid! I’m not sure what it is exactly but the sweat is unstoppable. I have been doing my best to workout but that can only be done before 9am. Once the heat really kicks in I go into sloth mode moving as slow as the girls during estudios.
The rush for the shower is always a joy to watch. There are three different shower times for the girls because there are three different school times. They always shower before going to school and their teachers are lucky for that. In the morning is when the majority of the girls shower. The Primary school is from 8am-12pm and the Secundario (high school) is from 2:00-6:30pm. There are only about 15 girls in High School and they shower at 12:00pm. Now that I am in charge I let them begin at 11:50am because they take forever! They go all out with their hair, perfume and clothes (even though its covered up by an ugly lab coat uniform.) They say it’s not for the boys because they are all feo but I don’t believe it. Lastly we have four girls that go to high school from 7:00-10:00pm. I’m still not sure exactly why they go to school so late.
There are a few large problems with hygiene here at the Hogar that I would like to address in my time here. One of them is impossible because I even thought I could fight the battle but it has won. Lice. Before I arrived in Bolivia I was reading about the site and it said in the nicest way possible “you will get lice.” I thought this can’t be true and scratched my head every time I thought about it. But all 126 girls have lice even if they won´t want to admit it.
Treatment consists of all the girls and I looking like monkey’s picking at each others heads. This is done daily and I am officially addicted because I still can’t believe that there could possibly be something crawling on my head. On the weekends the little girls are given some kind of special oil that coats their hair leaving a very bright shine. I do my best not to give too many hugs on those days. My favorite method would be what the little ones do because they have it the worst. I call it the scratch and look. I first witnessed this while sitting next to little Ruthie in mass. Where she removed three GIANT lice from here head while simultaneously praying. After starring for many minutes and moving down the pew far enough that they wouldn’t jump on me I asked her to wait until after mass to pick her head. She agreed until she got bored and began again.
In the end there is no way to rid Casa Main of all the lice and I have some what accepted that I will be running the special small tooth comb through my hair twice a day. I refuse to use the harsh shampoos because I do enjoy my luscious locks. But if I actually start to itch and find a big one like I do on the girls I know I will have to succumb to the destruction of my hair for my own sanity. I promise you Toni that I will not come home with lice and infest the house and puppy.
My second hygiene problem would be their teeth. I hear daily complaints about problems that the girls are having with their mouths. The younger girls teeth are so bad that I can’t believe they can even chew their food. Poor Alejandra barely even has molars they are all hallowed out. Little Carlita’s teeth are unexplainable but it does not take away from her beautiful smile that I can not get enough of!
The dentist comes once a year to the Hogar to clean and treat the girl’s teeth. I understand that an average American only goes to the dentist twice a year but we have much higher quality tooth brushes and tooth paste.
Before I left my friend Noel was joking with me about dental floss. She told me to make sure to bring a lot because other countries don’t ever have it. I thought that I brought enough but after looking at the girl’s teeth I haven’t skipped a day of flossing for fear of my teeth falling out. I looked at the supermarket for floss and they do carry it but I am curious of the quality. I would like to try to start some kind of project for the girls to have them start flossing and seeing a dentist on a regular basis.
I knew that the lack of floss was a problem on one of my first nights. Silbana knocked on my door as I was in the middle of flossing. I kept my floss in my hand as I opened the door and before she could address the question she originally came to me for she was amazed by the floss. She made a motion of flossing her teeth so I figured that this was something normal for her. But it was the exact opposite they do not have dental floss and never get it. I asked how she even knew what it was and she said because when the dentist comes once a year she gets her teeth flossed.
The problems that come from not taking care of your teeth are bigger than beauty. Many of these girls are in pain because they don’t have the proper hygiene products. I believe that a lot of them get sick so easily because their mouths are so dirty. I know that beauty isn’t the number one priority but way too many of these girls are having their teeth pulled at a young age. They already have self esteem issues and missing their front tooth is not going to help make it any better.
So now that the whole world knows that I am surrounded by hygiene problems and lice it is the appropriate time to say I am in love. I am surrounded by beautiful girls with huge hearts. I only wish the best for them and hate to see them sick. In the night when I hear a girl coughing my automatic reaction is to run to them. I do my best not to wake them while I coat their throat and chest with this special menthal like gel that immediately opens your chest and nostrils. I tell them stories in the morning about me attempting to do this while they are tossing and turning and they just laugh. I don´t know how they sleep all the way through the night in this heat but I never seem to wake them.
Thank you for all the comments on here I am happy to know someone is reading this. I received my first letter in the mail and obviously cried. The girls could tell they were tears of joy and got just as excited for me. So please take a minute of your time to write to me or even more to write to the girls because they would LOVE that!
Thea Ricchiuto
Casilla 542 Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

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My First 3 Weeks


I have been in Bolivia for almost 3 weeks and finally got my blog to work. So far it is amazing and beautiful. It is very hard work but I don’t have an ounce of regret. I have put together a video with a little bit of me but I really would like to show off all the fun things going on here.


Sorry for the poor sound quality I will make sure it is better next time. Please leave any comments that will help me!


The girls are placed in one of the worst public schools in Bolivia that is over crowded. As I walk the girls to school every minute a different girl is holding my hand. I wish I was an octopus so that they wouldn’t have to fight over the simple act of holding my hand. The walk is only ten minutes but some how it is the dirtiest I get all day. I walk around the mud and puddles but the girls go right through. When we finally arrive they latch on and ask for goodbye kisses that I willingly give away. At the same time they are secretly planning their escape from school or to the candy vendor (I don’t want to know where they get the money.) I guard the gate to assure that they stay in the classrooms but if it were me I wouldn’t want to be there either.

But some how when they arrive home they always have a huge smile on their face and the hugs starts all over again. I didn’t know I could get hugged so many times in a day! After laundry, lunch and running around the girls are “ready” for estudios. I have a class of twenty 3rd graders from 2:30-5:00pm. They are supposed to sit in a classroom in silence while working on their homework. Sadly this is pure torture for the girls because 2 ½ hours is way too long for these small girls to sit in one place. I understand that the older girls need this amount of time but I need to think of an alternative for the youngsters.

            January 9th was one of the most frustrating 15 minutes I have experienced in the classroom. The Bolivian Professora Tania decided not to show leaving me all alone. As the girls entered the room all I heard was “no tarea, va a la biblioteca!?” Almost all of the girls didn’t have homework but as a new rule the girls have to stay in the classroom until 5:00pm. I explained this but they didn’t want to believe it. As I was helping the few girls who had homework the other 15 were yelling and begging for attention. I did my best to give them other options but all they wanted was the library.

            I got to a point that I knew I had to do something or I would break down from asking the girls to please be quiet, sit in their seat, and most of all please stop screaming my name! I left the room for a moment to find one of the Sisters to explain my problem and Sor Vicki replied with words of encouragement. I had to go back into what felt like a torture chamber so I entered the classroom and sat down at my desk. Immediately I closed my eyes and asked the Lord to please help me. Once I finished begging the Lord for the strength to get me through estudios I opened my eyes. As I opened my eyes almost all of the girls were in their seats and silent. The next two hours were boring because the girls didn’t need my help with homework and were for once quiet and mostly sitting in their seats.

                        My favorite part of estudios is at the very end. Not because it is over but because the girls apologize for their behavior. The hugs and kisses start all over again. All the love I receive in the day gets me through the rough times with the help of Jesus.

            Every day is an adventure in estudios and I am slowly learning what works with the girls and what doesn’t. I want them to learn respect but it can not be forced. If you have any suggestions about what the girls can do when they are done with their homework please let me know. I prefer things that help them learn but resources are very slim!

Lastly, mail takes about 12 plus days to arrive here in Bolivia. Then it sits in the post office for a week because we only pick up post on the weekend. But I still encourage letters because I love getting mail. At the same time don’t be alarmed if I never receive it.

Thea Ricchiuto

Casilla 542 Santa Cruz De La Sierra, Bolivia

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