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LOHS cheerleader travels abroad to help others


Local teen and her mom helped build school in Bolivian village

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Lake Oswego High School student Sydney Cottle worked with children this summer in Bolivia.Incoming Lake Oswego High School senior Sydney Cottle has a hunger to help others — and this summer that passion for compassion translated into an overseas adventure.

Cottle volunteers every September with her Laker cheer team at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event in Portland. Her family goes Christmas caroling annually at a nursing home and the 16-year-old and a friend recently crafted 20 fleece blankets with knotted fringes for the Portland Rescue Mission. But, Cottle wanted to perform more good works on her own, serving children overseas.

“I love being around kids,” she said.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Sydney Cottle, a Laker cheerleader, recently helped build a school in a Bolivian village.

She asked her mother, Michelle Cottle, for help finding service work in another country.

Michelle Cottle remembers her daughter saying: “You just have to realize our problems aren’t as big as they seem. You realize how blessed you are when you volunteer. You see everyone goes through difficult times, and it feels good when you help them.”

While sifting through a list of humanitarian groups on the website of her local church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Michelle Cottle spotted Humanitarian Experience for Youth, a Utah-based, LDS-oriented nonprofit group.

One option was a trip to Bolivia to help complete a rural school that locals began three years ago but couldn’t find the funds to finish. Sydney Cottle embraced the idea.

Bolivia is one of the most impoverished and least developed Latin American countries, and it has poor quality public education with scant educational opportunities in rural areas, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s website.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Lake Oswego teen Sydney Cottle was teaching English to children when she wasnt working on building a school in Bolivia.This summer, Sydney and Michelle Cottle spent almost three weeks abroad, most of it working on a project to build a school in Warnes, a village on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

“It was really a fun thing to do with my daughter and just something she’ll remember for a long time,” Michelle Cottle said.

Five boys, 14 girls, including Sydney Cottle, two HEFY trip leaders and two parent coaches, including Michelle Cottle comprised the first of three groups to execute the project this summer. With the aid of the villagers, the volunteers excavated the crumbling old foundation, replaced it and constructed columns and brick walls.

The villagers “couldn’t speak English, and we couldn’t speak Spanish, but somehow it all worked out,” Sydney Cottle said.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Sydney Cottle and her mother, Michelle Cottle, labored alongside many locals while building a school in Bolivia.

It was hard at first. Sydney Cottle wasn’t accustomed to manual labor, and she was there for the hot season, leaving June 19 and arriving home July 6.

Volunteers pushed wheelbarrows out into a field, collected dirt, hauled it back to the village and mixed it on the ground with rocks and cement. The cement served as mortar for the bricks and, along with recycled rebar, the foundation.

“I’m a pretty small girl,” said Sydney Cottle, who turns 17 later this month. “The wheelbarrow was pretty hard work. First, I just gave it to a guy, but as the week went by I thought, ‘I could do this,’ and I’ve definitely gotten some muscle from doing it.”

The teen volunteers also played Duck, Duck Goose and Ring Around the Rosie with the children and taught them English.

Little girls constantly orbited Sydney Cottle, and she gave them plastic Nike bracelets, a kindness they returned by handing over their own metal bracelets. One small boy had a crush on her and would watch her devotedly.

“I really wasn’t ready to leave,” she said. “I wanted to stay longer. I had such a good time.”

Michelle Cottle, who also did humanitarian work in the Philippines in her 20s, said it’s one thing to know people live in poverty and don’t have much access to education.

“When you see it for yourself, I think it does have more of an impact,” she said.

While on their trip, the HEFY group also got a chance to visit Machu Picchu, ruins of an ancient Incan city in the Cusco region of Peru.

Michelle Cottle said it was a little difficult to be away from the youngest of her three children, 14-year-old Maddy, but she kept in touch because the hostel the group was staying in had WiFi access.

“It’s not like you’re in the next state over — you’re on the other side of the world, but she did good,” Michelle Cottle said.

Teens were encouraged to hand over their cellphones and enjoy face-to-face time with their charges and co-volunteers, an experience Sydney Cottle called “refreshing.”

“It was so nice to be away from everything,” she said.

Her father, Jim Cottle, missed his wife and daughter while they were away, but he was proud of their constructive kindness.

“Sydney is a hard worker, and her smile lights up a room,” he said. “She made many friends within the group and among the children she was helping. She thrived in Bolivia and really enjoyed the experience of helping others, but also learning about herself.”

His wife struggled with a bacterial infection for a few days, but she was trooper, he said.

“Michelle is a very giving person, and I was excited for her to also enjoy this time as a positive mentor or coach to this youth group,” he said. “Michelle remains positive under any condition.”

This probably won’t be the last of the Cottle family’s overseas humanitarian efforts.

“We are seriously thinking about doing a different excursion next year with Sydney and in future years with our 14-year-old daughter Maddy,” he said.