We departed at 5:15 am on Friday morning, returning at 8:45 pm Saturday night. In these almost 40 hours, we managed to clock some 20 hours in our trufi as we traveled from the Bolivia we engage with daily here in the city of Cochabamba, to the Bolivia that most Bolivians know. Our goal was to visit the two communities where will be holding Christmas events.
Our first stop was the town of Mizque. This town is growing, and produces some of the best chirimoyas in Bolivia. We had a mid-morning meeting with Ilda, a social worker for the Child Defense agency of Mizque, who took us on a steep trip up the mountains to the small village of Patawasi.
Like the many other scattered villages in this area, Patawasi is almost solely dependent on potato farming. The conditions there are isolated and dry, yet the people are welcoming and hopeful. We arrived at the main meeting spot for the community, the school, and there were several children lingering about. As we were there talking with the children, from the hills surrounding the schoolyard women from the village joined us, along with their community leader. We were able to hear from them about the challenges they face, find out how many families and children would be participating in the Christmas festivities, and visit their poorly equipped daycare center where their youngest children went, hoping to learn to read and write.
When we arrived back in Mizque, it was already 3 in the afternoon. Though we had thought to spend the night there and move on to the second community, our guide who is from this community, insisted to continue on that same afternoon.
So by 6:30, having climbed the steepest roads any of us had ever seen, and through a thunderstorm at that, we were finally descending into the mining community of Mina Asientos. This community has a history of mining several generations back, but the memories freshest in the minds of its residents go back less than a decade, when Bolivia’s then president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, owned the mine.
We arrived and had a meal with our guide and the community’s leader, listening as they described the challenges facing this tucked-away community. We also heard the version from the local store owner who was providing our meals for us during our stay there. Over half of the families are unemployed, and there is a clear divide between those families working in the mining industry, and those who are not. Attempts at cultivating crops have been frustrated by drought and hails storms, and the shortage of water has left the entire town parched and dusty.
That said, we were able to visit a small fruit plantation started by the outlying neighborhood of Mollepampa, where in the middle of what looked like desert, an oasis of green emerged producing papayas, bananas, mangos, chirimoyas, and several other tropical fruits. This was, for them, the proof of what could be done if only they had access to water, a solution to the malnutrition facing most of their children.
We were on our way back to Cochabamba by 1:30 pm Saturday with plenty to think about. Water shortages, schools only offering a few grades of studies, malnutrition, children forced to work to support their families, poor medical care, extreme poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence – and all because of what?
We have decided not to spend all of our time thinking about who and what is to blame. Certainly, this has its place in working towards meaningful and effective solutions, but we like to look at things from the positive. The children of these villages represent the future of these villages. It is the same as when a child that arrives at one of our homes. Each child brings a heartbreaking history with them, a past that will always be a part of them. But the past does not need to be that which shapes our future. We can move forward, break cycles, overcome trauma.
While we are not sure how the relationships we are developing with Patawasi and Mina Asientos will develop beyond the Christmas events, we hope that we can take on a supportive role for their children.
If you would like to know more about how you can help us out, either this Christmas or in the future, with either of these communities, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.