On the first day we got to see one of the success stories of Child sponsorship in one of the poor suburbs of Sucre. We met 3 young women (all Christians) who were part of a group of 7 young women who had set up a small business providing cakes and other sweets for events and meetings. The business has been going for about a year and I think all 7 of them are studying at University as well as running this business. Of the 3 that were in the meeting one was studying business, another medicine and the other nursing. The latter had been in the Child sponsorship program for 6 years.
We also saw a Doctor who works for FH teaching some of the reception age children about the importance of washing their hands. It was also the first day of a de-worming campaign that they were starting at the school.
On the second day we travelled 3 hours Northwest of Sucre to an area in North Potosi, to visit some communities where FH has been for a number of years. These communities are at around 3,500 -4,000 metres above sea level and life is hard, made more so by the way their fatalistic beliefs keep them trapped in poverty.
We visited a new community where FH has been working for a couple of years called Llave (Key). In that community FH has helped to build a ‘centro de acopio’ (processing centre) for preparing and sorting potatoes and other crops for sending to the market. FH has also built a road to give them better access to the principal town and an irrigation canal to help improve their crop yields and diversity.
Though the community is very grateful for all that FH has done they have not yet learnt or accepted all that FH has been teaching them. So while we were there two of my colleagues were giving the community members of the association a hard time (in a friendly way) about them needing to get their backsides into gear. They were saying this because although the community knew they were now responsible to look after these 3 infrastructure projects, they were not taking the initiative to do the repair work. This was an interesting example of the process of change that is needed within the communities we work in. Communities are always willing to have organisations do things for them but when you turn around to them and say now you get on with it they often don’t. My colleague commented to me that this process of handing over the responsibilities normally takes a couple of years for the community to accept and start to change its thinking.
Dependency is another big issue faced by many people in communities such as these. They either believe themselves that they cannot do anything on their own, or over the years they have been told they can’t do anything because organisations come in and say the community needs this or that then they do it. By doing this many organisations cause more harm than good as they are reinforcing the message that the community is not able to do anything by itself.
On days 3 and 4 I had a surprise. It was the first time I had been into this area which was southeast of Sucre and dropped down to about 2,000 metres above sea level. I had expected the housing to look similar to those in North Potosi. But I was surprised to find them in a Spanish Colonial style. White washed walls and curved clay tiles on the roofs, and a generally much greener place with taller trees. What a difference altitude makes to how a place looks and what can grow there.
We travelled around the 4 municipalities (areas equivalent to our counties) visiting various FH projects. It was such a stark contrast to the communities in North Potosi. There was still a lot of poverty but at the same time things were different. The Plazas (the central feature of every town in Bolivia) were in pristine condition and full of green and they had hotels and a tourist trade. Where as in North Potosi the plazas were rarely finished or in a poor state of disrepair and the people often look downtrodden.
FH began working in this area at about the same time we moved to Bolivia, to work with small and medium sized businesses. The aim being to work with those that were already established but who needed some more help to become independent. FH currently has funding from two different sources both with the same aim, but with one focusing more on exchanging technical knowledge to help these businesses take off and the other helping with some infrastructure projects as well.
The highlight from this part of the trip was in seeing what FH was doing with two different Associations. These were made up from a number of people from the community (in this case around 50-70 people) who after harvesting their crops brought them to the ‘centros de acopios’ (processing centres), so that they could then be sold together and the profits returned to them. Thus getting a better price for their crop and not all going individually to try and sell their crops.
Other organisations have been working in these communities in the past and FH is now helping them in the final stages of becoming independent and able to meet their own needs and looking for new markets for their produces.
Both associations where growing chillies, maize (these are big seeded white, yellow and red), and amaranth (a very small high protein grain, about 1mm diameter). All of these were dried and then turned into different things. The chillies were dried and then either sold whole or ground into chill powder; the maize was ground and with other things made into a very nice hot drink called api; the amaranth was either popped (like you do with pop corn) and sold like that or turned into biscuits or cereal bars (mixed with honey and sometimes coated with chocolate). They also mixed the maize and amaranth together to make cheesy puffed crisps like watsits.
FH is helping them to improve their methods of production, how to manage their finances and find markets for their products.
The first association still had much work to do. They were in the middle of having a new processing centre built with the help of FH that will house all of their work in the same place, but they still have a way to go with finding their markets and hygiene standards. When we visited the area where they were processing amaranth into biscuits and cereal bars, there where lots of flies and bees around the open honey pots! Also their wiring system worried me a bit! Never touch wires in Bolivia you never know where they go!
The second association was a much more clean and slick operation with us needing to wear protective clothing. They already had their markets worked out which included local schools to provide breakfast for the children.
Both of these associations that we visited were part of an association of associations which is further strengthening their place in the market. Some of their products are sold here in La Paz.
Throughout the trip I was with a guy called Juan Carlos who was a bit of a joker. He was a laugh to be with but throughout the trip he would not let me sleep as we travelled from place to place, he kept jabbing me in the ribs saying ‘Ed please don’t sleep!’ This got a bit wearing after a while. Here is a picture of him on the right and Jamie (who works on Child sponsorship) I’ll let you think of a caption for his expression!