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4 days on the road with a Suyana mobile in the Bolivian altiplano

Already weeks ahead I was looking forward to join this trip with a team of co-ordinators from the Suyana Foundation. Among my other travels in South America this would be for sure the one bearing the most insight of true Bolivian way of living as well as giving me the opportunity to meet Bolivian people, see how Suyana managed to help them improve their way of life and actually get to talk to them.

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Tuesday morning at 06:00h, I was ready to be picked up by the mobile and meeting the team which would be my family for the next 4 days (Oswaldo, Ramiro, Rodolpho, Dr. Pena and Joelle). The latter turned out to be my life saver at times, when either my brain couldn’t take any more Spanish after a whole day of trying to follow conversation or when i simply didn’t understand anything. Having said that, I need to point out that the people in this area speak Aymara as their first language and therefore sometimes their Spanish was a mix of Aymara and Spanish or they had quite an accent – maybe this only appeared to me though but often i had a blank ‘screen’ while they were talking away.

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After about a 2-3 hours drive leaving the populated areas of La Paz & El Alto behind us, we reached the beautiful altiplano with a striking blue sky that matched the sandy yet reddish coloured soil. These same colours would intensify even more during sunrise or sunset.

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Our first stop was in Conchacollo in the area of San Andres de Machaca where we met the first families who joined the programs ‘vivienda saludable’ and ‘agua familiar productiva’. It was overwhelming to see how happy the people were to meet us and showing us proudly there homes which they had improved with the help of the Suyana team as well as the satiris. There were significant changes they had undertaken in order to transform their lifestyle into a healthier, sustainable yet independent way. Mostly it required them to construct additional houses in order to meet all the requirement as previously they would often live in one single house combining kitchen, dormitory and living room. With the assistance of Suyana they would construct a new cooker (Fugon) with a chimeny to get rid of the smoke in the kitchen, help them to construct a ‘refrigerador ecologico’ by means of wrapping a shelf with plastic sheets and putting a bucket of water on the ground helping to keep the vegetables, fruits and cheese cooled by taking advantage of the cold nights. At the same time many families got so happy with the improvements so that they constructed a sink to do the washing up as well as a ‘comedor’ to enjoy the meals with the family. One man said: ‘i wanted to construct the kitchen in a way to facilitate my wifes work as much as possible’. I really loved this statemet!

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An integral part of a healthier way of living was also to provide a ‘rincon de aseo’ with toothbrush, soap, etc. as well as the construction of a ‘bano hygienico’ where solid is divided from liquids to dispose it in a more environment friendly fashion. Same applying to the general waste which is being divided into organic and non-organic.

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Besides getting all these improvements done by the school book, most of the families also painted their houses in bright colours, planted flowers and herbs, constructed a winter garden to raise vegetables even in these rough desert like conditions, decorated their court yards with coloured pet bottles and named all the different little houses by its function. By making all these improvements in such an adorable way, they managed to turn their homes into much more economical, ecofriendly and far more pleasant places to live. So no wonder they were so proud to show us around.

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Not only did we visit families but we also went to see a number of schools among which the centro Mauri welcomed us with a memorable ceremony that meant playing music and throwing heaps of confetti at us – unfortunately we took our hats off too early.

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Suyana’s improvements of schools were mainly in terms of hygienic and nutrition, a more stimulating atmosphere of teaching as well as providing a nice ‘cancha’ and some tables with protection from the sun where children could play during their free time. Now schools would provide sufficient clean water (by means of the PET bottles exposed to sunlight) so that they could drink it / wash their hands as needed. Most of the schools who are collaborating with Suyana nowadays grow their own vegetables in winter gardens to ensure the children get more balanced meals while being in school. Some schools even have their own ‘gallinera’ where they have chickens that provide them eggs. One school is even farming trouts – amazing to see this on an altitude of around 4300m. A nice example that one of the school authorities made, was that nowadays children would come to school much before the classes would actually start as they like to spend time playing together in the nice environment. Whereas before the school yards were unpleasant and deserted prior or after classes.

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Another achievement that astonished me, was the fact that by helping to improve sanitary facilities and explaining children how to brush their teeth/they shouldn’t eat too many sugary things – one school authority proudly advised us that not a single child in their village would suffer from caries.

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Travelling onwards to the villages of Santiago de Machaca, Catacora and Comanche we were meeting many more families that won prices because they improved their way of living and were therefore awarded with a water tank as in these regions water remains one of the most precious resources. We also were visiting families that were strong in agriculture / raising lamas, sheeps and alpacas. This was the main foucs of Dr. Pena who is running his own TV show on the Bolivian Canal 7. While he was recording for his next sequences the people were presenting their houses and livestock. Many were also taking the opportunity to discuss issues they have with their animals as well as carry out some vaccinations of their sheep while having an expert on site.

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On the way ‘home’ from this 4 day adventure trip through the altiplano my head was bustling of these images of meeting all these people who received you with such warm hospitality, visiting  the beautiful houses, smiling children who clearly enjoy their ‘escuelas lindas’, having experienced the enthusiasm of the local authorities who couldn’t stress out enough how much the infrastructure of their villages has improved and simply the fact that we were being welcomed wherever we came as ‘hermanas’.

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All this proving that Suyana is doing sustainable work in the remotest areas of Bolivia and Peru and that they are determined to live up to it’s dedication ‘give hope for a better future’.

‘Suyana’ the word uniting Quechua and Aymara as it means in both languages ‘hope’

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