Quaker Bolivia Link

A group from the first Quaker Study Tour of Bolivia created Quaker Bolivia Link (QBL) under the leadership of Ken and Pam Barratt, members respectively of Birkenhead Meeting (UK) and Langley Hill (Va.) Meeting. When Pam and Ken married nine or ten years ago, they took their honeymoon in Bolivia and decided to devote the rest of their lives to nurturing the wonderful, friendly, poor people in that country, especially the Aymara and especially the (almost wholly Aymara) Quakers. To that end they organized five annual study tours to Bolivia. QBL was established in Britain as a charitable foundation in 1995, and in 1999 it was registered in the United States as a 501(c)(3) charity. The articles of incorporation are similar in both countries, but there are separate boards of directors. The purpose of QBL is to fund mid-sized projects for education, health services, training of various sorts, community empowerment, domestic drinking water, and economic development based on proposals submitted by groups of impoverished indigenous people in Bolivia; and to collect donations from individuals and corporations in Britain and the United States for that purpose.

Policies and principles have evolved over the years. There are only grants, not loans. The maximum initial grant is $4,000, though a follow-up grant may be possible in exceptional cases, and both a health center in Amacari and a school in Coroico are major exceptions. A project should ideally be able to be completed within one year and should be self-sustaining after a year. A project should involve and benefit a community or collectivity rather than an individual or a single family. The funds for a project are for the group project and are not to be divided into "shares." Ideally the group should have existed and worked together for at least a year before being funded. Beneficiaries should be among the really impoverished. It is expected that the group be organized for effective and responsible decision making and record keeping. Each project receives ongoing oversight from QBL representatives in Bolivia and will be visited at least once a year by one or more of the QBL trustees. Technical consultants, preferably local, should be involved in the planning and execution of the projects. Accurate records and receipts of disbursements are to be kept by the group and included in a report to QBL. No grants will be given for building churches or (in the last few years) schools, the latter exclusion because some QBL trustees believe that private schools undermine public education, and also because some Quaker schools have closed in recent years.

Underlying these policies is the conviction that the intelligence, know-how, and community spirit is already there ready to go to work, if only given the opportunity. QBL is one way to provide such an opportunity, filling one niche. Other organizations provide micro-loans, along lines pioneered by the Grameen Bank. International and governmental organizations provide more massive aid aimed at infrastructure and work through the government (usually the elite) rather than through local indigenous cooperatives. The two QBL representatives in Bolivia, Hilario Quispe Poma (who has studied at both Pendle Hill and Woodbrooke) and Bernabe Yujra Ticona (who has attended FWCC meetings), are Aymara and are trusted by the recipients. Beginning in January 2001 they each gave up one of their teaching jobs in order to work half-time for QBL, a necessary step because of the increased number of projects and proposals. Their expenses are paid, and through the end of 2000 they (like the Barratts) worked on a voluntary basis on top of their two paying jobs. All this has meant that the administrative overhead of QBL has been less than seven percent of the contributions annually. It also means that the recipients get the full amount of the grant, without the graft and kickbacks that dilute government appropriations and other NGO grants in a country recently (1999) said to have the second-highest rate of corruption in the world. (A more recent ranking fortunately shows Bolivia in a less prominent position.) The combination of deep respect for the recipients and strict insistence on financial accounting is a splendid example of the blending of cultures.
The 1999 Quaker Study Tour visited about sixteen projects, four in El Alto, four on the Altiplano, six or seven in the Sorata valley, and two in Coroico. Most have to do with food production or textiles, but there are also a few major ones concerning health and education.

Nutrition and Food Production

Nutritional deficiency is a visible problem in Bolivia. Most of the women are less than five feet tall, and the men not much larger. The exceptions underline the problem. Our driver, from the same gene pool, was nearly six feet tall. We saw more evidence in our host family; the parents (who had grown up traditionally on the Altiplano) were a full head shorter than their well-nourished children (a girl and a boy, 21 and 19, both of whom are doing well at university). A recent report by the World Food Program, a UN subsidiary, estimates that 94 percent of the campesinos on the Altiplano suffer nutritional deficiencies because of extreme poverty.

QBL has many projects focused on food production. In the Sorata valley we saw two vegetable gardens with sprinklers, three proposed irrigation projects, two pig projects, and an egg project with 250 layers. Each of the pig projects, at Poquerani and Pallcapampa, involved a steep climb of over half a mile from the nearest road, and each was a place of beauty commanding a spectacular view. At Poquerani there were wild calla lilies growing below the spring, and peach trees were in bloom beside the church. At Pallcapampa there were two principal buildings with a neat, well-swept courtyard with a large bush of tiny yellow roses at the top end and a very neat, small garden of roses and other flowers overlooking the valley. At Lacahuarka (near Coroico), on land crowded with coffee, avocado, and fruit trees, whose produce no longer commands a livable market price, and where funds were received only a few months previously for a project to raise chickens for meat, there were 600 chicks one or two weeks old. On Isla Suriqui new nets and floats have augmented the catch of a perch-like fish called pejerrey.

Two newer projects on the Altiplano were a greenhouse at ChuƱavi and a guinea pig project at Huarialtaya, both very inspiring. For the latter, each of 14 families will have its own cuyero (guinea pig hutch). Marina, the woman who is president of the group, gave an efficient report with newsprint and marker, and at the end she was so moved with gratitude for the opportunity to improve their living standard and for the community spirit that had already emerged that she sobbed when she hugged Ken. It was one of the very moving moments of the trip.

The greenhouse is a single structure that similarly serves a small community, and it could by itself serve as a symbol for the hope that QBL brings to Bolivia. The Altiplano is dry, brown, and bleak at this time of year, and the roofs of greenhouses are not by themselves reassuring. When we walked through the field to the entrance, we were therefore unprepared for the lush green that greeted our eyes and the warm, moist air that brushed our faces as we peered into the greenhouse at the cabbage and chard. "Green is the color of hope," a German saying goes, and this project certainly shows why.

A particularly exciting project I saw on my more recent trip in November 2000 was one for raising trout, also at ChuƱavi but higher up the slope. We left our hotel (12,800 feet) in a microbus, passed through El Alto (13,400 feet) and the village of ChuƱavi (14,500 feet) until we met Felix Tinto standing beside the road a short distance from the ponds and incubation house. We were then at 14,730 feet, and yet towering above us was the snow-capped peak of Huayna Potosƭ (just under 20,000 feet), from whose runoff fresh water flows continuously through the ponds. Felix has worked with trout for five years and with the group at ChuƱavi for the past two years. The ponds are made very simply, with manual labor, by pulling rocks and soil to make long dikes on the gentle slope. Felix manages fertilization and incubation, raising the hatchlings for the first three weeks (the ones we saw were about 3/4 inch long) in a darkened adobe building. There are four very small, partially shaded ponds in which the hatchlings become fingerlings, another pond in which the fingerlings grow for the first year, and other ponds for larger fish.

Felix himself was an inspiration. Part of his plan is to have an educational center (the building is nearly complete) so he can teach neighboring communities how to build ponds and raise trout, with a view to forming a marketing co-op. He also envisions a visitors’ center with recreational trout fishing. He always caught the sense of our questions, and he was better than most of us at giving clear, factual, informative answers. QBL is the only source of outside funding for this project and came on the scene after the group had already been working for two years. Trout farming in Lake Titicaca, using submerged pens, was launched some years earlier at a cost of $3,500,000, but I have no doubt that Felix Tinto and his group will turn the natural resources of the high Altiplano into a serious competitor in the La Paz market, as well as a boon for the community.

All the projects enjoy technical assistance. The Friends on Isla Suriqui in Lake Titicaca were given fishing nets instead of their desired fish-farm for salmon trout, because the consultant saw that their coastline is too shallow. The chicks at Lacahuarka have all had three inoculations, and the layers in the Sorata valley are checked for infections. A young university-educated Aymara agronomist has been a consultant for several of the projects and accompanied us on the visit to the greenhouse and the guinea pig projects, both of which he assisted in connection with critical details. The cuyeros were designed with a solar heating unit (on the north side, of course), even though not one of the three-star hotels at which we stayed had central heating for human guests. The trout ponds are monitored for chemicals as well as for pH.

Textiles and Crafts

Weaving has been a high art in the Andes for centuries. Most of the women are adept at spinning and dying the wool as well as at knitting and weaving, and textiles are a big item for tourists. All four projects in El Alto involved textiles, and we visited all four one Saturday. The first place we visited was CEPROMA (Centro de la CapacitaciĆ³n y PromociĆ³n de la Mujer Andina), a center for the training and advancement of Andean women. The main work of CEPROMA is leadership training, conducted by Claudia Luisa Pinto. Claudia’s husband Fernando serves as administrator of the organization of which she is president. The role of QBL is underwriting projects put together by the leaders Claudia has identified and trained. Marina, the president of the guinea pig cooperative, for example, was trained by Claudia, and it was CEPROMA that referred the project to QBL. Still, there were textiles at CEPROMA, and some of us bought some. One member of the tour has continued to order shawls, which she arranges to have sold through various outlets.

The next project, CADEM, is a women’s cooperative with additional funding and supervision from INTI, a government granting agency. Some of CADEM’s machines were purchased with QBL funding, and we got a festive reception with confetti, fresh flower wreaths for Pam and Ken and Hilario, and a colorful pullover for Ken. The other women’s cooperative, Grupo Gregorias, seemed further ahead with their marketing, since their sweaters all had their label on them. They were currently exhibiting at a fair in La Paz, and last year they sold some sweaters in Atlanta. One of their group is in charge of design, working with traditional Aymara shapes and figures and arranging them to suit North American and European tastes. It was encouraging to see the further progress this group had made.

The final project in El Alto was entirely different. It was not really a textile project, though we bought textiles and other crafts there. It was at ADIM, an association for physically handicapped adults. Physically handicapped persons have a terrible time in Bolivia due to cultural stigmas and lack of public resources. The association appealed to the government, which gave them a very large lot in El Alto but had no funds to help them further. So ADIM appealed to QBL for funds to build a two-room structure. One room is a workroom, and the other is for social purposes. Having a place of their own helped to restore their self-respect, and they were glad to be able to use their old skills again. The most moving moment was perhaps when a worker with no use at all of his legs was carried out by one of the others to sit in the sun with us.

Another textile project is in Sorata. It is one of two projects for women’s groups in the town itself, the other being an irrigated vegetable and flower garden (huge cabbages as well as peas, onions, and gladiolas) behind the school. The purpose of the textile project is not marketing but teaching the women how to make their own clothes, using sewing machines. When I returned to Sorata in November 2000, several of the women (including grandmothers) showed us the clothes they had made and beamed with delight at being able to sew for themselves and for the womenfolk in their families.


The ADIM story could be told in this section, but I think they would rather be known for their crafts than their disabilities. The stories to be told here have to do with the eight-bed health center at Amacari, a breakthrough concerning women’s health in Sorata, and a meeting with Dr. Stanley Blanco.

Amacari lies on the peninsula that juts into the southern end of Lake Titicaca. It is the center of a canton of six communities (including Isla Suriqui), and the 8,000 residents of that canton have no medical facilities other than the hospital at Copacabana. The Quakers in Amacari put together a complex proposal according to which QBL would make a grant for constructing the shell of the eight-bed clinic, the municipality would add an equal amount, and the Bolivian government would pay the staff once the clinic was built and equipped. In 1998 there was nothing but bare ground; in 1999 the $4,000 from QBL and $3,000 from the town, together with much contributed labor (gathering stones and making adobe bricks), had resulted in the foundation, exterior and interior walls, and roof of the clinic—an impressive accomplishment. The second stage, begun in November 2000, will be more expensive; it will cost about $27,000 to plaster the interior and exterior walls, install windows and doors, install water and electricity, and put in floors and ceilings. Water supply and a perimeter fence have been promised by the town as a local contribution to the project. The final stage will be to get equipment, beds, and other furniture, some of which can probably be had through donations. As of now there is no source of outside funding for this project other than QBL, but Ireland Yearly Meeting made the amount seem feasible by raising $11,000 for the project as part of its millennium celebrations.

When the women from the study tour met with the women from Santidad Yearly Meeting in Sorata, one of the topics that came up was family planning. On our final Saturday there was a meeting in La Paz (not connected with the study tour) to discuss family planning and women’s health issues, and two of the women from our group attended, including one who is a trained nurse. It turned out that a Methodist mission in Bolivia has an Aymara nurse stationed on the Altiplano willing to work in Sorata on a part-time basis if her travel and incidental expenses were met. She conducted two weekend sessions in the fall of 1999 in cooperation with the hospital in Sorata, at a cost to QBL of $100 per session; difficulties of transportation and communication cut the program short, but some of the women in Sorata wish to renew it with another Aymara nurse. Conversations Pam had with Toribia Cutipa, leader of the Quaker women, and with Mariangela Finot, wife of a local doctor, suggested to Pam "that the people won’t take advantage of family planning advice when it is offered without being given religious sanction. Toribia said, for example, that she would first have to talk it over with her pastor. Our being Quakers and the fact that we use birth control (they know we all do because they always ask us how many children each of us has) means to them that it might be all right for Quakers to use it. Mariangela said that she had arranged a couple of years ago for a $60,000 grant from USAID to be given to Quichiwachini [a hamlet near Sorata], and the people turned it down because they were suspicious of it. We realized that our being Quakers helps enormously to break down such suspicions."

On the final day of the study tour some of us had a two-hour conversation with Dr. Stanley Blanco, an INELA Friend and Aymara doctor who did a residency at Northwestern. (He is the only Aymara we encountered who seemed comfortable speaking English.) He gave us an enlightening overview of medical problems and services in Bolivia and of some of the politics surrounding them. He gave a hearty endorsement to the clinic at Amacari, which he thought might well be staffed by Quakers and help significantly to strengthen the Quaker presence in the region, and in September 2000 he became the director of the project. He also helped Pam and Ken set up the family planning project, through the auspices of Dr. Finot, to use existing medical facilities in Sorata.

Education and Training

Education is a great need, and in its first years QBL gave grants to Quaker schools. Two of the schools closed the next year, however, and the QBL directors decided that giving grants to schools in such precarious condition is not wise. Current policy therefore precludes such grants. An exception was made because of a substantial bequest earmarked for the Quaker school in Coroico, as a result of which a new block of classrooms have been built. The school was thriving in 1999, in spite of there being a large new public school on the outskirts of town, but enrollment dropped 30 percent in 2000. As in Britain and the United States, a large majority of the pupils are non-Quakers. Unlike England and the U.S., tuition is very low in dollar terms ($30 to $40 per month, depending on the grade level), so a modest scholarship fund could make a big difference in the Quaker presence in the Quaker school. This would not be a possible project for QBL, but it might be of interest to Friends who could work through Central Yearly Meeting and Northwest Yearly Meeting, or through FCE and FWCC.

QBL makes a significant contribution to training women through its collaboration with CEPROMA. Their practical community-based training is enhanced by the requirements that project proposals be made by organized groups, that they be made according to straightforward guidelines, that projects have financial accounting, and that groups make regular reports. After working with QBL (especially if they also work with CEPROMA) a group is much better able to make an application to other agencies. This sort of empowerment is a significant part of QBL’s contribution.


The total amount of grants over the past five years is approaching $200,000, and the pace has increased because of increasing organization in the United States. Not only are there more proposals to consider, there are also more projects to visit in Bolivia. Since the time of the study tour in the summer of 1999, QBL has done a few things that are different from the projects we saw then. Two communities on the Altiplano, Alto PeƱas as well as ChuƱavi, have been given funds to establish trout farms in cold lakes and ponds, there being an excellent market for the fish in La Paz. Another recent project is growing flowers in the Zongo valley for the market in La Paz. QBL also provided funds for the update and repair of photovoltaic systems at outlying medical clinics in areas where there are no power lines. Water and power are often key ingredients to a decent life. In addition to the photovoltaic power, gasoline or diesel pumps have been provided in connection with projects for irrigation and for drinking water supply. We recently received a challenging proposal for after-school computational instruction for middle-school and high-school students, at a center near several schools in El Alto. No doubt QBL will continue to respond to the new and innovative initiatives proposed by the Aymara as ways to rise up from substandard to decent and healthy lifestyles. The same principles will continue to guide these new directions.

Newton Garver

Newton Garver is a member of the Board of Trustees of Quaker Bolivia Link. QBL can be reached at 2967 Lawrence St., San Diego, CA 92106