Bolivia's tourism trade is growing, with more than 800,000 travelers coming to see its dramatic mountains, historic cities and rainforests in 2010, according to the World Bank. For this central South American nation, which has experienced financial hardship for many years, tourism represents a ray of hope, especially for Bolivian children.
Sixty percent of Bolivians live below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest countries in South America, and children face significant challenges, including exposure to violence, abuse and neglect, and a lack of education and health care. For indigenous groups, the statistics are even more dire.
As tourism has slowly increased, Bolivia has gained jobs; the World Travel and Tourism Council reported 123,000 new positions related to travel and tourism in 2012. Direct and indirect economic benefits of tourism made up 6.3 percent of Bolivia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011, and this share is increasing gradually.
Many people who travel to Bolivia hope to explore its luscious landscapes. Ecotourism is an important segment of Bolivia's travel industry, and the government has responded by launching a wide range of projects aimed at keeping these beautiful destinations unharmed for years to come and giving travelers more options for visiting the country without damaging the environment.
For example, the community of San José de Uchupiamonas and Conservation International partnered to create the Chalalán Ecolodge, a six-cabin lodge within Madidi National Park that can accommodate up to 28 guests. Here, travelers can explore the natural beauty of Bolivia through guided hikes, canoe trips and bird watching.
When travelers head to Bolivia to indulge in its rich culture and beautiful landscapes, they may not notice the hardships that residents contend with daily. Bolivia ranks below most Latin American nations in health care and development. Public education is traditionally weak, and many places lack clean water and basic sanitation. Bolivia's rate of income inequality is one of the highest in the world.
ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard traveled to Bolivia in May 2012 and met local families, who shared some of their hopes and dreams with her. Cochabamba's Early Child Development program, which supports the healthy development of children under 5, is a stepping stone toward a complete education and a fulfilling life.
As Bolivia continues to grow as a tourism destination, we hope to see awareness of its challenges spread as well. We rely on ChildFund supporters to keep the needs of Bolivian children and their families in the spotlight so that more children in this country will have sponsorship support that provides access to improved healthcare, nutrition and education.