Bolivia is characterized by its rich cultural heritage and abundant indigenous population. It is also recognized as one of South America’s poorest countries. The correlation between poverty and ethnicity is strong. Indigenous groups are often marginalized and do not have easy access to education and health services due to geographic, cultural and economic barriers. For example, only 53 percent of indigenous children completed primary school compared to 69 percent of the non-indigenous.
Being a child in Bolivia can be extremely challenging; six of every 10 children have unmet basic needs, and half of the youth population live in poverty. In Bolivia, three out of four children suffer from physical, emotional or sexual abuse within the home, often associated with high levels of alcoholism in communities. Many children face abandonment due to migration of their parents and older siblings.
ChildFund has served children in Bolivia since 1979.
Healthy mothers have healthier babies, but in Bolivia many women die in childbirth annually. ChildFund trains birth attendants and supports local health centers so that knowledgeable health practitioners are available to help avoid obstetric emergencies and to provide life-saving assistance when they occur.
Community health volunteers are trained to educate families about how to prevent life-threatening illnesses such as the acute respiratory illnesses and diarrhea that are the main causes of death of children under 5. Malnutrition is also an issue, so volunteers monitor children’s growth and educate their parents about adequate nutrition. Volunteers are also trained in recognizing danger signs that warrant referral to the formal health system in time for professional treatment.
ChildFund Bolivia’s Early Childhood Development programs complement its malnutrition efforts by helping parents become knowledgeable about their children’s early development, beginning with breastfeeding and feeding relationships.
ChildFund trains youth leaders and volunteer Guide Mothers for in-home work evaluating the development of children ages 0 to 5 and teaching parents and caregivers how to understand and promote their children’s development. Early Childhood Development centers, which are environments designed specifically to support the development of preschool-age children, continue the process of educating parents about child development and parenting while also depending on the parents’ participation in the running of the centers.
Once children enter the formal school system, they continue to benefit from ChildFund’s after-school programs in ChildFund-supported community centers, offering academic support, leadership training and other educational opportunities. “Everyone at the community center has supported me in one way or another; now it’s my opportunity to guide and help the new generation,” says Berta, age 19, who now studies at university thanks to after-school programs that focus on math, language and other core areas not typically found in the Bolivian education system.
Helping a community transform itself requires the community’s primary resource: its people, of all ages. In Bolivia, ChildFund works with children, youth and community members to create environments that are safe for children. A group comprising a cross-section of the community’s people might create plans for improving public safety in schools and neighborhoods, for example, and work with local authorities to implement them. Child and youth clubs have improved playgrounds, waste collection and street lighting. Parents work with children and youth to create child protection plans for their communities.