Beginning in the second century B.C., the Tiwanakan culture developed at the southern end of Lake Titicaca. This culture, centered on and named for the great city of Tiwanaku, developed advanced architectural and agricultural techniques before it disappeared around 1200, perhaps because of extended drought. In about 1450, the Quechua-speaking Incas entered the area of the Bolivian highlands and added it to their empire. They controlled the area until the Spanish conquest in 1525.
During most of the Spanish colonial period, this territory was called "Upper Peru" or "Charcas" and was under the authority of the Viceroy of Lima. Local governments came from the Audiencia de Charcas located in Chuquisaca (La Plata, modern Sucre). Bolivian silver mines produced much of the Spanish empire's wealth, and Potosi, site of the famed Cerro Rico ("Rich Mountain"), was for many years the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic wars, sentiment against colonial rule grew. Independence was proclaimed in 1809, but 16 years of struggle followed before the establishment of the republic, named for Simon Bolívar, on Aug. 6, 1825.
Independence did not bring stability. For nearly 60 years, coups and short-lived constitutions dominated Bolivian politics. Bolivia's weakness was demonstrated during the War of the Pacific (1879-83), when it lost its seacoast and the adjoining rich nitrate fields to Chile.
An increase in the world price of silver brought Bolivia a measure of relative prosperity and political stability in the late 1800s. During the early part of the 20th century, tin replaced silver as the country's most important source of wealth. A succession of governments controlled by the economic and social elites followed laissez-faire capitalist policies through the first third of the century.
The period from 1952 to 1964 was marked by significant economic and social reforms in the country and a new constitution was adopted in 1967; however, civil unrest continues to dominate Bolivia's politics and the country remains one of the poorest in Latin America.
Source: The World Factbook, 2014.
The typical school year runs from February through November. Eight years are required for primary school then another four years are necessary to graduate from high school.
In the face of poverty and long-term political instability in Bolivia, the educational attitude of Bolivians is positive. People view education as a tool to improve their incomes and a way to improve their quality of life.
Even though an education is a basic requirement to get a better job, it is still considered a privilege to have an educated person in the family. Those who are educated enjoy better health care for themselves and their children. They also have better possibilities to improve their incomes and to obtain a job. Unemployment remains as high as 60 percent. Additionally, many of those who work are overqualified and underpaid for the jobs they are doing.
Many Bolivians who attend school do not complete their secondary education. In recent years, many adult educators have been working toward social justice, focusing students on economic opportunities while maintaining their indigenous cultures. The process, particularly for women and minorities, is complex due to the socio-cultural context in which the learning takes place. However, when the educational model takes daily life within the local cultures into account, true learning and change can be seen.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government respects this right in practice. Roman Catholicism predominates and the constitution recognizes it as the official religion. The Roman Catholic Church receives support from the State (approximately 300 priests receive small government stipends), in part to compensate the Church for properties expropriated in the past.
A notary public is required to certify fund-raising reports for religious groups. This requirement was designed to protect churches against allegations of money laundering or of receiving money from drug sources. It also requires groups to consult civil authorities to address potential concerns, such as traffic, before conducting public gatherings such as outdoor celebrations.
Only Catholic religious instruction is provided in public schools. By law it is optional and it is described as such in curricular materials; however, students face strong peer pressure to participate. Non-Catholic instruction is not available in public schools for students of other faiths.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Holidays and Festivals
Bolivian art includes Indian relics and other forms of folk expression. Like their Tiwanaku ancestors, Bolivians still create textiles by spinning and weaving; those from each region have their own styles.
Each region in Bolivia has a distinct musical tradition. Music from the Altiplano sounds sorrowful, while music in the warmer Tarija sounds cheerful. Dances such as the cueca, auqui-auqui and tinku hold a reverent place in popular culture.
Sports and Games
Carnaval, Feb. 7 and 8: This is one of the most flamboyant and dazzling festivals in South America, filled with dancing and feasting. Carnaval occurs just before Lent, the season of fasting leading up to Easter. The largest Carnaval celebration takes place in Oruro.
Independence Day, Aug. 6
Christmas, Dec. 25: Bolivians prepare the nativity scene and the Christmas tree. Church members present special dramas and choral events.
Bolivians play soccer, marbles, checkers, group games, outdoor racquetball and basketball.
Bolivians eat meat, rice, potatoes, shredded lettuce, hot sauce, soup, fruit, cheese and milk.
Chuno is a soup eaten by the Aymara Indians of the high country. Chuno refers to freeze-dried potatoes but you can substitute cubed potatoes.
- 2 cups chopped lamb or chicken
- 4 cups chicken broth
- paprika and salt to taste
Cook all ingredients in chicken broth. If you eat bread with your chuno, you will be imitating the Bolivian people of the lower altitudes, rather than the Aymaras of the Altiplano.
Compassion in Bolivia
- Hola (Hello)
- Tchau (Goodbye)
- ¿Como está? (How are you?)
- ari (yes)
- waliki (well)
- Askini punijuttata (Welcome)
- Imaynalla kasanki? (Hi, how are you?)
- Ripusani (used for Goodbye; literally means, "I am leaving.")
- Wuaj dia kama (See you later)
- Imaynalla? (How are you?)
- Kamisaki? (Hello, how are you?)
- Yaqhaurkama (used for Goodbye; literally means, "I am leaving.")
- Waliki (See you later)
Bolivia Facts and Figures
Compassion began its ministry in Bolivia in 1975, when the Child Sponsorship Program was started. In 1998, the Leadership Development Program began, followed by the Child Survival Program in 2008.
Compassion Bolivia is now geographically positioned in almost 70 percent of the Bolivian territory and has built a positive reputation both inside and outside of the evangelical community.
Child Sponsorship Program
Children typically meet at the child development center 4 hours a day, 3 days a week. Adolescents ages 15 and over meet twice a week for 3 hours a day.
Children receive Bibles or a portion of the scriptures while participating in the program, up to three times.
Each child receives a snack and lunch at the child development center twice a week. A snack consists of an egg sandwich with tea, fruit shake with crackers, fruit salad, oatmeal or bread. Lunch consists of vegetable soup, a lentil burger, salad, rice, dessert and apple juice. Both the snack and lunch menus are prepared by a nutritionist.
The children participate in sports teams and church and regional retreats. Adolescents ages 12 and older also participate in service activities, include cleaning up town squares and painting, campouts, youth counseling and technical training, such as computer training, pastry making, dressmaking and English.
Parents participate in monthly meetings where the Bible is shared and information about the center is given. We also offer family programs and bring in specialists on various topics that are of interest to families, such as discipline, parents' roles, marriage, sexuality, etc. There are nine topics covered in a year, one topic per month. We have social activities and celebrate occasions such as Mother's Day and Father's Day. And in some cases, we have health campaigns that provide medical care, such as dental and ophthalmologic care, to the parents and siblings of sponsored children.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Bolivia.
10,631,486 (2014 estimate)
Spanish 60.7% (official), Quechua 21.2% (official), Aymara 14.6% (official), foreign languages 2.4%, other 1.2% (2001 census)
Roman Catholic 95%, Protestant (Evangelical Methodist) 5%
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Varies with altitude; humid and tropical to cold and semiarid
|Percentage of population urbanized
||67% (2010 estimate)
||Male: 65.78 years
Female: 71.45 years
|Under-5 mortality rate
||41/1,000 (2012 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$5,500 (2013 estimate)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||15,900 (2012 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day
||16% (2007-11 study)
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014