La Paz

La Paz
Bolivia Urban High Plateau Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion

Roman Catholic

The Weather

  • The staff and children of a child development center pose in their meeting area. The center serves as an oasis of hope in a region filled with squalor and suffering. Bolivia children at front of church
  • The natural beauty surrounding La Paz and El Alto stands in stark contrast to the ugliness of poverty that pervades them. For many Bolivians, every day is a life or death struggle. Bolivia market vendors
  • The little money people make selling vegetables and handmade goods at the local marketplace is not nearly enough to support their families. Yet it is their only source of income. Bolivia woman with cooking pots
  • School is not an option for some Bolivian children because they are required to help support their families. Bolivia boy selling food
  • Children enrolled in Compassion-assisted child development centers receive much-needed help with their schoolwork – help that few of them receive at home. Bolivia girl drawing
  • Thousands of registered children in urban Bolivia are still waiting to be sponsored. Bolivia children playing on road

Overview: Urban High Plateau Bolivia

The sister cities of La Paz and El Alto, with a combined population of 2 million, dominate Bolivia’s urban high plateau.

As recently as 30 years ago, El Alto was a sleepy suburb of cosmopolitan La Paz. Today it is a booming slum town of ramshackle houses for hundreds of thousands of indigenous Aymará families. The Aymará came from the rural highlands where they worked in silver and tin mines until widespread closures forced them to head for cities in search of work. The Aymará brought to El Alto (“The Heights”) their hopes for a better life along with their traditional Andean customs, including a native language that keeps them economically and socially isolated from neighboring La Paz.

La Paz is a bowl-shaped city ringed by towering, snow-capped Andean peaks. At 12,000 feet, it is frequently labeled the highest capital city in the world. In actuality, the Bolivian capital lies in Sucre, 260 miles to the southeast. La Paz, nevertheless, is home to Bolivia’s executive and legislative branches and is undeniably the pulsing commercial and cultural heart of the republic.

La Paz is known for its churches, skyscrapers, museums, festivals and open-air markets where indigenous culture is on display. Aymarán Yatiris — traditional healers who use incantation and herbs such as the coca leaf — make for a colorful sight on market days in their bowler hats and shawls, selling curios and remedies.

The mountains and glaciers that ring La Paz-El Alto — long a source of pride — have become cause for concern. Water taps in urban areas are running dry and population growth is just partly to blame. The disappearance of several majestic glaciers, which Bolivians have long depended on for water, electricity and crop irrigation, is thought to be the culprit. The towering Illimani, which locals call the “guardian” of La Paz, is the most visible snowcapped peak in retreat.


Culture Corner


Bolivian beef kabobs.


  • 1 beef heart sliced into thin fillets (or 2 lbs. of cubed beef steak)
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp. crumbled oregano
  • 3-4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 large yellow chili pepper, finely chopped without seeds
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin


In a large bowl mix the vinegar, oil, salt, parsley, oregano, garlic, chili pepper and ground cumin. Reserve a small amount of the mixture for basting later.

Add meat to the remainder of the sauce and marinate for several hours or overnight.

Remove the meat, salt lightly, and thread on skewers. Sear over a hot grill for approximately 3 minutes per side, brushing with the reserved vinegar mix. Serve with peanut sauce (below).



  • 1 cup roasted, ground peanuts
  • 2 tbsp. smashed ground yellow pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • ½ cup oil
  • Salt to taste


Simmer all ingredients in oil for about 15 minutes. Brush over cooked beef kabobs and serve.


Life in Urban High Plateau Bolivia

Two of Bolivia’s largest cities, La Paz and El Alto, are in the high plateau region. More than 2 million people live in these cities. Until about 30 years ago, El Alto was just a small suburb of La Paz. Today hundreds of thousands of people live there. They come from Bolivia’s rural high plateau, desperately seeking jobs.

Many of the impoverished families in the region live in adobe homes with corrugated-tin roofing. They have no sanitation, no running water, and no electricity. Filthy conditions give rise to all kinds of illness and disease.

Children are taught to share adult responsibilities as soon as they are old enough. Some help their mothers sell goods at the marketplace. Others are left at home to care for their younger siblings.

Children at Home

Broken families are very common in this region. Socioeconomic problems cause separation and divorce, and children are often confused and discouraged when families disintegrate. Children are not often encouraged to set and achieve goals and have hope and plans for their lives as they grow.


Community Issues and Concerns Bolivia Community

The urban infrastructure here is sagging under the weight of immigration. More than 70 percent of El Alto families live in poverty. Many children suffer from malnutrition, respiratory infections and scabies. Garbage collection, telephone service, safe drinking water and jobs are a luxury in La Paz-El Alto. Indigenous migrants consider themselves fortunate to find menial work such as housekeeping, bricklaying, and hawking wares on the streets of La Paz.

Local Needs and Challenges

In the overcrowded slum areas, both physical and psychological child abuse is common within families. Children are often neglected by their parents, who have great spiritual and financial needs.

Peer pressure and negative environments cause temptations for teens. Addictive networking games, alcohol, unhealthy use of the Internet and other issues threaten to damage youth physically, spiritually and emotionally. Parents struggle to positively influence their teens. The church tries to provide guidance on how to avoid these problems and behaviors.


Schools and Education Education in Bolivia

Bolivian law requires children to attend school from February to November, and 74 percent in this urban region do — for a while. Only 25 percent of La Paz-El Alto children go on to earn a high school diploma, persevering through a daily gauntlet of gang and drug pressures, and chaotic classrooms. The student-to-teacher ratio in La Paz-El Alto schools is 344 pupils per instructor.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

In the urban area of La Paz-El Alto, Compassion provides numerous safe havens for children to escape from the violence and dangerous influences they see on the streets. At the centers, children learn practical lessons in health and nutrition. They receive tutoring that is not possible in their overcrowded schools. Most important, they learn that God loves them and has a plan for their lives.


Working Through the Local Church

Local churches in urban Bolivia offer ideal entry points for Compassion’s ministry. In communities where poverty, neglect and suffering are the order of the day, churches provide the most valuable resource of all: God’s love. By partnering with these churches, Compassion is able to show people in cities like La Paz and El Alto what God’s love looks like in action.

Compassion helps churches expand their outreach by becoming child development centers – places where children can go to escape the bitter realities of everyday life. At these centers, children receive physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment. They are introduced to a better way of living. They are given hope for a brighter future.

How Compassion Works in Bolivia Compassion in Bolivia

Compassion’s work in Bolivia began in 1975. Today more than 62,100 children are being served by 204 child development centers throughout the country. Young lives are being changed daily in these centers, thanks to the generosity of Compassion’s donors. Yet for all of our impact, much work remains to be done. Currently thousands of registered children in Bolivia are waiting to be sponsored.

The Role of a Partnership Facilitator

The Partnership Facilitator serves as a bridge between the local church, which understands the needs of the urban Bolivian community, and Compassion, which has the expertise and resources to meet those needs.

The facilitator talks to church leaders and people in the community to discover their unique problems and challenges, especially those concerning children and their families. The facilitator then works with the staff and lay people of local churches, familiarizing them with Compassion’s specially designed curriculum and helping them understand how to best reach the children in the program. This process often involves tweaking the program to fit the needs of a specific community. The facilitator then oversees the program, addressing issues as they arise.


Prayer Requests

  • Pray for the protection of children and teenagers from gangs; that God would give them wisdom and surround them with wholesome friends.
  • Pray that children abandoned by parents who leave La Paz-El Alto to find work in other countries receive the love and protection they deserve.
  • Pray for the migrant families struggling to make a better life in an urban culture foreign to them.