A Glimpse of Poverty in Bolivia’s Urban High Plateau
In urban areas of Bolivia, the largest problem faced by people in poverty is lack of job opportunities. Other worries include:
- More than 70 percent of El Alto families live in poverty.
- Illegal slums and poverty belts create entire neighborhoods of poor people.
- Neighborhoods become nests of crime, gangs and drug trafficking.
- Many indigenous residents migrate from the country to the city searching for the few jobs that exist, causing slums to swell.
Basic needs in urban high plateau Bolivia:
- sewage services
- running water
In the Urban High Plateau Region of Bolivia
Geography & Climate
The sister cities of La Paz and El Alto, with a combined population of 2 million, dominate Bolivia’s urban high plateau.
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. The actual Bolivian capital lies in Sucre, 260 miles to the southeast.
Until about 30 years ago, El Alto was just a small suburb of La Paz. Today hundreds of thousands of people from Bolivia’s rural high plateau who are desperately seeking jobs live there.
- Many of the impoverished families in the region live in adobe homes with corrugated-tin roofing. Filthy conditions give rise to all kinds of illness and disease.
- The heads of households are absent 12 to 18 hours per day, leaving children alone and unprotected.
- Children are taught to share adult responsibilities as soon as they are old enough.
- Three out of every 10 children in urban areas work to help support their families.
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 or have hope and plans for their lives as they grow.
Living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood increases the likelihood of a child joining a gang or being recruited as a drug dealer, an accomplice to criminal activity, or a victim of human trafficking.
Issues and Concerns
- The urban infrastructure is sagging under the weight of immigration.
- Many children suffer from malnutrition, respiratory infections and scabies.
- Indigenous migrants consider themselves fortunate to find menial work such as housekeeping, bricklaying, and hawking wares on the streets of La Paz.
- Poor urban areas often lack garbage collection, telephone service, safe drinking water and jobs.
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.
Safe places for children
Peer pressure and negative environments cause temptations for teens. Addictive networking games, alcohol, unhealthy use of the Internet and other issues threaten to damage youths physically, spiritually and emotionally.
Schools and Education
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.
Compassion focuses on supporting teenagers through vocational training, which allows them to develop economically productive skills. They participate in entrepreneurial fairs, seminars and partnerships with institutes that focus on micro-enterprise.
Most important, they learn that God loves them and has a plan for their lives.
What Compassion Sponsorship Provides
In Bolivia’s urban high plateau region, Compassion partners with local churches to bring help and hope to registered children in need, providing them with:
- regular nutritious meals and snacks
- health checkups and medical care as needed
- the support needed to attend school
- practical lessons in health and nutrition
- safe water
- an introduction to a better way of living