Bolivia Rural High Plateau Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion

Roman Catholic

The Weather

  • Children in a child development center in rural Bolivia gather outside their meeting area. The center offers them a refuge from the poverty and despair of their daily lives. Bolivia child on steps of CDC
  • These sponsored children in Bolivia enjoy a nutritious meal at a Compassion-assisted child development center. Bolivia children eating
  • Some children in rural Bolivia walk as long as two hours each way to be a part of Compassion’s child development centers. Some of the roads they travel can be treacherous. Bolivia children walking on road
  • Homes in rural Bolivia have no running water. Families must get their water from wells that are not always safe. Bolivia girl wearing sweater
  • The harsh climate of rural Bolivia adds to the misery of those of who live there. Families must protect themselves from the strong winds and relentless sun that batter the region. Bolivia children sitting on step
  • A typical house in rural Bolivia is made of adobe and has a corrugated-tin roof – but no running water or sanitation. Bolivia woman walking between homes

Overview: High Plateau Rural Bolivia

For people in the Altiplano, or high plain, of Bolivia, life can be a test of endurance. This land of extremes is home to most of Bolivia’s indigenous Aymará and Quechua people, who live against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains and economic uncertainty.

The Aymará and Quechua subscribe to traditional Andean beliefs. Reverence is given to community healers, ritual, divination and herbs, particularly the coca leaf, which has a central role in social customs and religious ceremonies. The Altiplano is the birthplace of most Bolivian music, art and dances known around the world. It is where the llama was domesticated and potato plant cultivated. The potato, of which hundreds of varieties are harvested in the high plateau, is a dietary staple.

The Altiplano can be cold and bleak. Indigenous women, no matter the weather, will wear voluminous skirts, shawls and bowler caps.

A lack of employment has triggered a mass exodus from the rural highlands. Widespread closures of silver and tin mines — once the foundation of the economy — have forced many Quechan and Aymarán families to migrate to cities in search of a better life. Sadly, parents moving their families to urban areas are not finding the jobs and riches they hoped for. In most Bolivian cities Spanish is the language of education and commerce. The Aymarán and Quechan speak their own languages, which compounds their economic isolation.


Culture Corner


This simple but tasty dish features quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), a high-protein, grain-like seed consumed regularly in western Bolivia. Quinoa is available in most U.S. supermarkets. Be sure to rinse the grain well before cooking to remove a slightly bitter coating.


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups water


Pour 1 cup quinoa into a fine strainer; rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Put rinsed quinoa into a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium heat; cook, shaking pan occasionally, until quinoa dries and turns golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Add toasted quinoa to 3 cups boiling water and cook until liquid is absorbed (about 15 or 20 minutes). Add sugar and mix well. Sprinkle with cinnamon; serve it hot or cold as a dessert.


Life in the Rural High Plateau Region of Bolivia

Life is full of hardship for people in the rural high plateau of Bolivia. Most of Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara and Quechua people live in this region. They are among the most impoverished people in the world. Ninety-five percent of the families in the region live in extreme poverty. What little income they do generate comes from growing potatoes, barley and quinoa on land that’s not very suitable for farming.

The region’s climate is cold and harsh. Indigenous women wear long skirts, shawls and bowler caps year round. Men wear hand-knit chulos, which are wool caps with earflaps, for protection from strong winds and the relentless sun. The living conditions in the region have become so dire that many families have migrated to Bolivia’s cities in search of a better life.

Children at Home

Children in the Bolivian highlands live in houses made of adobe without plumbing or electricity, clean drinking water, or basic sanitation. Houses on the sprawling high plateau are spaced far apart and — to the uneducated eye — are spacious. In reality, multiple families typically live under one roof. Public buses, the primary mode of transportation in the rural highlands, don’t necessarily make daily stops. The fortunate have bicycles; others walk.


Community Issues and Concerns bolivia high plateu rural community

Travelers come to the high plateau for its otherworldly landscapes, festivals and ruins. And here is where one finds the world’s largest salt flats, highest navigable lake (Titicaca), oldest ski lift, highest ski resort and most vibrant culture. Despite the region’s raw beauty, however, people of the Altiplano are among the most impoverished on Earth. An estimated 95 percent live in abject poverty. Families get by on farming — coaxing potatoes, barley and quinoa from the arid land — and by selling handmade woven textiles and earthenware pots.

Local Needs and Challenges

Public transportation is scarce in rural Bolivia. Some children walk great distances, in unsafe conditions, to their Compassion-assisted child development center. When the region floods, most of the children can’t get to their center.

The lack of potable water is another urgent concern. People are forced to drink from streams and bad wells. The result is frequent outbreaks of illness and disease. When the closest medical facility is more than 30 miles away, even minor illnesses can turn serious.


Schools and Education bolivia high plateu rural education

In Bolivia’s rural high plateau, getting an education is a challenge. Children, by law, are required to attend school February through November. But the region’s sky-high dropout and illiteracy rates tell a different story. Schools are scarce and falling apart. Most have no windows, lights, restrooms, water or heat. Because families in this area are so poor, many parents simply do not allow their children to go to school as they are needed more urgently at home to work the fields or provide child care for younger siblings.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

In the rural high plateau, Compassion centers offer twice-a-month medical checkups to registered children and educate parents on specific treatments and basic health care. In a land with scant transportation and no school buses, children must make hour-long walks to attend school. Under the guidance of caring Compassion staffers, children receive tutoring not possible in underfunded schools and enjoy a safe haven in which to learn, grow and study.


Working Through the Local Church

Compassion is partnering with local churches throughout rural Bolivia to create much-needed child development centers. At these centers, Bolivia’s most vulnerable population is cared for physically, emotionally and spiritually. Many children receive their only meal of the day at their local center. For them, the center is home and its staff is family. The center also provides medical care that Bolivian children can get nowhere else.

Local churches are ideal ministry partners because they recognize the needs and potential of their communities. They are able to implement Compassion’s ministry resources to their fullest effect. Together Compassion and the local church are changing tens of thousands of young lives throughout Bolivia.

How Compassion Works in Bolivia bolivia high plateu rural 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

German Caceres is a Partnership Facilitator in rural Bolivia. German personally oversees 14 Compassion-assisted child development centers in the region. Traveling between centers can be an adventure. Driving a car is risky during the rainy season due to flooding and mudslides. Public transportation in the region is unreliable at best. Feral dogs roam the streets, which makes walking a last resort. Yet German will not be deterred.

Driven by a deep and abiding love for children, German works as a liaison between Compassion and the local church. By drawing on the resources each has to offer, German is able to develop centers that will make a real difference in the lives of Bolivia’s children most in need.


Prayer Requests

  • Rural schools lack equipment and teachers. Please pray that the government might provide more resources.
  • Drought can destroy crops in a season. Please pray for provision, so that parents who depend on the harvest to feed their families may find a way to provide.
  • Pray for the safety and protection of children and teenagers who must walk great distances to and from school each day.