Santa Cruz De La Sierra

Santa Cruz De La Sierra
Bolivia Tropics Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion

Roman Catholic

The Weather

  • The children and staff of a child development center in the Bolivian tropics pose in front of their church. The center is an oasis of hope for the children. Bolivia children outside church
  • With few other means to support themselves, families in the region sell vegetables and handmade goods in the local marketplace. The money they make is barely enough to live on. Bolivia market stalls
  • Poverty-stricken families in Bolivia’s tropics region cannot afford cars – or even public transportation. They travel by foot. To transport something, they use a horse-drawn cart. Bolivia man and boy in horse cart
  • Many families in the Bolivian tropics live in unimaginable squalor. Their houses are little more than poorly constructed shacks. Bolivia smiling girl in home
  • At Compassion-assisted child development centers, children receive much-needed help with their schoolwork – help their parents are unable to give. Bolivia girl writing a sponsor letter
  • Thanks to Compassion’s generous donors, young lives are being changed every day in child development centers throughout Bolivia. Bolivia children holding letters

Overview: Tropical Bolivia

The eastern half of Bolivia is a vast and steamy tropic and home to more than 20 ethnic groups with distinct customs and traditions. The most prominent are the Guaraní, the Aymará, and the Quechua. The Quechua, who account for 34 percent of the population, tend to be the poorest and in greatest need of social services.

Living conditions are dire for most all Compassion-assisted children in tropical rural and urban Bolivia. The region is recovering from a deadly El Niño deluge in 2007, a rainy season that produced the worst flooding in 25 years, destroying homes, croplands and cattle.

This is Bolivia’s most sparsely populated region, yet it produces half of the country’s food. Its meandering rivers, grasslands and jungles contain 40 percent of the earth’s known wildlife. Toucans, piranhas, tree-hanging sloths, and pink dolphins have found haven here.

Tropical rural and urban Bolivia, also known as the eastern lowlands, is rich in natural mineral reserves, oil and gas deposits, fertile rice fields and thriving cattle ranches. The riches do not extend, however, to its poorest inhabitants.

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, with 1.8 million people, is the largest city in Bolivia. It is considered a major financial, fashion and modeling hub with residents priding themselves on winning the most Bolivian beauty pageant titles. In December, the warmest month of the year, fragrant winds carry the scent of the jungle into this tropic city. In August, the month for chaqueos (“slash and burn” forest-clearing techniques used in northern Bolivia), the same winds fill Santa Cruz with a smoke so thick that it causes respiratory problems for children.


Culture Corner

Bolivia Culture


These puffy cheese bread balls are native to eastern Bolivia. Cuñapés are chewy, moist and, with yucca flour, considered distinctly Bolivian. Tropical urban and rural roadside vendors will sell them from heated containers, but they are best eaten hot from the oven.


  • 1 cup yucca flour (also known as manioc starch, sold in Latin markets)
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 3 cups grated cheese (any meltable cheese, such as queso blanco, mozzarella or Monterey jack)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk


Sift yucca flour with sugar and salt.

Add cheese and mix with a fork.

Whisk egg and egg yolk then add to mixture, stirring until it turns to dough.

Form dough into small balls.

With your index finger poke a small hole on one side of each ball and place balls, 1 inch apart, on the side with the hole, on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until puffed and slightly golden at the edges.


Life in Tropical Bolivia

The tropical region of Bolivia is a study in contrasts. Comprising the eastern half of the country, the region produces much of Bolivia’s food supply. Forty percent of the Earth’s known wildlife lives in the rivers, grasslands and jungles of tropical Bolivia. The region boasts a wealth of natural resources, including mineral reserves and oil and natural gas deposits.

This region, the largest in the country, is 430 meters above sea level. It has humid and hot weather most of the year and is a flat area with much vegetation and many rivers. It is one of the most developed regions in the country. The main language is Spanish, but Guaraní is also spoken by a few. For all of its rich natural resources, though, the Bolivian tropics region is a place of abject poverty.

Children at Home

Children in the Bolivian tropics grow up in crowded houses made of wood planks, with palm branches for roofs. A typical home has dirt floors, no windows, and a single room that serves as a sleeping area for families with as many as 12 members. Cooking is done outside over a wood fire. Few homes have running water or sanitation, so families walk to nearby rivers for basic needs.


Community Issues and Concerns Bolivia Community

Many families survive on as little as $50 a month working as farmhands, bricklayer assistants or street vendors. Children will often work alongside their parents or stay home to care for younger siblings. In some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the tropical eastern lowlands, 9 percent of the children die before age 5 from preventable diseases, waterborne illnesses and malnutrition.

Flood-related health concerns persist, particularly among the region’s poorest children who suffer from respiratory diseases, skin infections and diarrhea. A spike in dengue fever has prompted the government to launch a campaign to prevent the spread of water- and sanitation-related diseases.

Local Needs and Challenges

Humidity and hot weather are cause serious problems because they promote skin diseases. Roughly 45 percent of the children in this area are sick with skin problems, including funguses. Asthma and colds are other common, humidity-related illnesses.

Domestic violence is also a problem here. Rates of violence, abuse, gang activity and delinquency are all very high. Alcohol is sold freely in several places, which adds fuel to these fires. Youth mature quickly and there are many teenage mothers.


Schools and Education Education in Bolivia

In Bolivia, where the academic calendar year runs from February to November, children between the ages of 6 and 14 are required to attend school. In the rural tropics, where schools are few and far between, dropout rates and illiteracy are higher than the national average. Until the recent introduction of government-mandated bilingual education, lessons were often taught only in Spanish at the exclusion of indigenous children who speak Aymará or Quechua.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

Compassion-assisted child development centers in tropical rural and urban Bolivia provide registered children with a place to learn, grow and study. Children whose families have never been able to offer them clean water, health care or an education are provided access to these necessities. Compassion-assisted children attend health classes, tutoring sessions and Bible studies at the center. They also spend time writing to and praying for their sponsors.


Working Through the Local Church

Compassion is working with local churches in the Bolivian tropics to create child development centers throughout the region. These centers provide children with a place to learn, grow and study. They offer children access to clean water, health care, and an education – things their families can’t provide. Many children receive their only meal of the day at the center.

Compassion’s child development centers serve as an oasis for Bolivian children – a place where they can feel safe, loved and cared for. They are sources of hope in a hopeless land. Considering the dire surroundings in which many Compassion-assisted children live, the value of these centers cannot be overstated.

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

Compassion’s Partnership Facilitators bring different skill sets to their jobs. Yet they share one common trait: a passion to help children. Ronald Choque saw that passion firsthand in the child development center he attended when he was young. Today Ronald shares his own passion as a Partnership Facilitator in the Bolivian tropics.

“My passion is that every child will discover his or her gifts and … understand that God has a purpose for his or her life, and that he or she has every necessary resource (gifts and talents) to develop and reach what God has planned,” he says. “This turns into hope and an opportunity for each child who is surrounded by a physical, economical and spiritual poverty.”


Prayer Requests

  • Pray that children in urban Santa Cruz, where it is common to join gangs and abuse alcohol and drugs, will make wise decisions.
  • Parents who work as farmhands and laborers cannot earn enough to cover their family’s needs. Please pray for provision.
  • Pray that Compassion center workers throughout the country will be able to provide a safe, loving environment for the children.