Urban High Plateau Region

  • Most of the people who live in high plateau urban regions are migrants from the country. Children on a hillside
  • Children are very enthusiastic when they attend center activities. Children playing a game
  • At Compassion-assisted child development centers, children eat, play, do their homework and learn. Children doing homework
  • Children in the program have the opportunity to be known, loved and protected, in spite of extreme poverty. Children praying
  • It's not uncommon for eight or more people to live in one-room houses, with two beds at the most. Family in front of their urban home
  • These children are given the tools they need to grow in every way: mind, body, heart and spirit. Children in a classroom at the child development center
  • Houses in impoverished cities are usually very small and made of adobe or brick. Small brick homes




Roman Catholic


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:

Children in a Classroom
  • 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:

  • electricity
  • 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.

Family in front of home

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

Family stability

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.