Local Compassion: Helping Bolivia's Native Children Move Forward

By: Janet Root, Contributing Writer   |   Posted: February 10, 2005

Most indigenous Bolivians are poor subsistence farmers. Compassion sponsorship provides necessary tools to end that sad legacy. "Education is the most valuable benefit Rogelio (right) has received in the sponsorship program," claims his mom, Martina (center). 

Ruddy-cheeked Rogelio Guarachi stoops to pick potatoes with his mother and sisters among lavender lilacs and yellow wild flowers.

Rogelio's family members are subsistence farmers; his people, the indigenous Aymará have worked the Bolivian highlands for centuries in this manner. Passed down through generations, the livelihood, culture and language of the Aymará the Quechua and other indigenous peoples remain alive and well in Bolivia today.

Yet Rogelio and most indigenous people must contend with another legacy - extreme poverty.

Bolivia's Indigenous Poor: a Tragic Legacy

In Bolivia, which has the largest indigenous majority in Latin America, more than 70 percent of its native peoples live in extreme poverty. That number increases to 85 percent in the rural areas such as the community where eight-year-old Rogelio lives - about 30 miles northwest of Bolivia's capital city, La Paz.

Poverty among native peoples is a result of 500 years of European oppression, cite cultural experts. They also claim language, education and unemployment are the major barriers to economic success for today's native peoples.

Yet Rogelio has one advantage to help break down these barriers that his ancestors didn't have - his attendance at a Compassion project.

Speaking the Language of Success

More than half of the over 31,000 children registered with Compassion Bolivia are indigenous. Many of their families struggle to speak Spanish, Bolivia's official language. Native people who do not speak the language have great difficulty obtaining an education and finding employment.

"The Aymará Quechua and Guaranì °eople think and dream in their own cultures and language," says Mario Vasquez, Compassion Bolivia's Country Director. To support themselves successfully, "they must learn to listen and write in Spanish."

That's why at the Pucarani Student Center (BO-108), where Rogelio attends, project workers speak in Spanish and native languages so the children can become bilingual. The project staff workers also use music, theater and puppetry to teach the Word of God.

Compassion's bilingual instruction is a source of joy for Rogelio's grateful mother, Martina Salaz. "When he began attending the Pucarani Student Center, he couldn't understand Spanish or the Word of God," Martina says of her son. "Now he's able to understand just about everything."

"I love to read the Word of God," Rogelio adds. "I especially like to read the book of Daniel."

Compassionate Intervention Inspires Hope

Martina, her husband and six children, including little Rogelio, endure a harsh livelihood, farming the rocky, barren Andean plains. On a good week, Martina and her husband earn 80 bolivianos (about U.S.$10) selling cheese and potatoes in the market. It's not enough to keep the family fed and clothed.

"Without the sponsorship support, it would be difficult for us to get by," Martina says. But sponsorship has given Rogelio more than an economic boost.

"Education is the most valuable benefit (Rogelio) has received in the sponsorship program," Martina adds. "We live in extreme poverty and I hope he can change that for all of us one day!"

Building a New Ancestral Legacy

"Some day I'd like to become a math teacher," Rogelio says, smiling.

Encouraged by letters, Bible verses and family photos he receives from his American sponsors, Rogelio knows now that he can overcome his impoverished ancestral legacy.

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