A Story About Community in Bolivia
Travel with me to Sucre, an old and beautiful city in the highlands of Bolivia. The city is full of historic buildings, lush parks, and a vibrant city culture. Its nickname is “chocolate capital” of the country.
But we can’t stay in Sucre. Just outside the city is a community where FH works called Lajastambo. It’s a place of violence and crime. Families live in homes with dirt floors and don’t have access to basic sanitation or drinking water. When it rains, the roads turn to mud.
Many of the local people first journeyed to Lajastambo from rural villages. They arrived in hope of a brighter future, but now parents in search of work leave their children behind. Rosa, a church and community leader who works alongside FH, told us, “There are many children in the neighborhood who are abandoned because their parents went away to work.” Most of the community’s children are responsible for earning money from a really early age. Few graduate from high school because their parents do not value education. This is a community where families still survive on less than $1 per day.
Sucre’s city beauty is easy to describe. Historic architecture? Walking paths through parks? Chocolate? But the poverty of Lajastambo is also clear. There are parts of Bolivia where the beauty of the natural landscape stands in stark contrast to the sadness of hungry children and the despair of their families. But Rosa, who says that some parts of life in Lajastambo are “terrible,” is also our first clue that community life in Lajastambo might hold more beauty and hope than an outsider might notice at first.
What is Community?
Writers and thinkers on the topic of community often throw around the term “social capital.” They’re referring to what the World Bank calls the “glue” of society. Social capital describes the network of relationships that exists in any community and the nature of the bonds between individuals and groups. In addition to lacking material resources, the poorest communities often suffer from social capital problems. Maybe there are strong bonds within family members, but families aren’t connected to each other. Or there aren’t links between the poor members of a community and the wealthier residents who could help them. The community glue isn’t sticky.
This breakdown in social capital is connected to higher rates of crime, drug use, and violence. Individuals are more likely to face depression and feel alienated from others. Without trusting, reciprocal relationships between community members, there is conflict. And without important relationships, the community might not recognize their rich collection of dreams and abilities that could help them all escape poverty. No solving problems. No ending poverty.
The famous work Voices of the Poor is a treasury of interviews from people in poverty around the world. As discussed in the book When Helping Hurts, the project revealed how much materially poor people describe life in poverty as a psychological experience of powerlessness, fear, hopelessness, and isolation. Life in poverty isn’t just about a lack of things, but about people feeling trapped and alone. How do you repair the social capital glue in their communities?
Rosa with her husband Carlos and daughter-in-law Evelin.
The Power of Community
FH has an assortment of stories of how we’ve seen communities transformed. Now let me tell you one about how Rosa’s church, a small congregation of around 50 members, is a pillar of hope and light in Lajastambo.
Lajastambo has real material and relational problems. FH partners with Rosa’s church to train community residents in nutrition, education, agriculture, and emergency response. And by helping the poorest members of the community with felt needs, the church has also gained opportunities to engage with other local problems.
For example, the neighborhood’s water shortage problem has become Rosa’s chance to meet struggling families, strengthen relationships, and tell her neighbors about hope in Jesus. The church’s care for their neighbors’ material problems and the people experiencing them means that her neighbors now call the church every time something big happens in the community. Once, Rosa intervened with some of her neighbors who were attempting to kill three young thieves. Her mediating saved three lives.
The church helps the community in other ways. Taking care of elderly community members. Teaching families how to practice healthy hygiene. Aiding those who are sick and arriving on the scene with support in emergencies.
And remember the children I mentioned before, whose parents leave them behind? While Rosa’s church prays for the parents to return, they also care for the children’s health and give them Christmas presents. They share the hope of Christ through Scripture and through actions of kindness and generosity.
The Beauty of Community
Are you starting to see the beauty in this community? Rosa and her church are showing the love of Christ by being servant leaders. In the process, they are repairing relationships and building friendships with their neighbors that bond the community and removes isolation. They are creating social capital “glue” needed to solve problems and find solutions! And by sharing the hope of Christ, they are offering an escape from powerlessness and fear.
Where do you come in?
The emergency food basket in our gift catalog is a direct result of relationships. Like Lajastambo, many communities in Bolivia struggle with child hunger and malnutrition. FH helps churches and leaders train families about agriculture and nutrition, but emergencies can be devastating. A parent loses a job. A health crisis steals a family’s savings.
The emergency food basket is a community’s solution to those emergencies. The emergency food basket lets the community ensure that children do not go hungry.
When you donate a food basket, FH and our partner churches and leaders come alongside a family. Parents gain the assurance that their children are fed. Avoiding a crisis means that the family can continue working toward longer-term goals. And you join FH, churches, and communities in a much longer story.
God is at work in Lajastambo. The thriving church is evidence of that, and he was crafting the community’s history long before FH arrived. He will continue inspiring the hopes and dreams of the people there long after FH leaves. Now you have the chance to help create the future that Lajastambo families have dreamed of.