Friday, March 13, 2015

Differing Nations and Differing Approaches

Written by Serin Hasan

Despite the fact that Bolivia is still one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it is one of the countries that, especially in the past year, has really thrived. After living here for nearly two months now, I have realised just how disproportionate this progress has been. While commuting daily on the newly installed cable car connecting the urban metropolis of La Paz to El Alto, which, although being one of the fasting growing cities in the world is still very basic, its hard not to be struck by the contrast. With no visible street names and mostly informal businesses, ‘Alteños’ somehow manage to organise themselves surprisingly well. There’s budding entrepreneurs on every corner filing a gap in the market that you wouldn’t even know existed. It is this entrepreneurial spirit that has allowed Bolivia to enjoy such low unemployment rates, and it is this informal and often spontaneous way of doing business that we as British volunteers have had to fit in to. Especially coming from a nation bound health and safety regulations and red tape.

A deep contrast: to the left, a view of La Paz from the newly-built Teleferico; to the right, the countryside of El Alto.

We learnt this lesson of working with informality early on in the cohort when a workshop we had planned fell through due to miscommunication. But we used this opportunity to talk to the producers and work out their priorities. They shed some light on issues that pervaded their day-to-day life. In particular, their awareness of the importance of ending cycles of violence and gender inequality as well as their focus wanting a better future for their children, encouraged me to realise that the work we were doing with them was really wanted and needed. They understood that they could be the generation in which opinions and stereotypes could change, and had a determination to become strong role models for not only their daughters but their sons as well, representing the fact that mothers were just as capable of becoming the breadwinner as the fathers. Adjusting these traditional perceptions of men and women is crucial for empowering the women to hope for a better future, and including the men and future generations in this conversation is equally as crucial as without cooperation of men, who consist of half the population, we cannot hope to overcome gender inequality. The producers also had a real interest in what we personally had experienced in terms of gender inequality in Britain, allowing both parties to appreciate that fundamentally the story of inequality is the same around the world.

Workshop on Gender Equality in El Alto

It is this area of gender equality and empowerment that I have chosen to focus on in my short time in Bolivia working with Focapaci, our project partner. Working on commercialisation and empowerment to give the women the tools and knowledge to allow them to gain a sustainable source of income and allow for independence. We are aiming to transform the producers association into something more than just a vehicle to get vegetable orders and fill them, but are hoping to allow it to also become a support network, both in business and emotionally. In order to achieve this, the relationships between the women must be solidified so that our project is one that can be sustainable once we leave, and that a dependence on development aid is not formed. One way in which we are planning on doing this is to hold a social event at the end of the cohort, which I am helping to plan. In this we will provide functional help in subjects such as pesticide control and recipes and nutritional advice and recipes. In additional we will be giving workshops in gender equality and managing emotions. We are hoping that this will not only give the women valuable information to allow for more efficient production, but also create a space for the women to bond.

I’ve definitely learnt how tough progress in development is, especially working outside the traditional business models that we are used to, coming from a highly Western society. But this ability to adapt and work in partnership with local development charities and the producers themselves is key to making any sort of sustainable change, and to ensure that that development progress made in La Paz, El Alto and Bolivia as a whole, can be evened out.

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