Saturday, November 14, 2015

Women Empowerment

At first glance at my social media accounts it may seem that I am in Bolivia on holiday. I frequently receive messages from friends asking “how’s the holiday going?” That is partially my fault as I love posting pictures of my travels and little else. Much against the stereotypes I had before travelling here, Bolivia isn’t simply barren land with extreme poverty. Sadly many people are still misinformed about Bolivia and I found that especially true before I came here from how little my family and friends knew about the country. So far my lived experience in Bolivia has challenged and changed these pre-conceived notions and prejudices. Quite apparent from my pictures, Bolivia is beautiful to the senses and has much to explore.

So what is my business here? The title of my project is called ‘Women Empowerment’ and together with a team of UK Volunteers I work with female agricultural producers who strenuously work to grow vegetables and crops to feed their families on a regular basis. This is all while working in the sweltering heat and thin air of El Alto which is 4,150 metres above sea level. As the plains of El Alto are rather dry and inclement, we assist the female urban agricultural producers to maintain their greenhouses through digging and pickaxing the soil and planting new seeds. Manual labour aside, we deliver workshops on topics such as self-esteem and gender discrimination to the producers so as to educate and inspire them so that they feel better about their status as women.

This week my team and I were quite overwhelmed after seeing the results of our toil in front of our eyes. We worked at a previous producer’s garden in Villa Mercedes and managed to pickaxe the entire garden and discarded of the rocks within the soil using a makeshift sieve until we created high and large piles of healthy soil perfect for plantation. Instead of splitting into two teams as we usually did, we worked in one large group and swapped roles often so the results were greater and more obvious. Knowing we help ease the physical burden of female producers as well as help sustain an entire community or at least a family is quite rewarding. We often dream of changing the world but as an overall rule it happens by removing one footstone at a time and requires a lot of patience and dedication. Despite occasional cancelations from our partners, the lack of hygiene/facilities in El Alto and the inability to adhere to any fashion code, our morale has not faltered and we truly endeavour to carve our footprints in the lives of the producers by the time we return to the UK.

The ICS programme has allowed me to see the human need to support and love each other. In general the world lacks love and compassion. Not the romantic or sexualised love that so prominently features in every book, billboard or movie. It is the love that will allow us to go out of our way, much against the culture of self-absorption that I found myself in before coming here, and do things such as manual construction to aid women, though it can hugely go against comfort zones. The love I am concerned about is the kind that will motivate me to check on the well-being of others because I genuinely care. It is the love that will make individuals want to make a physical positive difference, and if not physically, at least with words and compassion. It is this kind of love, that if spread, will change transform our lives and the communities we live in.

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