Bolivian school boyBolivia’s landscape seems designed for giants. The dome of the sky looks oppressively expansive. The land below rolls on and on, with valleys that spill winds across shimmering fields, through gangs of trees and over mountains so incongruous their emergence seems to have caught the soil by surprise. Whatever earthy environment exists elsewhere can be found here, if you look hard enough, or wait long enough.

Consider this description, written by one of Outreach Bolivia’s facilitators about his early-morning arrival in an Outreach-affiliated community: “We could feel in our faces the gusts of a strong wind blowing cold air; at the same time, the sun peeked through the neighboring mountains, and you could smell the aroma of fresh grass!” Just another day at the office.

For Outreach’s Bolivian community partners, harmonizing with their environment ensures greater comfort and stability amidst its extremes. The surrounding abundance is happy to share, if you know how to ask.

Small But Significant

Education: Primary school students in Kauca might possess a more accurate understanding of the world than any previous generation. “We teach with tangible things from the environment, to help children understand that they are not in the world, they’re of the world,” explains Juan, their instructor. “We talk about what it means to live well, emphasizing the integrity of combining critical thinking with a social conscience. So it’s not a theory for them, it’s a productive practice.” Recently, students ventured out of the classroom to enjoy a literal “field” trip for a unit on ecology, to learn about plant biology firsthand.

“Thanks to this well of water, I have cultivated many things in my garden. The apple and peach trees give good fruits each year. To protect the vegetables I grow from cold winds, I made a wall with pines. Because of that, I can now grow lettuce, onions and potatoes.” – Serapio, Outreach Community Partner

Water Wells: As a means of demonstrating their desire to improve access to clean water, community partners took it upon themselves to organize into groups and collect sand and gravel to begin constructing ringed water wells. While some hauled materials, others handled tunnel-digging duties. When husbands objected to extra work, wives stepped into leadership roles. The results provide peace of mind in addition to refreshment, each well covered by a lid to block contamination and prevent accidents.

Reforestation: A tree is never just a tree, so the benefits of reforestation go beyond material abundance and birdsong-filled mornings. The primary advantages of planting pine trees are straightforward: Lumber, firewood, construction materials and extra income earned from the sale of each. The shade underneath is only the start of the secondary benefits — it creates a microclimate in which warm-weather staples like corn and shade-loving mushrooms can grow. “The fungus is a product that grows while the people can do their other work,” says Florencia, an Outreach facilitator. As for market growth, longtime community partner Norberto showed off the results of his eight years of reforestation efforts during a recent visit: An estimated 9,000 pines on his property.

Greenhouses: Life in the open isn’t easy for vegetables in Bolivia. Strong winds, extreme temperatures and curious creatures with undiscriminating palates are just a few of the challenges, making greenhouses both a refuge and an incubator. For 70-year-old Feliciano, bringing his garden indoors signifies a major mealtime upgrade. “Now,” he says, “we eat fresh vegetables that we have not bought at the market for many years — onions, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and celery, to name a few.” What Feliciano’s family does’nt eat, they sell, improving their income, as well as their nutritional diversity.

In Their Element

The intensity and scale that make up the natural elements of life in rural Bolivia seem, at a glance, to enforce a closed, hostile harmony. Finding a place to thrive is a matter of adding one’s voice to the chorus.

Serapio, another Outreach community partner, speaks to this while showing off the projects that have reshaped his home life. “Thanks to this well of water, I have cultivated many things in my garden,” he says. “The apple and peach trees give good fruits each year. To protect the vegetables I grow from cold winds, I made a wall with pines. Because of that, I can now grow lettuce, onions and potatoes.” Whatever isn’t enjoyed by his family can be sold at market for extra income, which, in turn, covers the cost of things like new school uniforms for his children, so they can learn about the world — and their place in it.

Throughout Outreach’s partner communities, new trees line the horizon. Water has been coaxed closer to homes, tame and clean. The land, sheltered from extremes, has been seduced into sharing its bounty. High above all the new work, new growth and new hope sprouting along the landscape, the sky’s the limit.

How to Help

Water! Soil! Trees! You! Become an element of empowerment for our community partners by becoming an Outreach donor today! Can’t start a fire without a spark!