I’m not afraid to till the soil with a pair of oxen. If my husband isn’t around, I work with my kids to weed crops, prepare organic insecticide to protect fields from insects, and reap the results of our season’s work. I do everything for my children to have food.
– Aurelia, Outreach Bolivia community partner
Every day, Aurelia and her husband Norberto have one job: Support their family. It’s a humble goal made ambitious by the number of seats around their dinner table — seven children, and two sets of in-laws with no other sources of income.
Despite their sprawling acreage, they live on a tightrope. As farmers, their lives and livelihoods revolve around the harvest. A batch of sickly potato seeds, an infestation of hungry pests, or inhospitable growing conditions undermines the foundation on which their family’s success — and survival — rests. With the margin of error so slim, it’s crucial that everyone extends a helping hand to provide balance throughout the year.
Their workdays revolve around their greenhouse. Crop diversity means better nutrition, as well as a more profitable harvest, but Bolivia’s unforgiving climate keeps all but the heartiest crops from ever reaching the surface. A greenhouse minimizes risk, while maximizing the potential for success — a refuge, as well as an incubator. A wider variety of vegetables at season’s end is the start of a renewable, sustainable cycle of ever-expanding options for the future.
A farmer without livestock is just a gardener. The sheep dotting the hills around Aurelia and Norberto’s farm represent another crucial component in their family’s success. Besides the income generated from the sale of their wool and meat, they also provide a failsafe in case of agricultural disaster, fetching enough money when sold at market to cover the costs of keeping everyone fed. An ounce of prevention, like regular immunizations and checkups from a visiting veterinarian, make animal care more valuable than a pound of cure.
Though immediate concerns dictate much of the family’s daily schedule, Norberto has been quietly making investments on his children’s behalf for the past eight years: During a recent visit, he showed off the 9,000 pine trees he planted by hand. “In our communities, we do not have money to give our children,” he said. “But in 20 years, these pines will be the legacy I can leave them.” Each new sapling represents stronger roots to support his family’s sprawling branches — wood for lumber and fuel, for building and heating, for using or selling. As the sun coaxes their growth, their growth provides shade in which valuable, nutritious mushrooms thrive without any extra help.
A Refreshing Change
The end of the workday does not mean the end of work. As mealtime approaches, food needs to be cleaned, hands need to be washed, glasses need to be filled, and dishes will need doing, all of which require clean water. Stepping into leadership roles alongside other women in her community, Aurelia helped plan and construct a water-well hand-pump to ensure that the peace of mind represented by their reliable access to a clean source of water was supported by a sensible, practical means of maximizing its utility.
Between fewer, shorter, simpler trips to the well and the reduction in contamination and accidents thanks to the covering installed over the well’s mouth, no one in their household has a good excuse to skip out on their turn collecting a day’s supply of water.
They’ll need every drop of it. A big family means every meal is a feast, and every feast results in a formidable stack of dishes and utensils. Prior to implementing a lavaplatos, or concrete washing basin, in their home, using water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing meant the family’s dirt floors became mud floors. Now, wastewater sluices outside, draining away from the house – quietly and permanently reducing the risk of preventable diseases and improving the family’s standard of living.
When the day comes for the start of planting season, Aurelia, Norberto, and the rest of their helping hands will head back to their greenhouse to greet the fertile soil with a varied selection of new veggie seeds. Each one represents new growth, new hope and the new opportunities ahead in the empowered future they built by hand.