Be warned: This is a long post! While Jon and Melba went visit the Mitchell’s World Vision Child, the rest of us spent the morning learning more about what OBADES is up to in Bolivia. We also spent some time in the afternoon visiting the Casa de Amistad. More on that later, but first the information piece.
We met with Rodrigo Perez right after breakfast and he filled us in on the OBADES programs that he administers. OBADES (Organizacion de Bautista de Desorrollo Sociale) is the social action arm of the UBB. Their vision is to be a nationally recognized leader in promoting development that is Christ-centred, environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, and supportive of gender equality. They see their mission as promoting societal development without discrimination in both urban and rural areas. As an organization, OBADES is able to provide both hands-on support for their programs and the legal and administrative support to maintain compliance with government regulations. The latter role involves both satisfying the requirements of the Bolivian government and foreign governments who supply funds through their foreign development programs. OBADES works with CBM through the Sharing Way, the Mennonite Central Committee, Program International Canada (a Canadian NGO), SEDEGES (Bolivian government program), local Bolivian supporting churches and individuals, and ecumenical supporters. CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) has been a supporter in the past, but after changes in Canadian foreign aid objectives implemented by the current Federal government, OBADES has been dropped from the list of agencies receiving CIDA funds.
Casa de Amistad
The Casa is a program for prison children and their families. In Bolivia, when a parent is given a prison sentence and no one is available to look after their children, the children go live in the prison with their parent. The Casa was set up, with the help of CBM’s Dennis Shierman, to provide a safe and nurturing place for these children. While the children continue to live in the prison with their parent, they are brought out of the prison during the day to stay at the CASA. Older children (up to teenagers) are sent to school, while young children are provided daycare at the centre. At night they return to be with their parent. Currently, 120 children are in the program. The Bolivian government supports the program by providing food for the children and one of the local Baptist churches sends volunteers to help with the meals. The program also works with the parents in prison, providing training in health and conducting Bible studies where the inmates are introduced to the good news of God’s grace. Rodrigo was involved with the Casa before becoming OBADES administrator and during his time 25 people were baptized into faith in Christ. In operation for 17 years, the Casa has seen some of their children return to help with the program after experiencing its love and support for themselves. One of our sister churches in Edmonton, Laurier Heights, has a STEP partnership with the Casa de Amistad and frequently sends teams to help.
Canadian James Seaborn began this program to meet the needs of teenagers working on the streets. The goal of the program is to provide support, an education and share the Christian values. The families of the street children are included, with the provision of food, and health and dental services, in cooperation of the Salvation Army Hospital. Low nutritional levels are a constant in the lives of these street children, so the provision of food is one of the important ways for the church to meet the needs of these children. Jireh is the first OBADES program operated out of a local church, Sinai Baptist. Pastor Brigida provides the Christian education component of the program.
These centres operate in Cochabamba, Oruro, Potosi, Sucre, La Paz and Santa Cruz. Compassion (a Christian development agency) runs the day-to-day operations of the centres and the programs offered there. OBADES, with its experience in dealing with all levels of government as well as foreign aid programs, provides administrative support for the programs. Many of the centres operate out of local Baptist churches.
Quechua Literacy Project
Two indigenous groups live in Bolivia, the Quechua and Ayamara. Ayamara live in the northern part of Bolivia, while the Quechua are predominant in the southern part, including North Potosi, where First Baptist’s STEP partnership is located. Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, is promoting indigenous rights, including indigenous religious rights. This is something new for Bolivia. For example, until recently, all indigenous people were required to have their babies baptized in the Catholic church. Morales stopped this practice and is actively promoting the practice of indigenous religions. Within this context, the Quechua Literacy Project provides literacy training, using a Quecha-language bible, and an agricultural education to the Quechua. Like all OBADES programs, it endeavors to always combine spiritual education with projects that meet the physical needs of the people.
PAS is an agricultural program operated by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the Cochabamba area. PAS helps local farmers indentify which types of crops are suited to the particular environmental conditions of their farm. This helps them to diversify their production beyond the potato crops they traditionally grow. The program also provides training in marketing their crops and helps the farmers find potential buyers. PAS puts an emphasis on helping farmers understand that God has given them a special plot of land that has its own special advantages. They need to care for this land and work with it to grow the crops that it is best suited to produce. This focus on creation care has brought positive results. PAS has achieved more positive results than past programs that simply provided money without the creation-based training. Like the Compassion Centres, OBADES role in PAS is to provide program administration. PAS has an office in the UBB compound where we are staying and we were able to meet Jaimie and Edgar, two Bolivian agronomists, and Jacob, a young MCC volunteer from Kansas. Jacob has recently arrived in Cochabamba and is working on his Spanish before he begins his work building relationships with PAS and the local farmers to help the program stay on track. Here, as elsewhere, program failures are often rooted in communication challenges and Jacob will be working to make sure PAS and the farmers in the program are keeping in touch while the farmers make the transition to new crops and methods of farming.
This is a small business training and loan program that operates in El Alto, near La Paz. It operates like many micro-credit programs, offering small loans to individuals that want to improve their income by starting a small business. It operates on the premise that what poor people need the most is opportunity. When a person enters the program the first time they receive a loan of about $200 for a specific item, such as a sewing machine, that they can use to generate an income. They must repay the loan and when they have done so, they are eligible for additional larger loans of up to $1000, each of which must be paid back. Along with the loans they receive training in business practices.
Chagas is a disease spread by the Venchuca bug. The Venchuca lives in the walls of adobe brick homes and feeds on the blood of people while they sleep. It can transmit Chagas disease in the process. Chagas remains dormant for several years, then emerges to cause life threatening damage to the victim’s internal organs. The disease is endemic in mid-elevation parts of Bolivia around Potosi (the city, not North Potosi), Sucre, Mizque, and Cochabamba. Chagas disease can be cured if caught early, but because of its dormant period it is often too late by the time the victim becomes aware of symptoms. At that point, the disease can be controlled by medications but not eliminated. Prevention is worth a pound of cure and the spread of Chagas can be stopped by preventing the Venchuga but from taking up residence in a house. This is done by plastering the inside of adobe buildings and laying a cement floor. A properly plastered house with a good floor has no place for the Venchuca bug to live, so risk of contracting Chagas is all but eliminated. The Chagas program helps people who otherwise couldn’t afford it to plaster their house. It also provides health education related to Chagas and helps people obtain tests for the disease and treatment at government clinics.
When we met Alex, who runs the Chagas program for OBADES, and Omar, a technician, Ivan reminded us of First Baptist’s role in the Chagas program. Back in 2007, OBADES was thinking about starting the Chagas program but wasn’t sure whether it was feasible. When the first team from FBC (Melba, Bill, Dave, Greg, and Sam) went to Bolivia they provided a test case. The team plastered two houses in Premier de Mayo, near Cochabamba and proved the program would work and teams from Canada could make a contribution. Since then, the program has completed 2000 homes. The program has expanded from the Cochabamba area to Mizque and now Sucre. The homeowners help to pay for the costs of the plastering so that they have an investment in improving their lives. Teams from Canada help with the homes of those who are too poor even to pay the small partial amount requested by OBADES. FBC participated in the program again in 2011 when Leslie, Melba, Gordon, Jon, and Sam helped plaster a house in Mizque.
We also met with Suzanna Nacho, Bruno and Kathleen Soucy, and Duane Guthrie during morning. Suzanna and David Nacho are CBM missionaries working with UBB in La Paz. Suzanna has been instrumental in helping First Baptist strengthen our connections with the churches in North Potosi. The Soucys have recently arrived in Latin America from Rawanda to lead CBM operations throughout Latin America. They are in Bolivia for two weeks while taking a break from their Spanish lessons. We had a wonderful chance to learn more about what’s happening with the UBB and we fit in. We’ll cover some of that material, including Duane Guthrie’s role, in future posts.
After that rather intense but very enjoyable morning, we had great lunch with the Soucys and Suzannah. Later in the afternoon, Melba and Jon rejoined us and Ivan took us over to Casa de Amistad for a first hand look at the program. We arrived after the children were back from school, so the place was buzzing with activity. One of the staff gave us a quick tour. We visited a music room and a dance class, where kids are encouraged to explore some of their creative interests. Then we dropped into a class where school age children are given extra tutoring in reading and writing, followed by a room full of pre-schoolers who mobbed us with enthusiastic hugs. We were introduced to the principal and a couple of grad students, one from Bolivia and the other from England, who are working with the centre as part of their studies. After a quick tour of their infirmary, we watched the kids chow down on a very simple meal of tomato salad, boiled potatos, and boiled eggs. The staff were wonderful with the kids and it was obvious that they cared deeply for them.
It was a great day of learning and experiencing the work of OBADES. A portion of our STEP contribution helps with the funding of OBADES projects. We’ll explore how our STEP partnership works with the UBB and OBADES in future posts. And stay tuned for our food adventures. Guinea pig, anyone?
Ryan gets a lesson in Spanish numbers