Friends International Bilingual Center (FIBC), Bolivia
The Quaker community in Bolivia was founded in 1919. Most Bolivian Friends belong to the Aymara indigenous community, in the high-altitude Altiplano region. Recently Quakerism has moved to the lowland regions too. Bolivian Friends have always extended their hands out to others in order to share hope and love, especially to children and teenagers. Many young people in Bolivia have enjoyed attending Sunday Schools at Friends Churches or going to Friends Schools where they received both academic and spiritual teaching. Some of those young people, who are now elders in Quaker churches, have spoken about how essential it was for them to have a safe learning environment offered by Quakers.
However in recent years several Friends Schools have been closed because of new educational policies. One of these policies requires that all schools must own the property where the school is located. Unfortunately, most former Friends schools were located within the properties of Friends Churches. At the same time Quaker education at the six different yearly Meetings in Bolivia was also suffering due to insufficient written and human resources.
The faith of a group of Young Adult Friends, and the two years they spent carefully considering this together, inspired them to open a new and safe educational space that could emphasize and demonstrate the importance of Quaker education and intentional community life. They established El Centro Bilingüe Internacional Amigos (Friends International Bilingual Center or FBIC for short) in January 2016, in the city of La Paz. It is a youth led, youth run centre supported mainly by Young Adult Friends; its mission is to carry out educational work in the light of all the needs they see in the Bolivian Quaker community and in society. Through four main areas of programming they work to meet these needs and to serve an intergenerational population, including children, teenagers, young adults and adults.
The Language Program offers English, Spanish and Aymara classes. English is taught in order to enable more Bolivian Friends to communicate with Quakers in other countries and to learn more about the broader Quaker Community. They offer Aymara, one of the native languages spoken in Bolivia, because many young people who grow up in the cities do not know how to speak it. This creates a divide between them and the many people who come to the city from rural areas. FBIC’s goal is to build a community of fellowship between these two groups of people. Spanish classes serve as a supportive and interactive learning environment for foreign volunteers and other non-native Spanish speakers where they can to practise and improve their Spanish skills.
The Children’s Program aims to nurture Quaker values in children aged between 3 and 12, and to help them learn about environmental issues and sustainability. FBIC’s founders are determined that upcoming generations are imbued with the understanding that they can make decisions to take care of Planet Earth and do good in the world. These Young Adult Friends think that this is especially important in Bolivia, as it is a country in which most people still live close to nature and which is experiencing the adverse effects of climate change. In an effort to make this goal a reality one of their first programs was a series of workshops on climate change and environmental issues for children from various socio-economic groups.
The Workshop and Seminar Program aims to build leadership capacity within the growing Bolivian Quaker community in areas such as youth ministry, evangelism, pastoral care, and Christian education. A key early focus is Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops for public school teachers, university students and other groups of professionals in our country.
The Translation Program focuses on translating significant written materials, such as books, pamphlets and messages, from Spanish into English and vice versa. The idea is to facilitate the sharing of spiritual experiences, faith testimonies and work on Quaker Education across language barriers. Due to the current lack of written Quaker resources in Spanish, this program will especially support Spanish-speaking Friends throughout the world.
Much of the work of FBIC is done on a voluntary basis, and volunteers from within Bolivia and from other countries are very welcome. They also welcome any financial and educational support that people can give. For example, several young Bolivians involved in this new centre are current scholarship students or alumni of the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund (BQEF), which enables study in the US. More information about the work of the Center can be found on their website below.