Quakers in Bolivia
Over 8% of the world’s Quakers live in Bolivia, making it the world’s third largest Quaker population after the USA and Kenya. The majority of Bolivian Quakers are indigenous Aymara people living on the Altiplano – small villages in the Andes over twelve thousand feet above sea level. Most belong to the Holiness Mission Evangelical Friends Church.
Quakerism was first brought to Bolivia by a Navajo Quaker, William Abel, who came to preach in La Paz in 1919. His first convert was Juan Ayllon, who went to study at the Berea Bible College, a Quaker seminary in Guatemala, where Quakerism had been established since 1902. Around the same time, the Holiness Friends Mission from Indiana brought Quakerism to the Aymara people of the northern Andes. Aymara Friends are now working among Quechua, Mosetain, Chimani, and other indigenous groups.
Early Quaker missionaries started schools for local children. Until the revolution of 1952, the education of indigenous Bolivians was suppressed and even Quaker schools had to operate clandestinely.
In 1993, British Quaker Ken Barratt, moved both by the friendliness of the indigenous Aymara people and by the poverty he observed, organised a study tour of Bolivia with 20 fellow Quakers, who then set up Quaker Bolivia Link UK (QBL).
Water and agriculture are the two main priorities for QBL. Many villages on the Altiplano have no access to clean water. Water from streams and open wells is often contaminated and can cause gastric problems and skin rashes, with children being particularly at risk.
QBL funds projects intended to set up fresh water supplies. These are then built and managed by Bolivians. These projects are then supplemented by small agriculture projects such as building and stocking greenhouses and chicken coops. The projects funded by QBL are generated by the local community, not imposed from outside, and QBL endeavours to include men and women equally in the planning and organisation.
Altogether, since 1995, QBL has funded water supplied in 55 villages on the Altiplano and over 500 families are growing vegetables in greenhouses built by QBL.
Like the Quaker Bolivia Link, the Quaker Bolivia Education Fund (QBEF) has its origins in the study tours originally organised by Barrett in 1995. Two American Friends, Dona Manoukian and Newton Garver, joined one of the tours in 2001, and visited Quaker schools. As a result of those visits, QBEF was established, with four main objectives:
- To provide scholarships to enable impoverished young Quakers to continue in post-secondary education;
- To facilitate exchanges between Quaker schools in the US and Bolivia
- To improve facilities for teaching in English, science and computing;
To develop and improve educational infrastructure, from books to buildings
QBEF has enabled young Bolivian students to teach for a year in Quaker schools in the US and American student teachers have likewise volunteered to work in Bolivian Quaker schools, teaching English and helping to update English textbooks. Teachers from American Quaker schools have also run Quaker Education workshops in Bolivia. QBEF has provided computers, language labs and internet connections for both urban and rural Quaker schools in Bolivia.
One major project of the QBEF has been the Internado de Pallcapampa. Aymara children from the Quaker village of Pallcapampa faced a 90-minute walk to the nearest high school, and a two hours return journey. In 2006, QBEF established a supervised residence, called an internado, near the secondary school in Sorata, to provide a safe environment where children could stay during the school week. The twenty students at the internado receive help with their homework, as well as three hot meals a day. The project was the brainchild of Benito Jallurana, a local man who received his education as a result of a scholarship from QBEF.
Since 2006, QBEF has also sponsored regular Alternatives to Violence programmes in local prisons and hospitals in the cities of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Sorata. They seek to address problems of violence within families, communities and barrios (municipalities).