Margret Kamphuis in Bolivia

Margret Kamphuis in Bolivia

At this moment Margret Kamphuis is in Bolivia again. After a stopover in Sucre ( 2800m ), where she prepares herself for the altitude of Potosí (4090m), she will proceed and visit the projects of Amigos de Potosí. Our trusty, local coordinator Enrique will accompany her.

On this page Magret will keep a blog to keep us posted.

Friday April 10 2015

I was in Sucre, to get used to the time-difference and the high altitude; also, to the sun turning from east to west through the north and to not throwing toilet paper in the toilet but in a litterbin.
Today I am ready to leave for Potosí. Tomorrow my busy program will start. This is what our coordinator Enrique and I are going to do from tomorrow:

  • Yield and transfer 2 projects
  • Discuss 2 projects with the people who want us to help them
  • Prepare the founding of a Bolivian sister foundation (legal obligation)
  • PR: familiarity / visibility of the foundation in Bolivia (for tourists and potential donors)
  • And as dessert I am going to attend the workshop "Greenhouse" that children and anattendant of primary school San Ildefonso will attend in Cochabamba at Alerta Verde.

I have got only two weeks! I will do my best to keep you posted. Hasta la vista!
Un abrazo, Margret

Monday April 13, 2015

Sadly, my working visit to Bolivia started with very bad news; at the morning of my arrival in Potosí, Enriques partner, Anna Maria Luz passed away after a short but severe illness. We were all devastated by this terrible news.

At Saturday evening  I joined Anna Maria’s wake, held in the office of the foundation Kolping, the NGO in Potosí Anna Maria was managing.

It was a frugal but impressive catholic service, with some indigenous habits.

Lots of spontaneous speeches were held and showed a lot of admiration and love for this passionate woman. Anna Maria contributed a lot to the cultivation of women in Potosí. Her last name is very characteristic: she enlightened many people. She will be missed very much by her daughters, grandchildren, Enrique, the Kolping-family and friends.

May she rest in peace!  Descanse en paz!

Thursday April 16, 2015

Autumn started in Potosí, a bit unusual: Monday snow or hail on Cerro Rico. Today I have been on the mountain for a project visit, always an impressive experience. On the foot of the miner city with apx. 200,000 inhabitants at 4090m.

Saturday April 18th, 2015

Finally a moment to blog. It was a busy week with lots of appointments and wonderful encounters. I will highlight a few of them. Due to the passing of Maria our schedule was somewhat adapted. Enrique is holding up well and is glad that I’m here, it keeps him distracted and he is able to share his story. Thankfully there is also laughter again. In the meantime I also get an impression of the customs and rituals surrounding death here. Such as the ritual washing and burning of clothing/underwear of the deceased, and the custom on the 9th day after passing when -a bit gruesome- “the eyes explode” and the deceased is remembered with a mass. Within the family, the possessions are distributed, which often leads to growing conflict when there is no will.

On Sunday 4/12 I had a very fascinating conversation with Pascala Absí (Fr), anthropologist and author of the book Ministros del diablo (La Paz 2009). She feeds me lots of information which is also very useful for the theatre show currently in production for the foundation and takes place in Potosí. (Performance: November 21 in Groningen- keep it free!)

On Monday 4/13 a visit to the school 1º De Mayo San Ildefonso and their greenhouse. We were greeted (stormed) with lots of enthusiasm and after welcoming words we proceed to the greenhouse to admire the large quantity of tomatoes and lettuce. Vegetable gardening is here still very much in its infancy and they look forward to the workshop that 6 children and the greenhouse caretaker will follow at fundación Alerta Verde in Cochabamba. They will learn there about sowing, cultivating, harvesting, tending the soil, fertilizing, plagues and diseases, etc. Principal Marta, and Enrique will accompany them. Originally I was supposed to attend this as well, but the workshop was postponed 3 weeks. After the meeting about this issue, we were seranaded enthusiastically by groups of students, in Spanish and in Quechua!

Tuesday April 14th

This morning we use the office of Kolping. Franklin, the engineer who drew and developed 2 new projects gives a presentation. The first project is Lajas Tambo: a meeting place for woman, and the second is Caracoles: an expansion of the water supply for the childcare centre on the mountain near the mines. These are 2 wonderful and very useful projects, thought up by the people themselves. Franklin has a good and clear story and all our questions are answered without hesitation. The outlines of the project were already known and, basically, we had already agreed to it in the Netherlands. Now we go through everything in detail. I notice a renewed enthusiasm in myself after his story, it is a beautiful initiative and well developed!

Wednesday April 15th, completion 2nd phase of the furniture project Hornitos.

The day begins early again and I use the time to sort out photographs and update my report. I’m falling behind on it… When Enrique picks me up to go to Padre Efráin, he tells me that the padre has been called away for a mass. We take a taxi that brings us to the edge of the city where the padre has built a new community centre by a new church. Here migrants are received, mainly mothers and youngsters. These are “campesinos” (farmers from native origin) who come to the city to work in the mines and are completely displaced. We walk through the "neighborhood under construction” where there are mainly one-room homes inhabited by whole families, but also larger houses with 2 jeeps parked out front. The differences are very big in Potosí. The brick supplier has made an itinerant trade out of it and does good business.

Boys from 6-12 roam the streets with coolers attempting to sell ice. They hang around and Enrique explains that this is a very vulnerable group, these are the youth we are trying to reach. Several courses are organized for them in an effort to ease their way to school and finding a place in the ruthless society.

Mothers in the centre get instruction on health, hygiene, raising children, schooling, woman’s rights, etc. The instruction rooms (2 small and 1 large) now have furniture: wooden chairs, tables, benches and desks. Unfortunately the wood price has gone way up since the start of the project and fewer benches than intended could be delivered. It took a lot of effort to realize the buildings: doors were stolen and even the bishop was needed to move the architect to finish the work. Nevertheless, Padre Efráin is very happy and asks me again explicitly to heartily thank the Amigos in the Netherlands for this wonderful gift. In particular the “Witte kerkje” (White Church) in Haren, that through a recycled paper campaign made the first phase possible, and a faithful benefactor who signed for the batch of furniture: Thank you!

Thursday, April 16th, a safe haven for several children on the Cerro Rico A heavy thunderstorm last night left a white cap on the Cerro Rico. With a jeep we are driven up the mountain to the mine Caracoles. No environment to live in; for many not a choice but a necessity. Widows as guards or pailliris (woman who carve, separate and categorize minerals) living by the mines with their children, without electricity and/or water. Such a miserable, filthy and dangerous situation here. We go to the out-of-school care centre “Caracoles" where children during their school career are cared for, given meals, and get help with their homework.

It is an OASIS for the youth of Caracolis.

The care centre was started 20 years ago by 2 pailliris and consists of a central room, a kitchen, a homework room, and in the courtyard there are 2 toilets and showers. The centre has a 5.000 liter water tank which is filled once every month by a tanker truck (there is no water conduit on the mountain). However, that is not enough for 42 users, therefore the showers and the toilets have been put out of service and one has to get water from the city in barrels and bottles… Such a pity, having the right facilities but insufficient water! Because a newer and larger cistern is too expensive (they can’t afford it), they ask us for support.

In October we were here with the “Amigos" trip and we ourselves were able to establish the urgency. We have, aside from the many AH-farms, left them with the promise that we would research and help them with a project proposal.Today the plans and the building permit from the mine owner are officially presented by Franklin. It will be a 15.000 liter concrete tank which offers enough capacity for the coming 20 years (based on a usage of 32 liters per person, per day and up to 52 people). A costly construction + operations, also due to the arduous terrain. The tank will be placed high up so there is no need for a pump. We make agreements on the maintenance of the installation and on the instruction for the children and mothers.

Afterwards we are offered a lunch and then I talk with several students, a group of mothers, with the founders of the centre and, finally, with the 2 boys (Valério and Adolfo, who has a scar like a piece of barb wire around his elbow) who barely escaped from the mine and now have a different profession. All very fascinating conversations that clarify the importance of the centre, and which I will follow up on later.

So hereby straight away the call: who helps us realize this project? We would very much like to start building in August so everything is ready before the start of the rainy season.

Total cost of the project: nearly € 8.000

Our work here is done for now. Will you help make this project possible?

Friday, April 17th

At 7:00 I already have an appointment with the guides from Koala Tours. They provide tours in the mines and are an important link in the chain between tourists and our foundation. After a visit to the mines, many tourists want to do something for the mineworkers or their children, but they don’t know how. This meeting is intended to “warm up” the guides for the foundation and to increase their involvement, which for some of them is already the case. I tell them about the goals, projects and modus operandi of the foundation, and we talk about advertising (posters, flyers, stickers). They offer nice and useful ideas! Now to hope that their enthusiasm and involvement stays when I leave…

Wilber, the owner of Koala Tours, wants to realize a first aid post at the mine Caracoles (where they hold their tours). He asks me if we want to join in. We (mainly Enrique) do see several obstacles in our way, mainly regarding the appointment of a nurse, which has to be arranged through the government. We are going to research this matter! Afterwards I went with Enrique through the Spanish translation of our newsletter (excelent work from Olivia Ormo!) and worked on updating it. Together with the English version, we will print and distribute it: put them up in hotels, place them in the bus that takes the tourists to the mines, etc. In the afternoon I have another conversation with Pascala Absi, the anthropologist who wrote a book about mineworkers. When I ask her what would be the most efficient method to get the youngsters out of the mine, she hesitates for a while and then answers: with scholarships. And very good guidance. We talk for a while longer and agree that next time I will meet her in Sucre, where she lives. With pleasure!

Saturday, April 18th 2015

An office day, and in between I got to sit in the sun for a little while. Finally! The weather in Potosí isn't really pleasant this time of the year, very cloudy and many thunderstorms, specially during the night. And a cold wind chases down the small old streets, despite of the shelter of Cerro Rico. I am happy with every ray of sunshine I can snatch and I am even a little bit jealous when I hear how delightful the spring is in the Netherlands…

Sunday, April 19th 2015

A meeting with Enrique and Vincent about the to establish (national) foundation in Bolivia. Candidate board members: Enrique and I, and Vincent: an anthropologist from Brussels, previously director at ACLO: a foundation focussing on the development of farmers/natives in the south of Bolivia, in respect to economical, social, political and cultural aspects. Besides us, we are looking for 4 more members. We discuss good potential candidates, how administrations work in Bolivia, our policy, plans, and how we want to operate. A foundation in Bolivia makes working here easier. The decisions on projects are, also in the future, made in the Netherlands. Vincent has lots of knowledge and good ideas about the improvement of education, and we set out concrete agreements with which we can get down to work (Enrique and Vincent here, and I in the Netherlands). In the afternoon the weather is nice and I have the time to venture out into the streets and buy some lovely Bolivian knits (like gorgeous children’s caps and truly splendid Alpaca shawls), to sell at our fundraising evening on next November the 21st. Keep that date open!

Monday, April 20th: A visit to Laja Tambo, llama BBQ, dancing at great height;

Presentation projectplan: Centro de Madres

At 9:30 we get picked up with the jeep for a half an hour drive to the community of Laja Tambo, south of Potosí by the road to Argentina. For obscure reasons there is no gas for sale at 2 gas stations, and we have to drive a whole way back to fill the tank for a couple of euros.

Grey-green hills, thinly covered with Pampas Grass (Jarava Ichu), where a small group of llamas tarry. At multiple locations there is mining activity, somewhere a tanker truck loads water from the rainwater cisterns in the mountains. When we stop at a toll booth, to my surprise, I see that there are 3 large trucks (Volvo) and 2 brand-new greenhouses in this hamlet! Renán, our chauffeur, explains that this community became immensely rich because mining companies have to pay them rent to mine their lands. They used to herd llamas, now they are prosperous people.

Because of the delay we arrive late at Laja Tambo where they, very practically, have started on the next item on the agenda. The meeting is held on the courtyard of the little school; there is no other place for it. I stroll around between the little houses and see a large bowl with raw meat, and a chopping board with a llama's head and feet. They wouldn’t… would they?

I am allowed to look in the (little) house of Juliana (29), who lives with her husband and 4 children in a one-room home of about 4 x 3 m. The only furniture are two twin size beds and a couple of wardrobes with clothing; the radio works on a battery (they don’t have electricity yet) and in the neighbouring kitchen they cook on wood (leña). No table, no chairs.

Next to the house there is a small and rickety yellow truck. Juliana tells me that her husband is a stonemason, he cuts tiles from a beautiful red hardstone called Losa, found further away in the mountains. Often you are still able to find wonderful plant fossils in these stones. The tiles were mostly used for paving the streets (30 x 30) but nowadays the demand is mainly for smaller sizes. Those you can’t cut by hand; it has to be done with electric saws which they don’t have…

There is no chance for a PowerPoint presentation here, so Franklin, the engineer, delivers his presentation with the help of a blackboard. 

He designed the building as we commissioned, according to the wishes of the community. The project consists of a central meeting room with a kitchen where mothers can make school breakfasts, 2 x 2 toilets and a sceptic tank (there is no sewerage here) and two washbasins.

The construction drawing circulates and everyone nods in agreement. This is what they want, a place to come together, where one can get instruction (on, for example, hygiene, childcare, woman rights, civic duty, etc.) and possibly start a sewing or knitting workplace. The new toilet building with double washbasins outside is also very welcome, a few months ago the roof blew off the current toilet.

-Continuation- Monday April 20th: Laja Tambo- Centro de Madres. How much alcohol is Pachamama allowed? And: Lost cargo.

The chairman of the Junta Escolar (Luciano) thanks through us, from the bottom of his heart, all Amigos in the Netherlands for this project: it is the first project done for them and they are so grateful for it. There is agreeable nodding all around. If I would please clearly relay this in the Netherlands. Well, herewith I do! After more words of thanks, we walk to the grounds where the construction will be built. I get a bottle of beer pushed into my hand, and have to break it against a rock, indicating the start of the project. One of the mothers places a wreath of potatoes and onions around my neck, another a bunch of streamers, and on my head I get a handful of confetti. Afterwards we get a “cocktail” of soda and Singani, Bolivian spirits made out of grapes. We toast, but prior to drinking, we pour a dash on the ground for Pachamama (Mother Earth). “Not too much, it is very expensive", is whispered to me by the headmistress… There follows congratulation and then promptly there is music, bleak tones, a repeating melody, and 5 men with traditional instruments (bent flutes and a drum) emerge from behind the small red truck. A bit later followed by 5 colourfully dressed women, dancing with a white flag on a stick, circling around the men. And yes, a bit later we have to join in… After 10 rounds I am again painfully aware that we are dancing 3768 meters above sea level.

Meanwhile, from on the other side of the basketball field, plumes of smoke arise, a hefty grill is completely loaded with pieces of, yes indeed, llama. The animal was butchered in the morning, it is unclear to me weather the animal was ritually sacrificed, as is customary at the mines where blood is thrown against the mine entrance.

In the schoolroom we are offered a plate of potatoes, lettuce and an unbelievably large portion of llama meat. I don’t want to insult them so I try my hardest. It is excellent, very tender and well grilled. All those present share in a portion of this feast: us on a plate, all others in plastic bags… You eat with your hands anyway, this is just as practical. Of course there is the 3 litre bottle of coke. It has been 16:00 hrs when we heartily thank everyone and embrace in goodbyes. I promise I will do my very best to gather the needed euros in the Netherlands and express my wish to be able to start the construction in a year (so May 2016).

On the way back to Potosí we are alarmed by a truck standing still in the middle of the road. A desperate driver scrapes part of his cargo with his hands together off the road: it is a black muddy ore that escaped the container. Renan grunts in between his teeth, “le van a matár" (they will kill him), it is a heavy mineral containing ore: he estimates a 95% content. I hope the driver is spared…

In the evening at the hotel I have a small farewell party for friends, where sadly the guides are missing as they have to play music at a wedding. Bram and Kees from Groningen also joined our party and it is an extremely pleasant evening!