We've put together a short video looking back over the past year. It highlights some of the political unrest we went through in late 2019, as well as provides a snapshot of life and ministry during the pandemic. Enjoy!
Sunday, October 18th marked the end of a year-long political limbo with the re-election of the MAS (movement toward socialism) party. Luis Arce is now the President-elect of Bolivia.
You might remember the tension leading up to and following the 2019 elections. As a refresher and for some context, you can read about it in our blog here.
This make-up election was postponed twice, first being scheduled for May and then September before settling on October, due to Covid-19. Luis Arce replaced exiled ex-president Evo Morales, as the MAS party's candidate. Carlos Mesa continued as the main opponent. Newcomer to the race, Luis Camacho, who led a citizens' resistance following the last election, also threw his hat in the ring. Just before the election date some other contenders, including the interim president, pulled their candidacy in hopes of uniting votes against MAS.
An important detail should be understood regarding the Bolivian electoral system. A first round election can only be won with either 50% of the overall vote or with a minimum of 40% and a 10% margin lead. If this is not acquired, a run-off election between the top two candidates is held. All polls suggested that MAS would win by a small margin, resulting in a run-off vote between Arce and Mesa, where Mesa was favoured to win.
Apparently, polls are not to be trusted.
While the official results are still being counted, the fast count shows that Arce has won with just over 50% of the vote, surpassing Mesa by a margin of 20%. There is still much to be seen. Will the results be contested or accepted by the opposition and their supporters? Will Evo return to Bolivia despite the significant charges against him (fraud, sedition, and pedophilia to name a few)? Will this coming term be fraught with political tension and regular protests? Will in-person elections, along with a global precedent, spark a second wave of covid?
As we watch and wait, we continue to pray for peace, health, and unity in the country and for our churches.
The Covid-19 pandemic in Bolivia brought to light many inadequacies in the healthcare system. Hospitals became so overburdened that they had to turn away people who had waited hours in line because there was simply no more capacity. Many of those suffering even severe symptoms, chose to stay home and manage on their own. As people died, emergency services struggled to collect the bodies and many were left in their homes for days.
Several of the vulnerable families we serve contracted the disease and had no viable options for medical care. Through our networks, we heard of a group of Christian doctors who called themselves the Counter-Covid Angels. These doctors set up shop in two community centres in the north and south of the city and volunteered their time, offering free treatment & consultation for people suffering from Covid-19.
After connecting with the Counter-Covid Angels and receiving assurance that they were accepting patients for consultations, we spent several days picking up families and transporting them in the back of our truck to the clinic. One family had a father recently released from prison, who tested positive for Covid-19, but was unable to afford medical care. The family did the best they could to isolate him by pinning up a tarp around his bed, but without proper treatment his illness dragged on for months and before long the rest of the household came down with symptoms as well.
The blue tarp was wrapped around the father's bed in an attempt to isolate him
After receiving their consultations, these families were informed on the proper medication for their treatment and we were able to help them purchase their specific prescriptions. After a few follow-up visits, most were well on the road to recovery. It has been difficult to watch the effects of the pandemic devastate this country, and at times we've felt helpless to meet the growing needs. The opportunity to collaborate with this amazing group of doctors to bring care to a group who would have otherwise had no options has been a clear answer to prayer.
A doctor reviews a father's lung x-rays while his family looks on
It’s 3:30am, Miriam and her husband Americo are hurrying down the mountain on deserted side-streets hoping to reach the church without any trouble from the military. As the president of the southern churches in Cochabamba, Miriam wants to be there when the order of powdered milk and lentils arrives so that she can direct volunteers in assembling care packages. Though it’s not her day to leave the house, she’s risking a hefty fine to ensure these packages come together and that churches are mobilized to quickly get them to some of their communities' most vulnerable families.
Since mid-March Bolivia has implemented very strict quarantine measures in hopes of quelling the spread of the virus. You can read more about the general situation in Bolivia on a previous blog, but here are two key regulations:
individuals can only leave home one morning per week and all vehicles are prohibited without government authorization.
No matter where you are in the world, you're probably experiencing the effects of the Covid pandemic; yet, those who feel the sting most profoundly are people who were already vulnerable (It's worth remembering that this is true in Canada as well). Many Bolivians depend on day wages to cover their basic living essentials. Families who have been without work for several weeks are now facing extreme circumstances and even destitution. The risk is elevated for those with mobility or health issues, disabilities, and for seniors without family to care for them.
Early on when quarantine seemed inevitable, we met with a group of church leaders in southern Cochabamba to discuss how churches could take action to identify the most vulnerable in their community and mobilize to serve them. They determined to purchase bulk groceries, assemble them into packages and deliver these essentials to struggling families. Mobility restrictions meant finding creative solutions for transportation and even coordinating volunteers safely. With the accompaniment of church members in the military, Tim was regularly picked up on a motorcycle at 4am to join the team of volunteers. Other members with authorization to sell produce were able to assist with vehicles in these early hours before the workday began. Many twenty-somethings eager to help (and get out of the house) also found innovative ways to participate.
This initial project was recently completed but we are currently implementing similar emergency initiatives in 5 distinct regions of Bolivia. We estimate that more than 3,000 people will receive essential relief supplies through a network of 87 churches collaborating nationally to bring good news in a difficult time.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” ~Is. 52:7
Kallie recently had the opportunity to sit down with her two lovely colleagues Jennifer Lau and Branda Halk to discuss how the Covid crisis is particularly effecting women both in Canada and abroad. Jennifer is CBM’s Associate Executive Director and Brenda is a specialist for strategic projects including economic initiatives and gender-based programs. Both have a wealth of experience serving with local and international programing.
Today no one is allowed outside in Bolivia. In every region of the country absolutely every person without government permission is required to be inside their home by law. We are in unique times. Here is a brief overview of the situation in Bolivia over the past two weeks.
While its neighbouring counties reported cases somewhat earlier, Bolivia only registered its first cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, March 11th. The following week the workday was reduced to 1pm and a strict curfew was implemented at 6 pm. Cases continued to increase over these days and a significant number of people were arrested for exiting their homes after 6 pm.
The following Saturday morning the interim president announced an earlier curfew of 12 pm and the absolute prohibition of private and public vehicles commencing at midnight. This sent people scrambling to stock up on supplies with only a few hours left to use vehicle transport for their goods.
The interim president went further on Wednesday night, March 25th, announcing people would be allowed out one day a week according to their national ID card number. So, Tim can leave on Tuesdays and Kallie on Thursdays during a window of 7 am to 12 pm. People under the age of 18 or over 65 are required to remain in their homes at all times and no one is allowed out on weekends. These restrictions are heavily enforced by police and military.
Here’s what this has looked like for us. On Thursday, Kallie ventured out for groceries. As she walked, there were military and police at every second intersection checking her ID card and making sure she was wearing a mask. The line to get in the market circled around the block with everyone standing a few meters apart. As she approached the door, an employee checked to see if she had a fever with a temperature gun before she washed off her shoes and had her hands sprayed with sanitizer. After stocking up with as many supplies as she could carry, she walked 7 km to drop food off at the homes of two elderly friends who are housebound. All this was time sensitive to the 12:00 pm curfew.
The government clearly recognizes the importance of preventative measures as Bolivia’s healthcare system simply does not have the capacity to handle a large increase in patients. Yet, these measures also put the most vulnerable at significant risk. Many families depend on daily wages and without the ability to work, they have little savings to draw on to feed their families. Poorer urban areas have little access to stores where food can be purchased nearby. This is limiting for everyone, but particularly single parents and the immobile who only have a few hours each week to get supplies and carry them home by foot. Elderly people living alone must depend on outside support from family or friends. Moreover, few people own a refrigerator (let alone a freezer) for food preservation.
The interim president took time to address another concern in the most recent speech to the nation: the alarming number of abuse cases being reported, particularly against women and children. Living with a violent person is difficult in the best of times but being locked in together under such stressful circumstances has become a living nightmare for many.
Please join us in praying for those on the margins, including those from our projects, who are feeling especially isolated during these times.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, people come into your life who change it for the better. We’ve loved having the privilege of working with an amazing group of mothers from the Casa de la Amistad through CBM. This inspiring group of moms, dubbed ADA, meets regularly to do devotions, receive training on social themes, and develop their sewing skills. ADA works to provide tools that empower women to overcome life's distinct challenges and excel holistically.
Through dialog with both projects, a collaborative plan emerged in which ADA would innovatively support the ministry of the Chagas program. While working with remote rural communities, the Chagas project offers workshops beyond disease prevention, tackling issues that affect everyday life, such as agricultural and health training. In past years, Kallie has run workshops on violence against women, something more that 70% of women in Bolivia suffer through. Listening to women in these communities, it was apparent that menstrual health was another prominent struggle.
The Chagas project agreed to contract ADA to sew washable feminine hygiene pad packs (for more about these, check out this blog). ADA then selected moms who had received training on domestic abuse through their program, to support Kallie in facilitating workshops in several communities before distributing the pads.
After the ADA team laboured hard to fill the order, we set out with Carmen, Ana, and their gaggle of children, a week prior to the political unrest that swept Bolivia. Over three days, we gave workshops and trained women on how to use the pads in 5 different communities. Ana, who is from a town in this region, faithfully translated everything into Quechua.
At first Carmen and Ana were nervous while leading these workshops as they had never spoken publicly before. However, giving testimony to their own experiences with violence was incredibly empowering for them and they soon presented with confidence, connecting with everyone in the room. Able to speak with authority on the subject, they explained different types of violence, how women get caught in a cycle, and what the community can do to protect women and stop tolerating violence.
After the workshop, we invited the men to leave and taught the women how to use and wash the pads, to the great excitement of all present. Training women on how to use these pads that ADA had made themselves was very encouraging for Ana and Carmen, who expressed that they finished each presentation with a great sense of pride. On the drive back, they recounted how this was they first time they felt they were formally able to use their abilities and experiences to help others. Later Ana reflected on the mission and witness of the church and decided she would begin attending a faith community in which she could learn and serve.
There are moments in cross-cultural ministry that are disheartening, but sometimes everything comes together in the most brilliant way, reminding us how blessed we are to be a part of it.
Much has happened since Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, resigned last month, although politically there has been little movement forward. A new provisional government was quickly installed with 5th in line, Jeanine Áñez Chávez, assuming the interim presidency. While the main goal of this government is to facilitate a new election, a date has not yet been announced. Political candidates are currently scrambling to reorganize themselves, with some switching parties and others newly entering the race. The hope is that an election will be held early in the New Year and that a democratically elected government will peacefully transition into power.
Violence has subsided in the last weeks, although periodic protests persist and fissures between groups are evident. December and January are “summer vacation” here, so schools are not in session and in the past protests have tended to take a hiatus during this period. Very briefly, this is the current situation nationally. Please continue to hold Bolivia in prayer, along with our partners here who have done exceptional work under extreme conditions and stress.