In the early 1980s Bolivia was struck by a series of floods which made world news. Thousands of miles away in Britain a group of Bolivian nationals and sympathisers felt useless on hearing this news and decided to create an organisation that would be able to raise funds that could then be distributed to development organisations within Bolivia. In February 1983, in London, the charity Friends of Bolivia came into existence which started with one small fundraising event for the flood victims of the Altiplano. This initial money maker proved to the organisers that the success of something small could be turned into something more long term. This lead to the possibility of opening up other areas of support within this troubled country. Their starting mission was simple; to improve the living conditions of Bolivia’s poor and destitute, particularly women, children and elderly people.
Since the charity’s humble beginnings they have managed to raise 134,000 British Pounds (U$193,000) in aid for Bolivia from the Bolivian Embassy in London. The main areas Friends of Bolivia direct their money towards are education, health and the relief of poverty, particularly in city slums and rural areas. Their projects include children’s hospitals, homes for the elderly and schooling for illiterate indigenous women. The funding for Friends of Bolivia is done entirely on a voluntary basis through small fundraisers in Britain and they also rely heavily on donations, often from Bolivian citizens in Britain still trying to assert a positive presence in their home country.
To date the organisation’s contributions have certainly made an impact. Past proceeds have been put into charitable organisations established within Bolivia whom are dedicated to the same areas. Past projects include the Centro de Educación de Adultos por Medios de Communicación Social (CEAMCOS). This paid the annual salary for a teacher in the outlying rural areas of Potosí who taught female peasants sanitary and health standards so they in turn would be able to teach their own communities. Currently Friends of Bolivia are funding a paediatric unit in Oruro with the hope of replacing and expanding neonatal equipment for the Hospital General San Juan de Dios. As Oruro is one of Bolivia’s poorest departments, the estimated funds needed are in excess of U$30,000. The equipment is the key problem for the department as Dr. Miguel Gonzales Yucra, department director, testifies; “The neonatal equipment is very obsolete and has been used for way over 15 years”. Through funding it is hoped that the hospital will be provided with ten new incubators among other pieces of vital equipment which is a lot of fundraising considering one incubator costs U$ 3,000.
Friends of Bolivia is a unique organisation whose charity stems solely from a united sense of humanitarianism in a country thousands of miles away. While their work may be marginal to other bigger companies trying to develop Bolivia it is certainly good to see that the smaller tokens of offering are present while also actually achieving a difference.