Need for development drives Bolivian mayor’s zeal

By Glen Argan

The mayor of Anchoraimes, Bolivia, Zenon Ramos Mamani, did lay it on thick. Our visit of 14 Development and Peace supporters from Alberta and Manitoba to his municipality in mid-August, he said, “will go down in municipal history as a good date to remember.”

The central government of Bolivia, based a couple of hours away in La Paz, has forgotten Anchoraimes, Ramos said. But the visiting Canadians should be applauded because Development and Peace has not forgotten. It has provided funding to the local Nuna Foundation for various small projects to improve local agriculture.

The mayor astonished us by presenting each of us with a red poncho, scarf and woolen hat as a sign of gratitude of the residents of the 80 villages that make up Anchoraimes.

If the gifts seemed overwhelming, one must recall that the region near Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia, faces dire problems. Water levels are falling every year. Not long ago, you could strike water by digging down two metres; now, one must drill six metres below the surface before hitting water.

A lack of economic opportunity is driving local residents to the large cities in hopes of making a decent living.

“We have initiative, but we lack the resources to do what we need to do,” Ramos told us. “We are causing damage to our sacred lake due to lack of awareness of how to deal with environmental issues.”

An hour after the mayor’s welcome, at two of the villages in Anchoraimes, Wilder Mendoza of Nuna Foundation showed us improvements that resulted from Development and Peace funding – a cement trough so livestock could drink water from a nearby well, a cheese room in one home that enabled the family to increase production of cheese and yogurt, irrigation of a family garden.

Because of the new hygienic cheese room, cheese and yogurt from the village can now be sold at market. The yogurt was the most delicious I have ever tasted.

Pedro, Zenon, ManuelaPedro and Manuela had received a tap that emptied water directly into a trough, enabling them to feed their livestock without having to haul water. When I set up a photo of the elderly couple, the mayor was there like a bullet, inserting himself in the middle of the picture.

The people of the villages welcomed us with unparalleled warmth. A five-man band with flutes and drums greeted us, and women from one village took us by the hands and danced us over to their village. A mid-day feast had been prepared – fish and local vegetables – by the women in their traditional Andean dress and bowler hats.

Band in BoliviaPeople who had so little gave to us from their substance, not from any excess. The mayor’s gratitude for the help from Development and Peace was sincere and borne out by the actions of the people themselves.

After the feast, we went on to see greenhouses, terraces built to prevent soil erosion, a water tank, watering systems, a large compost pile and a wall built to create a warmer microclimate for growing vegetables in the cool mountain air. The people are recovering traditional agriculture techniques that had been lost.

The one thing that cannot be manufactured is water. Picturesque Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, is mere miles away, but its level is falling. Water pollution, meanwhile, is increasing as population growth near the lake occurs faster than the building of new sewage treatment facilities.

Ramos, the mayor, said tourism is a possible source of added revenue for the region, but Bolivians tend to discount its potential. “We don’t understand it.”

However, he himself is a one-man chamber of commerce, going full throttle to get outsiders to pay attention to his municipality and its products. He refers to an unnamed local sweet berry that gives people energy. “It is an untouched source of income. It has a lot to offer.”

As our visit draws to a close, the villagers head home, while the band, now down a man, escorts us with pipes and drums to a waiting bus. Some of us are in tears, overwhelmed by the generosity of the people and their desire for a better life.

For us, the day has been like a dream, a touch of heaven where generosity is a way of life. But for the mayor, “Our dream is to know development like that of other countries in North America.”

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