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For years, through friendships, I have approached the "Fundación Doña Lucia" ODV association and I have heard about projects and interventions aimed at supporting educational/schooling and lately also civil construction of water tanks in areas of the Campero Province (Aiquile, Bolivia) which, due to the climate crisis, face problems related to the scarcity of this vital element.

At the end of January, I was offered the opportunity to travel to the Bolivian reality in the area where the association created by Dr. Fausto Molina Rojas operates: Aiquile and surrounding areas. Traveling with us were Dr. Molina himself, president of the association, Rita Miotto, Paolo Rech a professional puppeteer, and his wife.

It was three intense weeks of activities and getting to know the territory.

The Bolivian highlands (between 2000 and 4000 m) present a variety of landscapes: parallel valleys carved and sculpted by weather agents, green areas mostly cultivated with potatoes whose flowers give an exotic touch to the environment, corn, plateaus with Martian soils populated by herds of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas. Salt plains like El Salar de Uyuni and cacti that characterize the landscape. The queen of the Andes thrives in these areas: the gigantic Puya Raimondi plant, which blooms approximately every one hundred years and stands out, clearly visible from afar, against the Andean sky.

Bolivia is also rich underground, especially in the Potosi area with the presence of Cerro Rico (4782 m) whose mines of silver, lead, zinc, tin, and recently lithium, attract thousands of people who live in poverty and exploitation, amidst a thousand dangers, constantly awaiting the final catastrophe as the Cerro is now like a kind of Swiss cheese. The desire to change their lives with an unexpected enrichment leads many people to leave their native villages to move to areas promising a better life. Certainly, reality does not always meet these expectations and it is not so difficult to encounter people who try to get by with little, selling lime juice on street corners or asking for a coin, help not to succumb to fate.

The big city, full of contradictions, offers a spectacle of this mixture of populations; from slums to affluent neighborhoods, from cholitas in their traditional attire to businessmen... it is the melting pot that blends Andean with European types, descendants of the ancient Incas with Spanish colonizers.

The architecture of both cities and villages also reflects this mix. There is a transition from small houses built with local (adobe) sustainable materials, to the use of brick and cement, following modernity's influence.

Schools are widespread throughout the territory and especially in rural areas, they have the feature of a covered space (tinglado) for sports and recreational activities. They have specific classrooms for individual disciplines (music, science, literature...) and in some cases even vegetable gardens for growing products used in the school cafeteria. This is to encourage attendance even for students from distant and disadvantaged areas. Often it is the teachers themselves who take care of picking up and accompanying the students home. It is in their interest and undoubtedly in the interest of the community! The entrance walls of schools are often adorned with murals made by the kids, containing specific messages about life and behavior!


What struck me when meeting high school students, whose presence in the "internados" and school attendance is supported by the Association's "sponsorships," is their desire to break free from the chains of poverty through education: you can see in their eyes the determination to achieve a diploma or a higher degree and they truly exude joy when they talk about their accomplishments and their career dreams.

There are also small schools, with few students, essentially multi-grade classes, where the association donates school supplies. We met the teacher and the students during the inauguration of a water cistern for the village of Rumi Cancha. The tireless Dr. Molina also acted in this direction involving workers, the local population, and administrations. In fact, the workforce is provided by the population, the rest is shared.

For a stranger, it is lovely to participate and experience these inaugurations firsthand because you can perceive and feel deeply the sense of community, the value of sharing, and human relationships. An experience that made me reflect for a long time because perhaps we have lost this sense of common good, as well as sharing and great respect for the earth, the "Pacha Mama," great mother, goddess of fertility and agricultural products.

Even the greeting is another expression that I carry with me, you are not a stranger, but I recognize you as "my similar," that is, a "human being" and "Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening" is for you, even if I have never seen you, even if I do not know you and you do not belong to my community, even if you walk on the opposite sidewalk. And the double handshake, before and after touching the right cheek and then the left, almost as if validating the joy of a meeting, a seal of friendship and a promise given.

I find it hard not to think of Calvino's "Invisible Cities," of Zenobia whose peculiarity is the constant construction of connections, thanks to which no house will ever be isolated, no balcony unreachable, no dead-end alleyway.

Everything in Zenobia is about relationships. And desire consists precisely in building complex assemblies and humanity!


Prof. Paola Arman