By: Megan Radford
Driving into the mountains outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia, is a breathtaking experience. As you climb up, up, up, your ears begin to pop, and the air grows cooler by degrees. The rolling hills are covered in cacti, each one bearing pops of yellow and pink flowers or fruit.
Here, far from the city, and down cobblestone roads that rattle your teeth as you drive over them, is a community called Sumaj Kawsay. In the Quechua language, it means “Good Living”. The people here are descended from the great Inca civilization, and live amongst the remnants of their storied past- burial sites that dot the hills as a reminder of what was.
Life is difficult here. The terrain is full of rocks that must be carefully picked out if you want to plant. Plowing is still done by oxen, and planting is still done by hand. It’s backbreaking work, but the people of Sumaj Kawsay are resilient.
After the harvest, families use the money they earn from their crops for essentials like food and shelter. There is little money left over, even for clothing and blankets to protect against the bitter cold that comes with living at over 4000 metres above sea level.
Justina’s family was facing just such a quandary. The wool they sheared from their sheep each year was only enough for one brightly coloured blanket- hardly sufficient for a family of seven.
Justina’s whole family, including the children’s paternal grandmother.
Then, through World Vision Canada’s Gift Catalogue, Justina’s family received warm blankets. In Sumaj Kawsay, each year, every sponsored child, and every child who is registered but not yet sponsored, receives a new blanket. That’s 2500 children in 42 communities- a whole lot of warm and fuzzy.
Not only that, but the blankets are made right in Bolivia, from the wool of Bolivian llamas and alpacas. The fibres from these Bolivian animals are incredibly strong and warm, and woven tightly by expert hands to create a blanket that will be used for years to come.
Somewhere in the highlands, Canadians’ donations are providing employment opportunity for skilled tradespeople. It’s this kind of detail and care for the whole community that makes the products in World Vision’s Gift Catalogue unique.
The cozy blankets have allowed Justina’s family of five children to sleep comfortably at night, despite the chilly air. And now, any extra money they earn can be put towards school supplies for their children, instead of keeping warm.
The four sisters show us how they get cozy at night.
World Vision Bolivia staff member Dr. Wilfredo told us that Justina and other parents in the community have one thing they must do before their children can receive their blankets- they must get their children vaccinated. Through a partnership with the hospital, the office is aiming to slowly change the mentality of families so they understand the importance of healthcare.
“Now the mothers pass by our office on their way home from the hospital,” he chuckled. “They want to show us that their children have received their vaccines.”
The vaccines and blankets are part of an effort to reduce the number of flu and cold cases seen in the communities. These methods and are reinforced through vitamins provided by the hospital. And it’s working. The number of cases of sick children has reduced, says Dr. Wilfredo.
Shivering in my hoodie and jacket, I could see why children need the immune-boosting vitamins.
I sipped my tea, and watched the community leaders pass through- men in warm sweaters, and women with babies tucked into colourful aguayo cloths. These community leaders are a huge part of reaching the remote communities in this area. Without them, World Vision simply wouldn’t be able to distribute a Christmas gift to every child.
William and his family wave goodbye.
While we visited their home, Justina’s 14-year-old son William told us that the blankets “keep us warm in the cold here.” He also told us that “one more would be better.”
I admired his confidence, and the love that caused him to advocate for his family. As we waved goodbye, I thought to myself, “Well William, I think that can be arranged.”