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BOLIVIA: Salesian hydroelectric plant brings energy and jobs to the remote village of Kami


(MissionNewswire) The village of Kami, nestled high in the Andes Mountains in Bolivia, faces extreme isolation from the rest of the country. A persistently cold climate, coupled with negative health effects faced by residents due to the tungsten mining industry that drives the local economy, make for harsh living conditions. Residents of Kami have an average life expectancy of just 40 years. Before Salesian missionaries first arrived in the village in 1977, illiteracy rates were extremely high.

With the exception of mining, the sole source of income and sustenance for families in Kami was through farming. And while water in the village was mostly available, electricity was not. Without electricity to power the local school or hospital or to support new business enterprises, the village seemed destined to remain in poverty.

In 2016, Salesian Father Serafino Chiesa, in collaboration with other nongovernmental organizations and volunteer groups, worked to connect the village of Kami to Bolivia’s national power grid. They did this by using refurbished turbines to supply light and technology to students, improve medical care to patients and power to a new sawmill facility and other businesses. They even had enough excess energy to enable residents to sell it back to the Bolivian Electricity Board. Kami is now beginning to finance its own sustainable development projects and faces a much brighter future

Today the plant employs several people and has grown to supply energy to the Salesian mission and the village, and even enables Salesians to sell the surplus production to the Bolivian state itself. The final part of the hydroelectric network is now nearing completion, thanks to the tenacity of Fr. Chiesa who has spent his life gaining the many skills necessary to develop such an incredible project.

The final part of the project consists of the construction of a tunnel but challenges persist. In a recent letter, Fr. Chiesa explained how the construction of a tunnel is challenging because on one side there is water that floods the tunnel, and on the other, there is the constant risk of falling rocks. Fr. Chiesa explained, “In short, we are late with the finalization of the network, but we are alive and stubbornly convinced of moving forward.”

In the meantime, however, an encampment has been set up with a kitchen, bathrooms and dormitories for the workers. Work is also being done on the maintenance of the machines and trucks. Some vehicles, such as a bulldozer with 25 years of service already on record, always have new troubles.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and has the most unequal income distribution on the continent. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate was 35 percent in 2018. It is common for Bolivians to struggle to find adequate nutrition, shelter and other basic necessities. The geography of Bolivia contributes to the overwhelming poverty of its residents. Large swaths of the country remain undeveloped with a lack of roads and infrastructure.



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ANS – Bolivia – Kami, a mission in the clouds

World Bank – Bolivia

Salesian Missions – Bolivia