Bolivia: Salesian Missionaries Restore Water, Electricity to Village Improving Living Conditions and Local Economy
(MissionNewsire) Salesian Father Serafino Chiesa, in collaboration with other non-governmental organizations and volunteer groups, has worked to connect the village of Kami back to Bolivia’s national power grid. The refurbished turbines supply light and technology to students, improved medical care to patients, and power to a new sawmill facility and other businesses. This also creates excess energy that residents are able to sell back to the Bolivian Electricity Board. As a result, Kami is now beginning to finance its own sustainable development and faces a much brighter future.
“The human development of this community, which didn’t even have roads and had always been abandoned to its own fate, is extremely important even more so than the stone and cement buildings of the power plant,” says Fr. Chiesa.
Kami, nestled high in the Andes Mountains, faces extreme isolation from the rest of the country. Harsh living conditions coupled a persistently cold climate and the health effects residents face from the local tungsten mining that drives the economy, the average life expectancy of Kami’s residents is just 40 years old. Before Salesian missionaries first arrived in Kami in 1977, illiteracy rates were extremely high. With the exception of mining, the sole source of income and sustenance for families 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.
Salesian missionaries, led by Fr. Chiesa, understood Kami’s potential and set out to transform the community. With no access to clean water, children and families had been drinking from contaminated water sources that left them chronically susceptible to a variety of illnesses. One of the first projects that Salesian missionaries undertook was to build an aqueduct that brought safe water directly into Kami, and in the process, earned the loyal trust of the people they served.
During the following years, Fr. Chiesa and his team systematically introduced educational and social programs designed to improve the living conditions of Kami’s people. Then in 2010, missionaries discovered an abandoned and defunct hydroelectric station that had once serviced the mining community.
“Fr. Chiesa was overjoyed,” explains Humberto Camacho, a native Bolivian and past Salesian student who is now the national coordinator of a non-governmental organization that supports Salesian-run programs. “He realized that the abandoned plant could help increase the value of Kami’s agricultural sector and create a local, clean and sustainable economic resource, one that would support the community in becoming self-sufficient and autonomous Fr. Chiesa is fearless so he seized the opportunity.”
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and has the most unequal income distribution on the continent. According to UNICEF, 60 percent of Bolivians live below the poverty line with 40 percent of those living in extreme poverty. The poverty rate is higher in rural areas where the rate increases to 75 percent of the population. 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 in place, negatively impacting the indigenous farming populations who typically live there. Only half of rural children complete primary school and many others leave school to help support their families, according to UNICEF. There are others who are left homeless by parents who cannot afford to care for them and those who leave their homes to escape violence.