Mano a Mano resumed travel to Bolivia this year!

Laguna Sulti celebration in May 2023 that Mano a Mano travelers were able to participate in.

The nine-day mid-May trip coincided with the now-annual celebration of the Laguna Sulti Water Reservoir and the many ways in which it has transformed the thirteen rural communities that directly benefit from water it holds for them to share. But before the Laguna Sulti celebration, those who traveled with us found many additional projects to celebrate together.

Travelers visiting Bolivia with Mano a Mano in March; our most recent May trip was our second trip this year!

Visiting Sacabamba Greenhouses

Mano a Mano travelers being welcomed into Sacabamba, May 2023

A 50-member brass and drum high school band surrounded the school building to welcome the visitors to their high Andean community of Sacabamba (which we also visited in March). Other students led them to the community/school-based greenhouses built in partnership with Mano a Mano, the project that drew them to this distant community.

En route to Sacabamba
A Mano a Mano community greenhouse in Sacabamba

Students explained why the greenhouses are so important to them. With instruction from their teachers and help from their parents, they prepare the soil, plant seeds, care for growing plants, and harvest the voluminous produce. About 50% of what they harvest “goes to the kitchen” from which they are fed every day. The rest is sold in surrounding markets. Funds raised pay for seeds, hand tools, and purchase of food that provides protein for their diet. “Without our greenhouses, we would not have enough food to eat,” they tell the visitors. “Throughout the year, even during the warmest summer months, vegetables cannot tolerate the night-time mountain winds. Onions are the only vegetable that survives outdoors.”

Students asked the visitors to question them about any aspect of their gardening and impressed the visitors with the depth of their knowledge. They emphasized their constant attention to maintaining healthy soil that will yield healthy plants for future generations of students and their families. Although aware that each of the Mano a Mano travelers speaks Spanish (having lived in Bolivia decades ago), the students decided to learn the English names for each of their plants.  The opportunity to learn how to conserve soil and water, to produce bountiful harvests with natural, locally available fertilizer and pest control, has inspired many students from this small high school to seek careers in agronomy. Of the 24 students who graduated last November, six are now enrolled in post-secondary agronomy programs.

Mano a Mano travelers meeting with Sacabamba community members, May 2023

Visiting the Ucuchi Water Reservoir and Local Farms

Mano a Mano completed its first water reservoir project in 2005 in Ucuchi, a community just outside of Cochabamba. The project continues to provide water and other opportunities in the area.

Donating Medical Supplies and Equipment in Punata

Mano a Mano staff and volunteers collect medical supplies, mobility equipment, and other in-demand items at our St. Paul, Minnesota warehouse for shipment to Bolivia, where they are distributed from our Cochabamba warehouse to people and organizations in need throughout the country. This donation in Punata in May is one recent example that the travelers were able to participate in.

Mano a Mano distributed supplies to 293 organizations across all 9 departments of Bolivia in 2022 – in 67 municipalities and 1,088 communities.

Dedicating a New Water Well in Islas Malvinas, Bolivia

Mano a Mano dedicated a new deep water well in the community of Islas Malvinas, Bolivia.

Flying on the Mano a Mano Plane

Mano a Mano’s aviation program brings healthcare into sparsely populated remote communities whose location is hours or days away by land or river from the nearest health services. Travelers were able to fly on the Mano a Mano plane and participate in the 15th anniversary celebration of the Laguna Sulti water reservoir – where the Mano a Mano airport is under construction (more below).

Mano a Mano staff and travelers in front of Mano a Mano’s Cessna Caravan
View from the Mano a Mano plane, just outside of Cochabamba

15th Anniversary Celebration in Laguna Sulti

Farmers from the thirteen rural communities that draw water from the Laguna Sulti Reservoir decided together to organize an annual celebration of the Reservoir and all that it has made possible for them.

Mano a Mano has expanded the Laguna Sulti water reservoir multiple times – pictured here after completing an expansion in late 2021.

Among them, they set up 20 tents for display of the food they produced because they have water for irrigation during the dry season. Their exhibits included corn, popcorn, fava beans, squash, and other fruits and vegetables.

Mano a Mano personnel and volunteers, along with municipal officials, organized judging for competitions and games, and offered prizes for first, second, and third place winners.  

The meal prepared by this “Best meal” third place winner featured quinoa which she had grown.

Others won contests for best produce, bicycle, and foot races.

Mano a Mano also had tents and displays to showcase our programs.

CEA staff talked with farmers about composting, mulching, and other practices that conserve water and protect soil, and manage pests without use of chemicals.  

Farmers stood in line to learn more about raising guinea pigs and producing fodder to feed them.

Distributing Mobility Items & Demonstrating our Physical Therapy Program

Donating mobility equipment sent from Minnesota at the 15th Anniversary celebration

Mano a Mano staff often receive requests for mobility equipment; these include general requests at our Cochabamba warehouse but also come up when we are working on community projects such as wells. They brought walkers and wheelchairs to the celebration and gave demonstrations on how to use them safely:  how to lift someone into a wheelchair; how to manage a walker on bumpy terrain;  how to keep the equipment in working order.

Laguna Sulti community leader Don Remberto Gonzales welcomes the crowd. He and Don Primitivo Montano, president of the Irrigators Association, retell the history of the reservoir, how Laguna Sulti leaders approached Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo more than 15 years ago with a plea for help to retain water for their crops. The story is a familiar one. It summarizes the Mano a Mano model of working in partnership with communities and their local government. These storytellers emphasize that people who live in the United States have not forgotten them, have come to their aid, and helped them transform the economy of the area.

Our aircraft drops parachuters onto a field next to the runway. While entertaining to onlookers, this activity has a much more serious purpose. These Save and Rescue volunteers require opportunities to practice drops into mountain ravines and deep rain forests in search of accident victims (learn more about a recent aviation emergency search and rescue for Jhonatan Acosta in February).

Cochabamba governor, Don Humberto Sanchez, emphasizes that all four of the Bolivian Mano a Mano organizations are taking part in the celebration and have worked in concert, alongside the farmers, to improve their lives for generations to come. “For 15 years this region has produced crops because of this reservoir. We thank all who made this possible, including those from the United States, the Gringitos, who supported this project.”

In conclusion, Don Primitivo returns to address the crowd in their native Quechua. “It’s a dream for us that this reservoir became a reality.” He turns to the governor with the final words of his speech:

“Let it not end here.”

Learn More

Left to right: the Laguna Sulti water reservoir, the runway under construction for the Mano a Mano airport, and people gathering for the celebration on May 20, 2023.

We are happy to be able to connect the many different people that partner together as part of Mano a Mano: our staff, Board members, and volunteers in the US & Bolivia; US donors; local Bolivian governments; and especially the people in the communities that these projects are for. These trips provide a small glimpse into the many programs and projects that Mano a Mano is involved with throughout Bolivia – all being done at the request of the community, with their support, and ultimately managed and owned by them.