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Bolivia’s early nationwide stay-at-home orders and restrictions on travel presented challenges throughout 2020. Fortunately, we completed a large 2019 Laguna Sulti reservoir expansion project in February 2020, before the pandemic halted much of our work. The location of this reservoir on relatively flat land, surrounded by hundreds of small subsistence, family-owned farms, makes it an ideal choice for expansion to add new families and increase the amount of water available for current water association members. Once COVID restrictions were lightened, we returned to Laguna Sulti and completed an expansion of another section of this reservoir at the end of 2020. Each expansion involved both deepening a selected section and increasing the levee wall height, to expand the water holding capacity by at least 50,000 cubic meters. Laguna Sulti farmers see the return of birds to their reservoir as a sign of the healing of Pacha Mama (flamingos pictured below). Mano a Mano’s Laguna Sulti reservoir is 80% filled with seasonal rain and mountain runoff, a testimony to its strategic location and good design. We plan to deepen another section of this reservoir in 2021.
Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA), managed by our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Internacional, began its eighth year in operation with expanded training plans. While 385 farmers attended classes at the CEA in 2016, that number increased to 2,139 in 2019! In addition to farmer training, CEA staff gave guided tours and training demonstrations to another 3,220 visitors in 2019. Given this level of interest and need, CEA staff prepared to train even larger numbers in 2020. COVID derailed their plans and led them to consider this question: what does a training center do when it can’t do onsite training – when the country is under stay-at-home restrictions? CEA staff responded by reviewing what their program had accomplished during its seven-year history, what they had learned, and how they could use the period of restrictions to build on that learning.
Building Roads and Runways, Training Heavy Equipment Operators, and Dredging Rivers: Community-Based Economic Development Projects Completed in 2020
Our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo’s machine operators and mechanics were already building a set of arterial roads in the expansive Andean municipality of Omereque when the pandemic struck in March 2020. Our personnel live at their project sites for months at a time, sometimes in tents, at other times in a shipping container re-purposed as a cabin. Remaining on the job in Omereque was their safest option. Initially, the partnership agreement involved constructing 19 miles of solid gravel roads that would connect several of Omereque’s 67 towns to each other, reducing a several-hour donkey ride through difficult mountain terrain to a brief truck trip. When asked why the road was so important, farmers responded, “A donkey can carry only 6-8 watermelons on its back; when the donkey’s loaded, I have to walk. Together, neighbors can hire a truck to carry hundreds of melons and stop to sell them at open markets in every town along the way or continue on to the city.” Farmers from throughout this sprawling municipality, with a population of about 75,000, heard that Mano a Mano was working in distant sections of the region. They brought forth more requests until this became a 186-mile project. It was completed in December, in time for our staff to return home for the holidays.
Every year, we ship 150,000-200,000 pounds of donated medical supplies and equipment from our St. Paul, Minnesota warehouse to Bolivia. The vast majority of this cargo (about 97%) is made up of medical supplies and equipment that make it possible for our clinics and other institutions to provide life-saving health care. But these shipments support our other programs as well, by sending our counterpart organizations items that reduce project cost, save precious time, and improve safety for our staff and the communities we partner with.
We have a new (used) truck to pick up donated supplies in the Twin Cities more efficiently! Our used 16’ truck that we bought in 2014 was a diligent workhorse, but it finally reached the point of requiring repairs that cost more than its value. We purchased a 26’ box truck from MATTER, one of our local, long-time partner organizations. MATTER often shares items with Mano a Mano that have been donated to them but that they don’t need, and we do the same. So, in addition to selling us the truck at a very reasonable price, they “threw in” 20 hospital mattresses, 100,000 patient foot coverings, several pediatric wheelchairs, and pallets of medical supplies. We will send these supplies to Bolivia, where they are distributed to people & organizations in need throughout the country.