Mano a Mano Projects in 2020: Working Around the Pandemic

2020 was a very difficult year, but despite the challenges Mano a Mano continued with our mission of creating partnerships with impoverished Bolivian communities to improve health and increase economic well-being. Learn more about each of our major programs and its work last year at the links below:

A Look Back At What We Did Together in 2020 – Mano a Mano 2020 Annual Report

Mano a Mano’s biggest strength is our community-based partnership model – bringing many people together to accomplish things that none of us could do on our own. Every activity, every project new or old, every event, depends on the dedication & effort of many people. As we look back at what we were able to do in 2020, we want to thank you:

  • the communities & municipal governments in Bolivia;
  • the people, schools, churches, community organizations, and foundations in the US;
  • the people from many other countries that support Mano a Mano;
  • the core Mano a Mano staff & volunteers at all 5 of our counterpart organizations in Bolivia and the US.

Without you – every person working together and doing their part – none of this would be possible. Thank you!

Annual Reports from Previous Years: 2017-2019

Check out our previous Annual Reports from the past 3 years (all financial statements, 990s, and previous year’s annual reports are available HERE):

2020 in Photos

Shipped 175,777 Pounds of Supplies from Minnesota to Bolivia

In 2020, Mano a Mano shipped 7 containers with 175,777 pounds of medical supplies, mobility equipment, and other items from Minnesota to Bolivia for distribution to people and organizations in need throughout the country. 291 organizations in Bolivia received supplies and equipment from Mano a Mano last year. We also helped provide supplies locally in the Twin Cities and to organizations working in other countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, and Cameroon.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of Mano a Mano’s distributions of supplies in 2020:

Loading supplies and equipment at the Mano a Mano hangar in Cochabamba for distribution in the department of Beni, 2020.

Volunteers in the US Contributed 13,457 Hours

Last year was hard. We depend on volunteers in everything we do, and because of the pandemic we were unable to host larger groups of volunteers (essential for sorting supplies and loading containers at our St. Paul warehouse) or travel to Bolivia (most years 50-100 people travel to Bolivia with Mano a Mano; last year nobody traveled for the first time in decades). Despite the difficulties, we were lucky to have many people support Mano a Mano and make sure we could continue our work.

Provided 131 Emergency Flights & Air Transport of Medical Supplies Throughout Bolivia

During most years, the aviation program airlifts about 260 patients from remote Bolivian communities to care in urban hospitals. But 2020 was not an ordinary year. Given months-long restrictions to fly for COVID purposes only, we airlifted 131 patients, most with COVID, often having to scour the country for a hospital that would accept them. Later in the year, we were permitted to respond to other patients with other life-threatening emergencies, like Nazaria and Herminda.

Mano a Mano arriving in Oromomo (in the Bolivian Amazon) to pick up Herminda for her emergency flight in late 2020.

Traditionally, we had delivered supplies while on one leg of a flight to rescue a patient or conduct a weekend clinic. During 2020, PPE delivery became a primary task. The addition of a 14-passenger Caravan aircraft in 2019, and its much larger available cargo space, made it possible for Mano a Mano to carry loads of 2,500 pounds, which would include boxes of masks, face shields, gloves, ambu bags, oxygen concentrators and other PPE, much of which had arrived via our four-container shipment the day before transport came to a halt in March 2020.

After nearly two grounded months in March and April, we finally received permission to fly in May, often being the only aircraft in Bolivia’s skies. In spite of the unprecedented challenges, our aviation program made 452 flights and transported about 95,000 pounds of medical supplies and equipment in 2020.

Transporting medical supplies and equipment to Beni, 2020.

“Pilot of Hope” – Mano a Mano Aviation Documentary Released on Amazon Prime

A documentary made about Mano a Mano’s aviation program in Bolivia and our pilot Ivo Daniel Martinez was released on Amazon Prime Video and Vimeo On Demand in mid-2020. For Amazon Prime Video: log on to your Amazon Prime Video account (you must have a Prime subscription to watch); search for “On the Wing”; go to Season 2, Episode 1 – “Pilot of Hope.” Here’s the trailer:

896,346 Patient Visits in Mano a Mano’s Network of 173 Clinics

Patient visit in Icla with everyone wearing PPE.

Mano a Mano’s network of 173 clinics had 896,346 patient visits in 2020. As a part of the Bolivian health care system, Mano a Mano’s network of clinics provide monthly reports to the Bolivian Ministry of Health. Our clinic program’s approach is that health outcomes can be dramatically improved with simple yet effective interventions, beginning with the basic ability to consistently access quality services in their own communities. While COVID-19 has been (rightfully) the dominant current health issue, primary health care is needed now more than ever; our network of clinics serve a vital role in providing access to primary health care for communities in rural Bolivia.

Mano a Mano’s network of clinics had 896,346 patient visits in 2020 (165 clinics reporting).

Built 4 New Health Clinics

In 2020, our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Bolivia completed 4 new health clinics that provide improved access to quality health care for 6,151 people. We have built 173 clinics to date; there are currently 56 communities on our active waiting list for a clinic project.

Mano a Mano’s new clinic in Sumala

Built 2 New Schools

Students in their school in Qhapajtala

Our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Bolivia completed 2 new schools in 2020, despite the many delays and challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have built 66 school projects to date; there are currently 43 communities on our active waiting list for a project.

New school in Qhapajtala, Bolivia.

Hydroponic Lettuce, Fodder, and Livestock at the CEA: Agricultural Experiments in 2020

With limited ability to have in-person visitors in 2020, Mano a Mano staff at our Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA) in Cochabamba spent their time experimenting with new demonstration projects. Their goal: to grow more food, in less space and at lower cost, using technology and materials that can be made available to remote rural communities. The CEA built four on-site greenhouses to have enough space to raise hydroponic lettuce year-round. We continue to experiment with fodder, comparing fodder produced from corn, wheat, barley, and oats to determine how well each will produce through this method in contrast to planting in soil. Our agronomist is also comparing the growth of animals based on which crop they are fed; the average litter of guinea pigs has doubled since they have been fed fodder in contrast to soil-grown alfalfa.

Harvesting hydroponic lettuce at the CEA, 2020.

While the CEA could not train farmers in 2020, it did provide 2-6 month internships for 17 agronomy students from Cochabamba’s Universidad Mayor de San Simón and the Instituto Tecnologico Eterazama located at the entrance to the department of Cochabamba’s tropics. Interns perform essential tasks required to care for CEA’s gardens, animals, and hydroponic projects. And, they conduct experiments under the supervision of CEA staff.

Improved 186 Miles of Road in Omereque

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.”

Working on a 186-mile road project in Omereque, July 2020.

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.

Expanded the Laguna Sulti Water Reservoir

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 then end of the year. 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 (Mother Earth).

Pink flamingos return to Laguna Sulti

We plan to deepen another section of this reservoir in 2021.

Providing Clean Drinking Water for Rural Communities

Safe drinking water is a scarce commodity throughout rural Bolivia. News of Mano a Mano’s upgraded capacity to drill deep wells (since 2019) traveled quickly throughout high Andean rural communities. We received well requests from 19 communities within about 3 months and drilled 4 before the pandemic arrived. As COVID restrictions lightened later in 2020, we re-initiated our deep well drilling projects, beginning in the community of Tajamar.

The community of Pucara came up next on the list. Along with its elected leaders, we selected the well site and began to drill. Soon the drill hit solid rock, the most difficult well-drilling challenge we have encountered so far. In response to this challenge, our engineer recommended drilling on land that was closer to the river where there was less rock, but community residents objected. That land could potentially be disputed as belonging to the next-door community. Pucarans worried about not having permanent access to this most valuable of all resources, if a dispute did result. Together with the leaders, we chose another site on legally recognized Pucara community land.

Moving the drill from one site and re-assembling it on another created the next delay but one that assured the community that we would not abandon the project. When drilling began and we hit solid rock again, everyone was determined that, no matter what, Pucarans would reach the promise of clean drinking water. Mano a Mano purchased a different type of drill bit, one that would cut more slowly and thus took much longer to drill, but was less likely to break. Then, after several days of slow drilling through 90 meters of rock, success! Now, over 100 families (about 600 people) have clean drinking water, plus water for their domestic animals and family fruit and vegetable gardens.

Drilling a deep well in Pucara. There are currently 20 communities on our active waiting list for a well project.

How You Can Help

Donating supplies for COVID-19 support, April 2020.

Everything we do depends on many people working together. There are many ways you can help:

  • Make a Donation. Your support makes it possible to partner with communities on projects they ask for.
  • Volunteer. Contact us to learn more.
  • Share the Mano a Mano Story. Follow us on social media (links on the top of our page). Buy the Mano a Mano books. Send this link to friends and colleagues. Contact us about opportunities to speak or present at your church, Rotary club, or any other event.

Thank you!