INDEPTH: A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE|
Hope in Bolivia
CBC News Online | February 20, 2004
Reporter: David Halton | Producer: Greg Reaume
From The National Feb. 18, 2004
Bolivia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in South America, but on Bolivia's remote Sajama Mountains near the border with Chile, hope has been found. Actually, it was there all along. It just took a Canadian to recognize its potential.
It's the back of beyond, so isolated that few outsiders venture into the Barren Highlands surrounding the mountains of Sajama.
For Francois Landry of Rimouski, this is home. Setting up his telescope, Landry might be mistaken for an adventurous wildlife observer. In his sights, a herd of vicunas an endangered species that resembles a cross between a llama and a white-tailed deer.
Landry isn't checking on the animals' health and migration patterns for his own pleasure. He's pioneering a Canadian aid project to harvest wool from the vicuna, wool coveted by fashion designers in Milan and Paris as the finest in the world. The ultimate aim is to use the fragile animals to pull the Sajama region out of poverty.
"The money that will come in here will total at least $10,000 person year. And that's going to help improve the community's infrastructure, the housing and other things," Landry says.
It may not sound like much, but $10,000 is a fortune for the impoverished villages of the region. There's no running water, no electricity or sanitation here. One in three babies won't live beyond their second year.
Landry gave up a well-paid job as a Quebec civil servant to live like the Aymeras here in a stone hovel.
"When you go on an adventure like this, you leave all the comforts behind. You have to sacrifice material comforts such as your home, etc. I live in a residence like this. That's the difference. The lack of comfort. Tonight, for example, it's going to be -2 degrees. That's not very hot!" Landry says.
Despite the brooding volcanic landscape, there's a new optimism in the region.
An earlier Canadian aid project organized a co-operative that provides looms for Aymara women. They're weaving clothes and handicrafts from the wool of llamas and alpacas, a tiny export industry has taken off.
The co-op president, Condori Hurrachi says, "It helped us. Before the women didn't have work here. They couldn't leave and they couldn't support their kids. And now we have that organization and it helps us in many ways."
Canada provides more aid to Bolivia relative to its population than to any other country in South America. Scores of Canadian aid workers like Francois Landry are involved in everything from helping the homeless to cleaning out the toxic wastes from Bolivian mines.
In the Sajama, we found another Canadian aid worker, Marie Albertson, trying to win the confidence of the Aymara for an education project. Albertson gave up a plum job as a manager with the Cirque du Soleil to work here for almost nothing.
"It was really a change... a change of life after the jet set, the parties, the high salary. For what? What am I? What's my contribution to the world? So I'll be turning 40 very soon, and I decided that the second half of my professional life I would give to others," Albertson says.
But it isn't just about helping others in a distant corner of the Third World. Francois Landry says that Bolivia is giving as much to him as he's giving in return.
"I wanted to help these people and I told myself that I would bring a bit of my knowledge and what I had learned. But also, I was going to receive a lot from the Bolivians, about their culture, their way of life. And so far, it's going very well. I'm getting a lot in return," Landry says.
Landry will spend another two years in the Sajama. By then, he hopes wool from the vicuna will be on the market, taking the grim edges off life here and promising new opportunities for a younger generation.
CUSO tracks volunteers from: |
AFS Interculture Canada
Canadian Crossroads International.
Canada World Youth.
Centre for International Studies and Cooperation
Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO).
SUCO - Solidarité Union Coopération
VSO Voluntary Services Overseas Canada
World University Service of Canada (WUSC).
Collectively, our organizations send or receive more than 3,000 volunteers each year and remain in touch with more than 60,000 returned volunteers. These figures include significant numbers of volunteers from the South, but by and large they represent Canadians so concerned about the disparity between life here and life in poorer countries that they are willing to give up weeks, months or even years of their time to improve the world. Through our network of members and volunteers, we reach into almost every community in Canada, coast to coast to coast. Ours is a real, concrete presence for Canada around the world, often the only Canadian presence outside of capitals, or even in some entire countries.