“Why Bolivia?” It’s a good question and one I’m often asked. The answer has to do with Bolivia and its ‘story so far’ and to do with us and our ‘story so far’.
Bolivia is an incredible country, a place of breathtaking scenery and engaging people, a place of fascinating natural and human diversity. It is also one of the poorest countries in Latin America and one of the most unequal countries in the world.
- In 2012 its UN Human Development Index (HDI) value positioned the country at 108 out of 187 countries and territories, a rank it shares with Mongolia.
- According to the UN Development Programme, only the nations of Colombia, Namibia, Botswana, Haiti, Angola and Comoros are more unequal than Bolivia.
Bolivia (as I mentioned in my last post) is in a period of rapid social change. As a result of this change it is experiencing a growth in severe social problems such as sexual abuse, prostitution, underemployment, and child neglect. We know that these problems leave individuals with huge deficits in terms of their sense of security, significance and self-worth – problems which readily lead people into substance abuse and addiction.
Bolivia is also the world’s third largest grower of the Coca leaf, the raw ingredient of Cocaine and, increasingly, a centre for its consumption and production:
“Not too long ago, poor areas such as in South America mainly produced drugs for use in rich markets like the U.S. But that is changing. New data show consumption of illegal drugs is rising in the emerging world even as their use remains unchanged, or even declines, in some rich countries… While cocaine production has declined in Colombia amid a decade long U.S.-backed crackdown, traffickers are successfully relocating production to neighbours such as Bolivia and Peru”. ‘Drug Use Climbs in Poorer Nations’, The Wall Street Journal, 26th June 2012
Though cocaine itself is too expensive for many Bolivians, a form of crude cocaine called Pitillo is widely abused – as are alcohol, marijuana, glue, and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
“Essentially a chemical waste product, Paco is what remains from the narco-kitchens producing cocaine bound for US and European markets… Addictive after one or two hits, the drug systematically destroys the nervous system. Users quickly become skeletal and ravaged, resorting to crime, violence and prostitution to feed their habits… Paco was smoked in other cocaine-producing countries before it reached Argentina: it is known as Kete in Peru, Bazuco in Colombia and Pitillo in Bolivia.” ‘The 10p cocaine by-product turning Argentina’s slum children into the living dead’, The Observer, 21st February 2010
Those who work on the ground in Bolivia with gangs, addicts and street children confirm that the drug and alcohol problem is serious and growing. The Bolivian government is also aware of this need. In February 2012 Government Minister Carlos Romero spoke of, “the urgent need to establish rehabilitation centres to deal with the proliferation of gangs of violent youths addicted to drugs and alcohol.”
Crucially, our reasons for launching Novō in Bolivia are also personal and practical. From 2006-2009 Andy served as the Pastor of Trinity International Church in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. During this time God gave us a heart for this diverse, beautiful and damaged nation. We also now see how he prepared us practically to be able to set-up Novō – giving us a huge head-start in terms of the language, culture, and practicalities of living and working overseas. Crucially, we also find ourselves with a superb network of friends and contacts in Bolivia, including some key organisations and individuals who will prove to be key partners in establishing the first new projects.