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News from Cochabamba

by Anahi Santoyo

Nathan Cutler is second year student in International Affairs and Environmental Studies with a minor in Latin America Studies. Currently he is doing an international Co-op in Bolivia, Cochabamba in Fundación Pro Hábitat, an NGO which strives to improve the wellbeing of impoverished people by housing, legal paperwork and legal advocacy. However, his social work started at LIFT-Boston, a social advocacy organization that works to empower people lacking economic opportunities. Since the beginning Nathan was interested in empowering immigrants and less fortune people. Although he is currently in Bolivia he had some time to talk with me about his magnificent work in Cochabamba.

Fundación Pro Hábitat operates throughout three departments in Bolivia, in both rural regions and urban areas.  As said before, the organization is concerned with improving quality of life through infrastructure improvements, housing projects, legal advocacy, and micro-credit. Nathan is working in the Cochabamba office, specifically paired with a community in the impoverished southern zone of the city called San Silvestre where he is helping to design and implement a community-based project to improve some aspect of the living conditions in Bolivia.

Bolivia struggles with widespread poverty due to uneven distribution of resources as a result of the continuing legacy of a colonial past. The lack of sufficient education, health, and infrastructure systems make progress difficult, as well as government corruption and mismanagement of the country’s significant natural resources. Nathan´s work in uneven distribution of resources is crucial, as San Silvestre receives essentially zero support from the state or municipality while resources go to the more wealthy northern and central parts of Cochabamba.

Nathan talks about the importance of measuring its impact by the relationships with the people from the community: “It is important that our development projects come directly from the visions and goals of the people themselves; as a result I will be able to measure my impact from the feedback I receive from the community”

Currently, he is working in the community San Silvestre cresting a daycare and a homework center that will be run and sustained by the community. The mothers of this program are rotating in taking care of the young children so that the remaining can pursue job opportunities that will improve their economic circumstances. Moreover, older students and young adults will operate the homework center.  This center will provide support and resources for younger students. At the same time, the space will serve as a community meeting area for the neighborhood.

When I ask Nathan to explain his daily routine he says: “My schedule is very different from a traditional job in the United States.” He will spend most of his day between the Fundación´s office in central Cochabamba and in San Silvestre to meet with the community leaders and continue with the projects. He also explains how communicating in Spanish is hard not only because he is a non-native speaker but also because some people speak Quechua as a first language. Nathan also comments how some of the community´s views are sometimes “incomprehensible to a middle-class American student.” Nevertheless, he describes this opportunity of meeting members of the Bolivia community as extraordinary. Without a doubt Nathan is an example of an eager young advocate for human equality. For more information about his work you can read his blog Una Experiencia Cochabambina, that narrates his interesting discoveries in both English and Spanish.