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.