Santa Cruz

Children from Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Santa Cruz is Bolivia's richest city with a strong industrial and agricultural economy.

Of its 1.6 million residents however, half a million live on less than $1 a day, meaning there is a big social divide between the most comfortable and the least comfortable residents in the city.

One-third live below the poverty line

One of the lowest cities in landlocked Bolivia at 440 metres above sea-level, Santa Cruz is a hive of industry. The surrounding region has a strong agricultural economy, growing coffee, sugar cane and tobacco. Recent mineral finds there have also given the region an economic boost with oil, natural gas and iron ore finds giving great job opportunities to local residents.

An economic powerhouse, the city has grown at a huge rate over the last few years. 30 years ago it had just over a quarter of a million residents, and is now more than six times that size. Rapid urbanisation means that public amenities such as sanitation and clean water have not reached everyone in the city, particularly those in the large slums.

There is a definite divide between rich and poor. Two thirds of the residents have a life of relative comfort but around 500,000 people live on less than $1 a day.

Child labour in Santa Cruz

Though poverty levels are relatively low for Bolivia and primary school attendance rates relatively high, many thousands of residents have to eke out an existence on less than $1 a day.

In the poorest families even the youngest members have to contribute financially. A lot of children go to work at a very young age, selling merchandise on the informal economy. 40,000 children between the ages of six and 13 do not attend school as a result.

The city needs new schools and teachers to keep up with the demands of its fast growing population. 

How SOS Children's Villages helps in Santa Cruz

Helping the community

bolivia-primaryschool-santa-cruz.jpgWe have been working in Santa Cruz since 1994, providing social centres, SOS families and an SOS youth programme. One of the areas we work in is the incredibly poor "twelfth district", an area where 70% of children live in poverty and conditions are overcrowded. Increasing population growth is placing huge pressure on housing, schools and medical services.

The SOS social centres there work with vulnerable families to build family cohesion, giving guidance on how they can improve their income without sending their children to work. We also have day-care centres which allow parents work without having to worry about the safety of their children. 

Loving homes for vulnerable children

For children who can no longer live with their families, we offer a loving home with our SOS families. The family houses are part of the local neighbourhoods and the children attend local schools, ensuring that they are still part of the communities in which they lived before coming into our care. 

Older children and teenagers in our care are encouraged to get involved in our SOS youth programme which gives them more independence while they pursue further education or vocational training opportunities.

The community of Santa Cruz is supported by a range of our services. When you become a child sponsor, you give one more vulnerable child the support they need to thrive. 


Family Strengthening Programmes provide families with the means to stay together. This helps children grow up safely, get educated and stay healthy.