Although progress has been made over recent years, landlocked Bolivia continues to be one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Many families all over the country live in conditions of extreme poverty. In La Paz, the social divide remains highly visible.
In an ever-expanding metropolis daily life can become a struggle for survival
At home doing her homework (photo: F. Espinoza)
La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia and the country’s second largest city. It is located in a basin surrounded by mountains, which means that its elevation varies from 3,000 to around 4,100 meters as the city expands up into the hills. The entire La Paz metropolitan area has a population of 2.3 million. La Paz is the country’s most important manufacturing centre, producing about two thirds of Bolivia’s tobacco products, clothing, tools, etc. Although Bolivia’s economy has improved in recent years, a large informal economy is already well established in La Paz: there are extensive markets all over the city and informal vendors on most downtown streets.
The class divide in La Paz is very pronounced, with a small wealthy elite and a newly emerging middle class living in the lower areas around the historical city centre, and the poverty-stricken majority inhabiting the ever-growing shantytowns that sprawl up the hillsides. Many of the people here in the outskirts of the city are migrants from rural areas and around half the population is indigenous.
Around 42 per cent of the population of La Paz – or over one million people – live in extreme poverty, meaning that their basic needs, such as clean water or sanitation, are not met. Although the situation regarding primary school education has improved greatly in recent years in Bolivia, in La Paz there are still an estimated 42,000 children who do not attend school.
Children need protection and support in order to become healthy, successful adults
Playing in the Children's Village (photo: F. Espinoza)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Mallasa, a district of La Paz located about 20 minutes from the city centre, in 1983. Our social centres offer a holistic and sustainable family strengthening programme which aims to alleviate hardship in the community. Its services include a childminding programme that allows working parents or single mothers to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living.
For children who are unable to live with their parents, twelve SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 110 children. They live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mothers. The children attend the local schools alongside children from the neighbourhood: this way they make friends and become part of the community.
Our vocational training centres in Mallasa offer courses in graphics and design, joinery, printing, tailoring, electrical engineering and mechanics. One centre focuses particularly on supporting and training girls, offering courses for up to 170 students, for example in office work with a focus on IT.
Our SOS Youth Programme offers shared accommodation for young people. Supported by qualified counsellors, they live here while they are completing their secondary or vocational education as a way of preparing for independent living.