Profile of a Bolivian Village

Howdy,

This is a side post from Day Two of “The Saga” (cue dramatic music). As development nerds we were interested in the quality of life of the Bolivians living in Cerillos, one of the small towns we passed through. The following is an attempt to develop a basic profile of Cerillos.

Cerillos is a collection of hamlets located about half a days drive south west of Tupiza via a dirt road. It sits at an altitude of approximately 4,100 metres (we were there in winter and it was dry but freezing cold!). The hamlets have a combined population of around 80 families of between 5 to 10 people each.*

Local shop.

Housing

As you can see in the photo below, the housing is traditional adobe brick with thatch roofing and floors of either dirt, stone or concrete. Apparently it takes 2 to 3 people about 15 days to build a house, which will last 50 years. In this hamlet the houses were designed as walled compounds with stand alone rooms, which they modify based on the family’s needs.

Infrastructure

The town is powered and we saw several sattelite dishes and solar panels, so they definitely keep on top of the football. We’ve already mentioned that the roads are unpaved so they have reasonable access to infrastructure for a remote community. Not many people have access to cars, but there is a steady stream of tourist jeeps and produce trucks passing through.


Health

The nearest hospital is in Tupiza but they have a medical centre in the hamlet. This is staffed by a doctor and two nurses. We don’t know what their level of training is and we did not visit the centre.

Local diet is fairly basic and consists of llama, beans, quinoa, maize and of course potatoes.

With regard to water they are apparently quite secure; we were told there is sufficient water all year round, with rains coming in summer. Water is accessed via a large pump and pipe system which draws from an underground source. We are not experts on this sort of thing but as you can see below the system is sophisticated.

The sanitation situation will make many squirm. The little we saw was not good. As there were no toilets in the café we were all forced to ‘use nature’. When searching for a good spot we did find two outdoor toilets near a school. They had three walls, a concrete floor and a roof. However, there was no door, toilet base or hole in the floor, let alone a ventilation pipe. We’ll spare you a description of the mess but it was revolting. Hate to think that kids have got to use those facilities.

Solid waste was dumped in a gully by the school. Not sure what their options are in that environment but this is more or less what we expected (although we didn’t like it being so close to the school).

Taken from a different village but you get the idea.


Education

They do have a school which services all the hamlets. Disappointed to admit that we forgot to ask any questions on this. You might be interested to know that kids typically attend school for half a day as they are also expected to assist their families with manual labour. We also note that secondary school only became compulsory in 2010.

Income

As we understood it the mines in the area were the main source of income. This is where most of the men worked. Household income was supplemented by the sale of llama meat and pelts. Apparently the women tendered the llama herds if the men worked in the mines.

As the climate there is so arid there are poor options for food crops. So, it seems that the people of Cerillos are very much dependent on the success or failure of the mines.

Pen of llamas with colourful earrings to mark ownership in the village.


Pros and Cons

Reading back over the post, we are surprised at the amount of information we have. Although it is only a basic outline, we thought that the village was well served in terms of services and access to infrastructure. Bear in mind that this is a remote community in South America’s poorest country. We think that the community is fairly self-sufficient, a good thing if people wish to preserve the village way of life.

There are a few issues though. We haven’t delved into the mining situation but with only two sources of income the village’s economic security is tied to the mines. We wouldn’t be surprised if most of the villagers emigrated once the money begins to dry up. That said, the mines probably instigated the village’s creation.

The environmental sanitation was not good. Those are the worst toilets we have ever seen and the solid waste was an ugly pile of trash. This stuff often gets neglected (1 billion people still defecate in the open) but it is a shame to see things like this. We later saw that things were better managed in other communities.

Abandoned house on the outskirts of a village.

Wrap Up

So, hopefully this was interesting to read. It was certainly fun to write, not bad for a spur of the moment idea. But that’s all it was…Please note that Bolivian villages are not homogenous. The climate, the proximity to urban centres and trunk roads are just some of the factors that can make a big difference between village life in different parts of Bolivia. This was just an attempt to provide a snapshot of what life is like in a village we visited. Hopefully it has been informative.

Thanks for reading,

Mark and Saskia.

*We didn’t ask about maternal or child health, although we should have given the family size. We mostly spoke to our guide and assumed there is only so much he could know. Here are some national stats that may be of interest:

  • The maternal mortality rate was 190 deaths per 100,000 live births over 2008 to 2012. Developed countries sit at between 5 and 15, although the U.S. rate is high at over 20/100,000. Brazil, a neighbour, sits at 51/100,000.
  • The under 5 child mortality rate was 51 deaths per 1,000 live births over 2008 to 2012. Developed countries sit at around 5/1,000 and Chile, a neighbour, is at 9/1,000.
  • The rates tend to be worse in rural communities when compared to urban communities.
  • Two reports stated that maternal and infant mortality remain the highest in the region after Haiti. Several reports did however note good progress in bringing the rates down over the last 20 years.
  • UNICEF/WHO data reports that national access to safe water is good at 88% of the population, 71% for rural communities. However, only 27% of the population have access to improved sanitation, with only 10% in rural communities. We can believe that!
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3 responses to “Profile of a Bolivian Village

  • Helen Trejo

    Thank you for posting this! I really enjoyed reading it. I was wondering if you know if they also make clothing/ accessory products from the llama fibers? Are there traditions of knitting, crochet, weaving from the fibers? Just a question :).

    • Mark and Saskia

      Hi Helen,
      Thanks for the comment. Yes llama/alpaca textiles are very common. In fact, different indigenous groups have different styles. They are traditionally made on wooden looms but a lot of clothing is now factory made. That said there are shops that only sell hand made crafts, including designer wear (Sas bought mittens and a poncho that she could wear back home).
      Mark

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