The nationwide social welfare programmes of recent years are steadily improving the situation of Bolivians overall, but progress is slow. The majority of the population in the Potosí department have yet to benefit from the government’s efforts and the future can seem very bleak.
Once it was said that a bridge of silver from Potosi to Spain could be built with the city´s riches
Sisters re-united to celebrate a birhtday (photo: F. Espinoza)
Potosí, capital of the department of the same name, is situated in the Bolivian highlands about 4,000 meters above sea level and has a population of 168,448. The climate of this highlands region is decidedly cold and the economy has always been based on mining. Because raw material prices were on the decline for many years, lots of mines closed down. This gave rise to high levels of unemployment and poverty in this predominantly indigenous region. Begging children and child labour are a common part of everyday life in Potosí, the city that in 1545 was known as one of the richest cities in the world.
Many leave Bolivia´s poorest region, and those who stay urgently need support
At 66.7 per cent, the level of extreme poverty in Potosí is more than double the national average. This means that two thirds of the population here cannot meet basic needs such as nutrition, sanitation and adequate housing. In the northern parts of the department, poverty is as high as 90 per cent. Potosí’s population is decreasing – many go to Santa Cruz or other central areas in search of work and improved living conditions.
The heavy mining activities in the region have also led to severe pollution of rivers, and clean drinking water is not available to all. In Potosí, one in ten children dies before the age of one. Despite government efforts and improvements in other departments, in Potosí chronic malnutrition in children under the age of five was 38 per cent in 2003 and has been on the rise since.
Growing up in these circumstances can have a substantial impact on a child's outlook on life and hopes for the future. Very often, the disadvantages faced during early childhood can result in economic hardship or lack of personal success later in life. In addition to ensuring that basic needs such as health care are met, children need to be nurtured and encouraged to look towards their future with hope.
Unsere Arbeit in Potosí
Children from the SOS Children's Village on an outing (photo: F. Espinoza)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Potosí in 1998 with the aim of alleviating hardship in the community. The social centres here offer a holistic and sustainable family strengthening programme that is run by the community itself, with SOS Children’s Villages providing training and support.
The programme includes a day-care centre where particular emphasis is placed on the psychosocial development of boys and girls. There is also a childminding programme that enables working parents and single mothers to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living.
For children who are no longer able to live with their parents, 14 SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 127 children. They live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.
When young people are ready to leave their SOS family in order to pursue further education or vocational training, our SOS Youth Programme offers shared accommodation for them in town. With the support of qualified counsellors, they can plan their future here, learn to shoulder responsibility and increasingly make their own decisions.