Helping Communities Help Themselves: Larati & Sapanani Mountain Communities

The foothills of the Andes Mountains surround Cochabamba from all sides. Regardless of the time of day or weather, looking out at the horizon here provides spectacular views. Since our arrival in Cochabamba, we’ve been eager to explore the tiny mountain communities of people who live where the city-dwellers below can only appreciate the sunsets. However, a sad reality facing these communities is that many families struggle to support themselves, particularly those who have children born with disabilities. This is one major reason why there is such a tragically high rate of infanticide. Various organizations have stepped in to help provide precious resources to these families; by facilitating education, apiculture and sustainable farming initiatives that have increased family income and greatly decreased infant mortality rates. We at the Luena Foundation are always excited to find opportunities to support community sustainability efforts, and we were very eager to get involved and contribute to projects working to decrease infant mortality rates.

Preparing for our visit up into the mountain communities of Larati and Sapanani, we spent a day purchasing dry goods to donate to families in need. La Cancha, a sprawling and vibrant market that spans nearly the entirety of the center of Cochabamba, is the place to find everything you’ve ever imagined and more, from local medicinal herbs to cheap Chinese goods. Weaving our way through wheelbarrows bursting with fruits and vegetables, vendors hanging their meat to dry, women in brightly-colored traditional polleras(mid-length pleated skirts) feeding their children while selling phone plans, and stray dogs and cows everywhere, we spent our day collecting what was most needed: seeds, powdered milk, endless bunches of bananas, lettuce, carrots and other produce, eggs, oranges, and anything else we thought could be useful and appreciated.

The drive up the mountain to Larati was long, on unpaved dirt roads, and what seemed like countless switchbacks to the top. Looking behind, with the view of the city getting smaller and smaller below us, we were in awe. Public transportation into the mountains doesn’t exist here, and barring the occasional person who has a car, getting up and down the mountain is usually done on foot. Knowing this, and living the constant struggle of not having full access to the resources lying below in Cochabamba’s valley, a group of women in these communities have established a business model where they profit off of buying goods for the community in bulk to then resell them. We wanted to get involved because we believe that by creating opportunities for these women to find sustainable ways of income to support their families, their quality of life and the livelihood of their communities would be greatly improved.

Along with our donations of powdered milk, dried goods, eggs, fruit, yogurt, and produce, we also donated a large supply of lettuce, carrot, and radish seeds and lettuce, cabbage, onion and turnip plants to the families living in these mountain communities. Our aim was to facilitate charitable organizations currently on the ground within the communities who were helping these families create personal organic gardens that would be used to sustain and feed themselves, serve as a source of income, and ultimately contribute to drastically reducing the rate of infanticide throughout the communities.

For us at the Luena Foundation, projects like these are extremely important. We believe that central to aid or donation projects should be a component of self-sustainability that allows local communities and people in need to feel empowered to find their own solutions and cooperate to solve problems.

We were beyond touched by the two days we were gifted in the mountains, and having the opportunity to speak with these women and their families was an insightful experience for us. What we treasure most about volunteering our time and providing donations is actually meeting the people we are helping. Shaking hands, sharing laughs, attempting to speak Quechua, and making connections are what continues Luena’s “legacy of love”.

LUENA FOUNDATION DONATIONS REALIZED: Larati & Sapanani Mountain Communities

  • Community donation of various organic seed stocks (radish, carrot lettuce, cabbage, turnips) for individual family organic gardens

  • Community donation of various seedlings/seed starts (onions, lettuce, cabbage) for individual family organic gardens

  • Individual cash donations to ten families facing conditions of extreme poverty (one family had 10 children and the majority of the others had a child living with a severe disability)

  • Food donations (bananas, apples, oranges, yogurt, powdered milk, eggs, cookies, rice, cooking oil) to the same ten families

  • Donated snacks (fruit, yogurt, cookies) to two community daycare facilities

Jamie Spence

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