The world is not a fair place.
Some have much and others very little. I believe it is our responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. I believe this is God's will. We work on these projects in Bolivia not because we have any particular connection to Bolivia, but rather because that is the door that has been opened for us. We partner with Solidarity Bridge, a Catholic charity under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago which conducts medical, enterprise and educational missions to Bolivia.
Sewing & Weaving Co-Ops
I visited each of the four co-ops whose clothing we import and sell and made suggestions about improving quality, placed new orders, and added new styles. The goal here is to help people earn a living through their work.
Warmis is a co-op of women on the outskirts of Cochabamba who crochet and sew clothing.
Kanchay is the sewing co-op we helped initiate which sews a major part of our Bolivian children's dresses.
Tata Estaban is a vocational training program for graduates of a Catholic school in a town in the mountains which sews clothing for us.
The Weaving Co-op is newly formed and has no name. They are weaving the alpaca shawls which we are selling for them.
I did a day long workshop demonstrating to the co-op's leadership, dyeing and decorating techniques for the clothing styles they produce. The plan is by adding color and artwork to the clothing, they can be more successful in selling to the middle and upper classes in Bolivia. Additionally, it will make the clothing more widely sellable in the USA and Europe.
The goal here is to provide work and therefore income so these families can improve their situation and sort things out themselves.
Pediatric Cardiac Surgery
In 2006 Dharma again paid for surgeries to repair heart problems in six children whose parents were too poor to pay for the surgeries. We do this in partnership with Solidarity Bridge, with a cardiologist, a social worker and the Belga Clinic in Cochabamba. Many of the children would have had no future without our help. For 2007, we will be continuing this program and increasing the number of surgeries. The goal here is just to save little kids' lives.
Children's Vision Program
Last year I tried to initiate a Free Eyeglass program for children. I was not able to make much progress. But now, with the help of Christin Hinojosa of Solidarity Bridge, we seem to be on the verge of starting. The plan for the first year is for Dharma to underwrite the cost of screening about 6000 school children from poor families for vision problems, have an estimated 600 ÔøΩ 1200 examined by an opthamologist, and provide a free pair of eyeglasses to each child who needs them. The goal here is pretty clear, Every child should be able to see the blackboard in class.
What makes these programs possible is the work we all do here each day at Dharma and by our customers who continue to support us.
As for traveling to Bolivia itself, getting there and back is a nightmare. Cars, buses, planes, buses, planes, taxi's. Unfriendly, expensive airlines, Cancelled flights, Delayed flights, lost luggage, impossible connections. A nightmare!
They changed the departure time of the connecting flight from La Paz to Cochabamba so we had to make a 6 1/2 hour bus ride over a 16,000 ft. Andes pass instead of a 40 minute flight. I particularly didn't appreciate the burned out husks of buses like ours with crumpled left fronts which dotted the twisting two lane route through the mountains.
On the other hand, we were invited into the homes several of the Bolivians with whom we work. In one case for a traditional meal cooked in the ground with hot rocks. A lot of work for the host and his family and a neat experience for us.
I had the chance to visit an Alpaca Knitting Co-op begun some 40 or so years ago by a priest. They now have 500 women in the countryside knitting high quality designer alpaca garments and an entire plant processing alpaca from fleece to yarn to finished garments. Very impressive.>
All in all, it was a heck of trip.