Much of my focus this past week has been on Red UMAVIDA (Joining Hands for Life Network), one of our partners here in Bolivia. Each year they hold a general assembly, so I had a great opportunity on Thursday and Friday to learn more about the different member organizations and churches and the work they are doing together as a network.
They elected new leadership as they do every two years, discussed their campaign to defend community water supplies and some possibilities for promoting just trade and human rights, and engaged in a group evaluation of the current socio-political context. There seems to be a common sense of frustration with the government, which promised change but isn’t moving fast enough to address the inequalities, hunger, and social injustice that are so prevalent in Bolivian society. But while those frustrations are widespread and increasingly recognized, network members hold a variety of ideas of who is most responsible for the problems and what the best solutions might be.
One interesting point, raised by a friend of this network partnered with the San Francisco and Cascades presbyteries in the U.S., is the need to help communicate a nuanced understanding of the Bolivian context for a North American audience. So often the information that reaches the U.S. is partial or limited in scope, while the reality is complex and layered. There’s a tendency to throw around labels and buzz words–socialist, neoliberal, indigenous, poverty, justice, inclusivity–and too often these are used for the effect they have on the listener, whether positive or negative, without unpacking their meaning or exploring how well they represent the situation. Thoughtful engagement requires looking deep enough to see the gray areas–this is just as true in Bolivia as in the United States.
Yesterday I had the privilege of welcoming Chenoa Stock, the new UMAVIDA companionship facilitator, to her new home. Part of her role as companionship facilitator is to help in that work of interpretation, enabling partners in the U.S. to encounter the complexities of the root causes of hunger and poverty, and the responses of the UMAVIDA network.
Chenoa’s last position was with Joining Hands in Sri Lanka, so after a quick introduction to La Paz and a few errands, she was off to Cochabamba where she will study Spanish for the next few months. ¡Buena suerte, Chenoa!