The absolute highlight of my trip to Bolivia this past fall was celebrating Project Sariry’s 20th birthday. What a milestone for us all!
In true Latin American style, it was a week-long celebration! We hosted several special events, including planting 100 trees around the barren community. On the last day, we gathered for a big party in the Sariry lunchroom. Everyone danced through the streets of the community and into Sariry’s courtyard where we continued dancing for hours, until the sun went down. Let me add that dancing at 4100 meters is no easy feat (at least for the Canadian in the room)!
It was truly amazing to take stalk of all the partnerships and relationships that have been cultivated through this enduring community project. I danced with the principal from the local elementary school, a representative from the municipal government, the co-founder of the regional violence-prevention network, a doctor, a policeman, leaders from several local initiatives, many of our amazing student alumni, teachers, parents, grandparents, and best of all - lots of children!
At the party, many people reflected on what Project Sariry means to them. A few conversations really moved me to fully appreciate this incredible two-decade journey. I’d like to share their reflections with you because your commitment to this community is the foundation of our success. Your support has transformed lives.
Nelson, teacher at Sariry since 2014:
“Sariry has redefined community for me. We have been blessed with support from our Canadian friends who clearly believe in our ability to tackle the challenges we face. They have shown me that caring for others transcends families, communities and even borders. We are not alone. I’m grateful to our Canadian friends for this new understanding that I have.”
Flores, one of the “founding mothers” (and now a grandmother):
“Sariry introduced us to our voices. It's where we discovered our strength.”
Flores has flourished into an incredible champion for change in her community, along with Mery, Cristina and Juana (also founding mothers).
When I first met them 20 years ago, they were very shy. Two lived in violent households, one lived in a home made of plastic garbage bags along with her seven children, and one couldn’t sign her name. Their community lacked any basic services, was plagued by crime and littered with garbage. Slowly, they acquired new skills and confidence through their involvement at Sariry.
Today, all four of them have positively transformed their families’ wellbeing by acquiring secure and gainful employment. Their children - along with 250 other kids - attend the local elementary school that they were instrumental in campaigning for. They recently compelled the government to commit to a local high school, too! They demanded municipal garbage collection, and secured bus stops to increase safety while travelling in and out of the community. I love receiving lengthy text updates via WhatsApp from each of them about what they’re up to next!
Most notably, Juana built a new home for her family, Cristina and her children no longer live in a violent household, Mery’s new job and associated income changed the dynamic in her home to a peaceful one, and Flores can read and write.
I’ve been transformed by our relationship too. We all share a common desire to ensure our children - and the communities we live in - thrive. And yet, with the passage of time, we have become more than partners in this work together. We have become friends. Witnessing their discovery of their voices helped me to find my own. I’m so grateful for their inspiration.
Sara, aged 9:
“Sariry became my family when my family couldn’t be a family to me. And it helped heal my family. So now I have two families, and I feel so lucky.”
Jhoel, member of the domestic violence police unit:
“Sariry has taught me that there is nothing more nourishing for the human soul than being there for another being. It feels so good to support these children. I have grown so much, personally and professionally.”
The Bolivian public has a historically tumultuous relationship with the Police marred by corruption. You can’t imagine how amazing it was when TWELVE members of the domestic violence unit walked through the doors to join us for lunch. Three of them were on-duty and returned to work after lunch. The other nine spent their day-off dancing with us until the sunset!
Jhoel, thanked me with such sincerity on behalf of his countrymen for the support from Canada. I’m passing that thanks on to all of you!!
As the party drew to a close, I stood back quietly, looking at the building and everyone dancing in the streets around it, and I was quite overwhelmed by the “Wow!” It is a relatively small group of Canadians - perhaps 250 of you - that, via Bolivia Kids, have directly partnered with the families and leaders in this community to support their capacity to make transformative change. What a gift for me to be the ‘go-between.’ I’ve witnessed first hand the positive change that occurs when we invest in people and their relationships. We achieve great things when we do it together.
I hope I’ve managed to convey the joy, gratitude and pride that were so present at the celebration because your presence was truly felt. Thank you for your important part on this journey.
Happy Birthday, Sariry!