Exploring the dramatic geography & landcape some 15km south of #LaPaz, we came across the small town of Jupapina, which has a surprising number of murals. Mainly created by a group of international (and local) volunteers over time, often working with local schoolchildren (see mural images below), the volunteers came from a local project called UpClose Bolivia – which itself had a very interesting backstory rooted in local community struggles. We found out some more…
Back in the late 1990’s, the city of La Paz was dumping some of its rubbish illegally on land just south of Mallasa, on the northern outkirts of Jupapina. As well as the pollution caused by heavy road traffic, the actual rubbish dump was located above the Rio Choqueyapu (aka La Paz river) and its fertile valley, so obviously the pollution seeped out & down to pollute the land & water. The local communities launched protests, which led to blockading the dump site, with protesters sleeping on barricades. As the rubbish backed up in La Paz, the city reacted in a heavyhanded way, sending in riot police. National attention was drawn to the protests, and ultimately the protesters won and the city conceded it was at fault.
Out of the protests came a revitalised community. One by-product was that a local indigenous protester ended up being elected as the local mayor to defend the community’s interests. Another was that a local mothers club formed, and one of the needs it identified was the urgent need for a local kids nursery. After much organising, pressuring & fundraising, they eventually achieved this aim, and a nursery opened in Mallasa in 2004, known as the Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre (plus see film). A key supporter of the mothers club, and herself the mum of 2 young kids, was the British wife of the local mayor, who had a background in aid work. A couple of years later this Bolivian/British couple went on to found UpClose Bolivia (website – in english).
Now over a decade old, UpClose bases itself on the Andean cutural concept of ‘reciprocidad’, or reciprocity, whereby what one contributes is of equal benefit to both the giver & receiver, and the theory goes that it is likely to be returned in kind at some point. It’s not that different to the concepts of communalism, and solidarity. UpClose responds to the local community’s needs & requests for support, it doesn’t set up and impose it own projects. Presently UpClose & its volunteers are supporting – the children’s centre in Mallasa; a local refuge in Mallasa for vulnerable children in dire need; an equine therapy centre in nearby CotaCota that helps kids & youth with special needs; provides English classes at Jupapina’s school; and helps out at the nearby La Paz zoo for abused/trafficked/rescued animals. This list of projects is not a fixed list, it depends on local needs.
UpClose always welcomes new volunteers – see website. They can be accommodated in good quality housing at a site in Jupapina overlooking the valley, where there is also a campsite (and where some of these pics were taken). Volunteers pay towards their accommodation (about £80+pw) and self-cater, and are co-ordinated & supported by UpClose’s Volunteer Co-ordinator, a local woman and only paid staff member. They say Spanish language skills are not a requirement, but our experience of south America is that if you don’t have them you will not have such a fulfilling time, because communication will be very difficult. You can of course ‘learn on the job’!