Joining Hands with Bolivia

Together for Justice Conference

Three of our number are attending the “Together for Justice” 2012 International gathering of Joining Hands in Chicago this August. We will be blogging our experience through the week of August 12. Follow our blog that can be found in the “Blogs and News” Menu of the church website.

Delegation Visit

After the Chicago conference, from August 23 through August 26 Wilhelm Pierola, President of UMAVIDA, Cleo Losada, Business manager for UMAVIDA,  and Chenoa Stock, will be visiting San Francisco Presbytery before returning to Bolivia. Look for announcements of events in the coming days.

Why did we go to Bolivia?

For a decade Montclair Presbyterian Church, along with other congregations in San Francisco Presbytery, has been engaged with a network of organizations in Bolivia  in a partnership dedicated to discovering and addressing the underlying causes of hunger and poverty. Face to face contact with our Bolivian counterparts is essential to building this relationship. Simply put, on a personal level, the experience transforms lives.

This year between February 22 and March 6 Jay Gregory, Jean Norris, and Brad Hestir join fellow travelers from Cascades Presbytery (Oregon)  visiting six Bolivian cities to meet with leaders of our partner network to plan future activities, learn more about Bolivian issues, and visit the sites of some of the ongoing  projects.  We will also meet new partners and renew old acquaintances. Focal concerns include global climate change, environmental damage, particularly to water supplies caused by mining operations, just trade, privatization of resources, and land grabs.

Visit this page for updates of our activities and to view photos of where we have been.

Where in Bolivia are we going?

We will be traveling to several cities which partner organizations call home. Click on the name of a city for maps and information:

Where we have been.

Since 2002 there have been five delegations to Bolivia in which members of Montclair Presbyterian Church have participated. In addition youth delegates from the San Francisco Presbytery including some from Montclair Presbyterian have attended four International Environmental Congresses on the environment. In 2012 Jay Gregory served as President of the congress and Mariah Carray attended as a delegate. Here are some photos that represent some of these experiences and the issues we encountered.

To see more, click the photo below. For best viewing click on the full screen “button” on the bottom right. If the photos are changing too fast, click the vertical bars on the left to pause, then use right and left arrows to select pictures.

Joining Hands with Bolivia: Arrival

As of about 6:30 AM on Wednesday, February 22, the Joining Hand delegation from San Francisco and Cascades Prebyteries had arrived in Boliva, though we were not yet quite in the same place. Don and Shaw with Ali Kent had arrived early the day before after journeying from Western Oregon. Shirley Stagebridge had just arrived at the airport about 6 AM and was waiting there. Jean Norris and Brad Hestir had left their home in Oakland a little later than planned when the first taxi failed to materialize. Their trip was a little more complicated, involving hops from San Francisco to San Salvador, then after several hours layover on to Lima, Peru. The stop in Lima was only a couple of hours as was the final leg to La Paz, Bolivia. But why is Shirley at the airport? Because the rest of the group was to join her for the final leg, a 35 minute flight to the city of Cochabamba. The group is also joined by Chenoa Stock and Sarah Hanken who live in La Paz. In Cochabamba there was a long taxi ride to our accomodations and conference site. What a paradise, a truly lovely place where we soon learned that breakfast waiting. Rest? well we did manage to skip lunch and catch about 3 hours of sleep. But we were soon in meetings to coordinate our activities and plan presentations that will be given the morning. Finally to bed after midnight Cochabamba time.

Joining Hands with Bolivia: First Full Day

Our partner organization, Uniendo Manos por la Vida (UMAVIDA) has gathered from across Bolivia and we have come to the same place to meet with them, begin our own planning process and learn what we can about the Bolivian reality. Thursday begins with breakfast followed by a shared initial greeting to UMAVIDA from the presbytery teams. “We” is the four-person delegation Cascades Presbytery, Origon and the three of us from San Francisco Presbytery. We are accompanied by Chenoa Stock, companionship facilitator, and Sarah Hanken South American regional mission liaison for PCUSA. Today, our morning is spent listening to Father Steve Judd, a Mary Knoll priest talk about the political history of Bolivia. In the afternoon, while UMAVIDA goes into a work session we journeyed into Cochabamba to meet with Jim Shultz and the staff of the Democracy. There, we discover kindred spirits, who are very interested in the potential role of faith communities in the struggle for justice.

Joining Hands with Bolivia: Second Full Day

Our trip is perhaps excessively planned. We each carry around a 60 page booklet containing the daily schedule and resource materials pertaining to various places that we will be visiting. But today UMAVIDA was continuing their business meeting and we are able to do some preparation for later presentations. In the late morning we go into Cochabamba for a little sight seeing – ride a tram to the base of en enormous Christ statue with fabulous views of Cochabamba valley, and tour an 18th Century cloister. Later in the day we get down to business with a visit to Fundacion Abril, the organization famous as coordinators of the Cochabamba “water war” in 2000. Their grass roots efforts managed to successfully free the city from a ruinous privatization of water and later successfully defend Bolivia from a multi-million dollar lawsuit by theSan Francisco based company who had controlled the water. But what do you do when you have won? Fundacion Abril is now working with community organization to develop and manage scarce water resources in the region. Back at the conference center, Casa Campestre, we learn that UMAVIDA is divided over how to manage a financial setback We are concerned that this will distract from the work and spend our evening conferring among our delegation about how to best support our friends. Then the San Francisco delegation works to complete preparations for tomorrow’s presentations. Jean and Brad retire at midnight. Jay still has work to do.