So we probably should have done this before, but we finally got around to looking up some facts about Bolivia.
Population: 9,862,860 (2009)
Growth rate: 1.7% (2009)
GDP per capita – current prices : US$ 1,840 (2010 estimate)
GNI per capita: $1630 (2009- different source)
Urban population as % of total population: 66% (2009)- still growing rapidly
% of urban population with access to improved sanitation: 34%
Population median age: 21 years (2006)
Life expectancy: 65 years (2007)
Adult literacy: 90% (2007)
% of population living on less than $2 a day: 30% (2008)
% of population below national poverty line: 37.7% (down from 65.2% in 2002)
From personal experience, I have met many people living on less than $1500 a year, basically all of my coworkers at the Guarderia and Kinder, although some have spouses that have a good income. Yes the food is cheaper here and some clothing items are cheaper but any luxury items such as microwaves, televisions, computers are MORE expensive than in the US or Europe. This makes the move from middle class to upper class extremely difficult. One mother I work with has two children but her unmarried significant-other walked out when the second child was 6 months old. Since then she’s been on her own and has little family to help out. She makes $1100 a year, which works out to just about $1 a day per person. The only way she makes it work is because they eat all their meals at the Guarderia Monday through Friday. This February however, the government said they couldn’t pay for food at the Guarderia (related to the rise in sugar prices I believe) and so also aren’t paying staff until March. In order to keep running the Sisters offered to pay three staff members for the month of February, however they are only getting paid half their normal salary, so $50 for the month. Due to this cut back, this mother couldn’t afford to pay for school supplies for her daughter (10 years old). I covered for her at work one day as she went to talk to their father, who is still somewhat in the kids lives although doesn’t pay child support regularly, and demanded that he buy the daughter school supplies. It was now the third week of school and she was told she couldn’t come back to school without the supplies.
Bolivia is in a large agricultural boom right now, particularly around Santa Cruz. Supposedly, some of the recent problems with sugar, as seen in the news, stem from export agreements. The companies say that production is slowed down currently but they still must keep their export quotas and so that leaves less sugar available for Bolivians. This has caused the price to increase significantly and the government put rations in place. While we were in Sucre in January, at 8pm at night there were a whole line of people sitting on the sidewalk in folding chairs (as if waiting for concert tickets or something). I now believe they may have been lined up to buy sugar; because of the limited quantities it’s first-come, first-served.
As far as adult literacy, 90% seems high. I guess it depends on the definition of literacy. In January, while I was helping get students signed up for the Kinder, a grandmother came through with her granddaughter. When I asked her to sign, she looked embarrassed and said she couldn’t. I thought she was just being sheepish so I urged her on but then realized quickly that she literally meant she didn’t know how to sign her name. (oops!) I leaned over to the other teacher and asked what to do and she told me to go get the ink pad. Instead of signing they’re allowed to put a thumb print and it counts legally. She was the only one we had this year but as I paged through previous years there were 3-5 a year that put thumb prints down. Those are the truly illiterate, but I question the quality of reading and writing skills some kids leave school with here. In cities such as Montero, though the schools are over-crowded, all kids get to go to school. In the countryside however, particularly those towns that still don’t have electricity and indoor plumbing, I can see how it would be possible for kids to not be able to go to school due to money or access issues. Some of the girls at the Hogar actually have mothers, fathers and whole families but live at the Hogar because their parents can’t afford to send them to school. They get to go home and visit their families over Christmas.
In Santa Cruz there’s a house started by a Salesian missionary, named Kathleen, who first came to Bolivia 10 years ago. She provides free room and board and school supplies to girls who come from poor families but have good grades and otherwise would not be able to attend college. We went there for lunch one day and one of the girls I met had come from Okinawa (where other missionaries work). She’s from a family of 6 and the parents couldn’t afford to send them all to school. She got through high school with the help of the Salesian Sisters in Okinawa and got through college in Kathleen’s house in Santa Cruz. She’ll be graduating this November with a degree in microbiology and should be able to get a well-paid job as a lab technician. Finally, the light of hope.