In Bolivia, 17.8% of children between 6- and 11-years-old were not enrolled in primary school in 2016, according to data from the UDAPE 2016 (Unit for Analysis of Social and Economic Policies). This figure is even higher, 21.8%, in the department of Santa Cruz. Efforts are being made to reduce this large figure.
Education is one of the fundamental pillars of NPH’s work. As a civil organization collaborating with the United Nations, NPH supports and works towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 which strive to ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ NPH Bolivia operates a primary school where 77 students were enrolled in 2020, including children from the NPH home and students from nearby communities.
Providing a quality education requires many components. Therefore, we have a workforce of 8 teachers in the primary school and 22 NPH collaborators – such as volunteers, visitors, and workers from other areas of the home – who contribute in areas like health, technology, administration, purchasing, transportation, and coordination.
Located within the NPH facility, the school is easily accessible for children and provides them with basic needs such as drinking water, energy, internet access, and ventilation. Despite these comforts, our children sometimes had trouble reaching their school. The unpaved entrance pathway to the school could get muddy and has flooded often, sometimes making the school inaccessible during the rainy season.
This changed thanks to Marcos Soliz Gonzales, or “Tío Marcos”, as he is more affectionately known. He began working as a nurse for NPH in 2014, when he was 31. “I fell in love with the project and the homes for the children. I worked there for five wonderful years. I recently returned NPH to work on the project. It has been thrilling to be back here. It brought back many memories.”
NPH changed Marcos’ life. His gaze fades into the horizon as he recalls his memories with a smile. “NPH touches the most human side of you. When you live there, you get to know the children and their past, then you see them now and the improvements in their lives – it makes you very happy. Each person here contributes, both those onsite and the donors create this change for the good.”
During his time at NPH, Marcos was the first to greet the newly-arrived children at the home, since as a nurse he evaluated their health status, then monitored their improvements and treatments. In 2019, Marcos met and fell in love with Cornelia Fichtieger, a volunteer who was the sponsorship coordinator. They decided to marry, leave NPH and move to Austria with her. Marcos and Cornelia currently reside in Vienna.
Both of them wanted to continue supporting NPH, so Marcos and Cornelia decided to put together a project for the children while Marcos was planning a vacation to Bolivia during February 2020. During the inauguration of the school’s new paved path, Marcos explains, “I know firsthand of the work that is done here so that children can become active members of society. One sees how they live together, and it is impossible to forget. That is why I am here.”
The idea of supporting the home was shared with other former volunteers and collaborators from different parts of the world (Germany, Austria, the United States, the Netherlands, among others). Joining their efforts, the 17 donors agreed that the school needed paved access and decided to support building it. Thanks to the persistence of the organizers, they managed to raise the US$1,500 sum needed for the project and helped to get it built. They overcame many challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the related restrictions that delayed the project and even raised some doubt about whether it could even be implemented.
The paved pathway is 76 meters long by 1.76 meters wide. It eases access to the primary school from the main road of the NPH Bolivia facility for students, volunteers, teachers, administrators, people with disabilities, and visitors to the school. The inauguration took place in April 2021 and a thank-you plaque was also given to Tío Marcos, who, in addition to personally carrying out the work, did so with the help of the home’s young people.
Marcos concludes, “I am grateful to NPH for allowing me to return to carry out this project despite the COVID-19 restrictions.”
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