Thursday, August 23, 2007

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer

El Alto, Bolivia
I spoke yesterday about the incredible cultural bond that unites the residents of El Alto. There are three very basic rules, in the indigenous community in Bolivia: Amu Sua - Don't Steal; Amu Llulla - Don't Lie, and Ama Quella - Don’t Be Lazy. As part of this core ethos, there is a strong commitment to each other and to the communal good.

This commitment manifests itself in community oversight boards. These boards are comprised of representatives from each neighborhood and they look after the representation of the neighborhood and district as well as the well-being of each individual family resident within the neighborhood. These are voluntary positions and are often appointed by the communities themselves. So in the case of District 5 where CCF will be working, there are 49 neighborhoods and each one has its own particular board (with a president). The president of the neighborhood boards all sit on a general oversight or vigilance committee made of 49 people. Then they elect 12 members to represent them all (an executive board). This group of 49 neighborhood presidents elects one person to be the representative to the sub-Mayor’s office. In fact, these committees have some power in electing the sub-Mayor (which is an annual term). The sub-Mayors (one from each district) report to the Mayor of El Alto and determine government policies, spending and priorities.

This traditional structure is very old. This structure, gives the neighborhood communities access to annual city planning. It allows them a voice, something that they have been denied for too long.

The youth now want a similar structure to voice their opinions as well. These youth groups want a structure that will allow them to affect youth and child specific policies, and services. Youth in El Alto are generally considered to be between 19 and 26 years old, though they occasionally allow members younger than that to participate as well.

During our stay in El Alto, we met with the Municipal Youth Council. This group is comprised of 36 youth who represent the ten districts within El Alto. Each district sends four representatives to the council: one who attends university; one who attends high school; one who represents a youth association; and one from a church youth group. Amongst themselves, they elect a President, 2 Vice Presidents (one representing the northern districts and one representing the southern districts) and one general secretary. They also have commissions such as communication/public relations, health and politics/ethics.

Currently, this Youth Council is working on rights and obligations of youth. They are also working in policy and advocacy issues to bring municipalities in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (and human rights in general as they pertain to the children ad youth in El Alto). Last month, they represented El Alto in Cochabamba during the national encounter of the youth. They are excited about CCF’s commitment to working through the communities and the youth to work as partners in the priorities they set forth. In fact, they said anyone who wants to support kids and youth and can prove their intentions, they want to partner with. They are articulate, passionate and dedicated. As one of them pulled me aside and told me, “I don’t want people to tell me that I am the future…I am the present.”

One young man that we spoke with individually was Daniel(pictured in the above photo seated in the middle of the front row of the group), who is one of the chosen 4 representatives from District 5. He was very happy that CCF will be working in his district and that we had identified the most vulnerable neighborhoods in order to reach the most excluded. He explained that the youth of District 5 just need some space to organize, but also to enjoy. He explained that often people assume that the youth are all united and close, but that isn’t true –- they need organization and to come to together and have space and opportunity.

Although they were serious when speaking about rights and equality, their eyes lit up when a member of our delegation presented them with a soccer ball. It wasn’t much, just a small token of friendship, but it represented our commitment to them and you could tell an impromptu game would be formed shortly after we departed.

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