Why are you going again?
When I left the UK in December, some friends gave me a lovely book of reminiscences, poems, good wishes, quotes and photos.
On the third page, there was one question: Why are you going again?
I go into more detail below for those who want to read on, but I think it can be summed up firstly in a desire to uproot myself from the comfort and safety of London and challenge myself to learn about a new country, culture and language.
Secondly, I hope to try and get a better glimpse of the world as seen by those who live far away from the doorsteps of the powerful yet are still affected by decisions made in London and Washington.
Now for the more detailed explanation and a few of my questions that I hope to find some answers to over the next year or so……
Amplifying voices of the South
One of the threads that has led me to come here has resulted from my growing interest and work in the UK in communications and international development. I believe that communications and access to good information have a huge role in empowering people and should be used to give voice to those who are marginalised in our world.
I believe that aid agencies in the UK too often speak on behalf of communities in the South (countries like Bolivia) and don’t make enough effort to enable the communities they work with to speak directly to the British public. This would give more dignity to those who are excluded from most of the arenas that affect their lives.
In the words of one partner, aid agencies should be amplifiers rather than ventriloquists for the South.
I want to spend time in Bolivia to see if the concerns of poor communities are being heard in the North. In the case of Bolivia, I am particularly interested to find out more about the desires and demands of the indigenous peoples who make up the majority of the population but for a long time have been excluded from national politics. They are increasingly finding their voice and causing major upheaval within the political system.
What are their perspectives? What have they got to teach us? Are the issues that we campaign on in the UK and elsewhere the ones that people are concerned with in Bolivia? Are there messages or demands that are not being listened to? Are there ways communities in the South could be heard more directly by communities in the North?
A global fight against injustice
Globalisation has connected our lives more than ever before. It has meant that decisions taken in one place can have a profound effect millions of miles away. But it has rarely been accompanied by greater accountability.
People in a small village Bolivia may be affected when their health clinic lacks drugs because of a decision that Bolivia should prioritise debt payments made in Washington, but were never consulted about the initial loans that caused the debt or the decisions made to repay the debts.
That does not mean they don’t resist. Many do with their lives. Bolivia is a particularly interesting country because in recent years it has caused some consternation amongst the financial and governing elites in the North by challenging the consensus of economic policies imposed by international institutions like the International Monetary Fund.
Cochabamba where I will be initially based has become famous in the alternative globalisation movement for setting up a community-owned water utility after throwing out the US company Bechtel who took over their water supplies and forced up prices.
There are currently big and heated discussions as well as demonstrations about what Bolivia should do about new gas reserves.
What does the world look like when your life is affected by decisions taken so far away from where you live? What can we in the UK learn from those who have been at the front line of the struggle against poverty and injustice for many years?
How can civil society organisations work together to ensure that decisions taken by companies, governments, or International Institutions benefit the poor, and don’t increase poverty and marginalisation?
Discomfort leads to learning and new adventures
I have a great love of London with its incredible cosmopolitan make-up and the extraordinary variety of things to do and get involved with. I have also been fortunate to have a brilliant group of friends in London.
But after almost 10 years in London, I felt like it was time to move on.
I have a desire and an impulse to escape the safety of things I know, and expose myself to new challenges and adventures. It has invariably been at times that I have made myself vulnerable that I have learnt the most.
I don´t believe that Bolivia will always be an easy place to stay in, but I hope to immerse myself as fully as I can in its culture and daily life. I hope in this blog to share some of both the discomforts and the buzz of life in Bolivia.
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