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Rikke Østergaard and Laure Lopato just arrived at Coroico, Bolivia

Project mission to Coroico, Bolivia

The daily report from Coroico

Currently, the two EWB-DK volunteers, Rikke Oestergaard and Laure Lopato are on a two weeks visit to Coroico in Bolivia. Together with fellow EWB-DK volunteers (staying behind in Denmark), they are working on the IUG project concerning Coroico’s forthcoming environmental plan. Details about their daily activities are elaborated below:

Chapter one:
The arrival at Coroico (27-10-2014‏)

Chapter two:
Getting started (28.10.2014)

Chapter three:
Our meeting with UAC in Carmen-Pampa (29-10-2014)

Chapter four:
Hard work and learning the vertue of being patient (30-10-2014)

Chapter five:
Rearranging the project (31-10-2014)

Chapter six:
Spreading the word on Municipal Environment Network and celebrating the Day of the Dead (01-11-2014)

Chapter seven:
Experiencing the local cultural traditions of Coroico (02-11-2014)

Chapter eight:
Greetings from Denmark (03-11-2014)

Chapter nine:
Did anyone mention TEAMWORK? (04-11-2014)

Chapter ten:
Wrapping it all up and leaving for Denmark (05-11-2014)

Chapter eleven:
On our way back home (06.11.2014)

Chapter one - The arrival at Coroico (27-10-2014‏)

We left Copenhagen Airport at six o´clock Sunday morning. The travel from Denmark to Bolivia was without any delays, but the airline companies had a tendency to change gate of departure. Therefore, we found ourselves waiting by the wrong gate twice. We arrived in La Paz Airport at 01:15 in the morning. The Bolivian officials were waiting for us guiding us into carefully selected queues – all the foreigners in one row with one official and all Bolivianos in another row with two or more officials. Now we know the reason why we always tend to leave the airport as the final passengers.

Laure had some Elisa kits in her suitcase in order to make some tests of some water samples in the UAC laboratory. The kits were wrap in a small cooling box. At the custom control in La Paz Airport, they have a system, which chooses randomly between travelers to check their luggage and Laure was taken into control. Luckily, the officials asked Laure whether her suitcase only contained clothes and then clapped at the suitcase. The poor man should have known that he had just let through luggage containing chemicals! Still, he made two women smile at a time where we fought very hard to keep our eyes open because of sleepiness.

After a very short night in the hotel in La Paz, we had a quick breakfast at seven o´clock. We were in a bit of a hurry as Marcelo and Luis came to fetch us and drive to Coroico before eight o’clock. The municipality of La Paz does not permit some license plate to traffic the city after eight o’clock in the morning and this day, it was the license plate of Caritas. Still, we had the opportunity to stop to look at the marvelous scenery.

Before our arrival, Marcelo had already informed Mrs. Dolly that Laure is an Argentinean. She has a very distinctive accent, which she has inherited from her mother. This means that our language skills are accepted and we are certain that we will understand the community language and vice versa. 

On the arrival to Coroico, we checked into the hotel Bella Vista and those who have seen the photos from the visit last year can remember that it has its name from the beautiful mountain landscape, which Coroico consist of. Laure and I went then on foot to the office of Caritas where we had a short meeting with the management team and the environment team from Caritas agreeing on our program for the visit. We talked shortly about the projects and activities that they had made already and some were actually finished. They have collected a lot of information in different documents and it is clear that Coroico can benefit from the information system and the method they have chosen to present the data to the communities.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sightseeing in Coroico and just relaxing because we need to be fit for the tight program in the days to come. You are welcome to post questions (e.g. on IUG Facebook profile) if we forget to write about a subject of your interest.

Best regards,

Laure Lopato and Rikke Oestergaard


Chapter two – Getting started (28.10.2014)

Today, the director of Caritas Coroico and the technicians invited us to join them at breakfast. At the breakfast table, we shared information about the problems of the solid waste situation and the supply of clean water to all the communities.

Caritas Coroico presented the activities that they have made concerning the community environment. They especially emphasized how they have strengthen the environmental network and how additional representatives from the communities are joining up.

The local government is also an active member of the environmental network with a representative from the municipal council. Caritas Coroico talked about all the initiatives they are developing to solve the environment problems, e.g., the organic production and the training of women in how to lobby with official organizations as the municipality.

We talked about the study of a specific river delta where they have made an environmental description of the ten communities within this area. In relation to this task, they used satellite photos in a 1:5000 resolution. Their work is a very important contribution to the development of “our” project. Caritas Coroico will use these photos in the development of the municipal environment system with all the environmental information.

In the afternoon, we started with a presentation of the LFA of the project to support the development of the environment action plan in Coroico. We used the LFA to start an open debate on how to implement the project and the group from Caritas Coroico had the opportunity to discuss what they are already doing with the support of Caritas Luxembourg. This debate gave Laure and me a deeper understanding of the different opinions in the group.

Afterwards Laure presented the pilot project and as requested feedback from the group. Laure presented the analyses the project group in Denmark is suggesting to make and we talked about the equipment present in the UAC and the current condition of the equipment. We talked about the need of the analysis for pesticides and we asked them if they were able to tell us where in the municipality the farmers are using pesticides. In replying our question, they brought in a 3 x 3 meter map of Coroico into the room and the technicians put post-it on the map on the areas where they are using pesticides.

The day ended with a small plan for the coming days where we plan to visit UAC tomorrow and Laure will continue working with UAC to plan the implementation of the pilot project.  

Best regards,

Laure Lopato and Rikke Oestergaard


Chapter three – Our meeting with UAC in Carmen-Pampa (29-10-2014)

Today we went to Carmen-Pampa to talk to the group from UAC. We had the opportunity to travel with Father Freddy to Carmen-Pampa. During the trip, we talked about the importance of the revival of the local laboratory in UAC and of other communities with different problems. On the arrival at UAC, we had a meeting concerning the cooperation between UAC, Caritas and EWB-DK.

Firstly, the people from UAC presented a list of the activities that they have developed in the environmental area. The activities include ecological coffee and coca, waste treatment plants, waste separation and other activities. The second theme was the presentation from Laure on how we have planned the pilot project. We continued the meeting with a debate concerning further actions involving the UAC and the importance of the project regarding the development of the curriculum of the institution. We talked about the different methods to test the water for contamination and discussed the equipment they have at the UAC.

The shock was big when the director Father Emilio told us that they did not have the ELISA equipment. However, Father Freddy knew that at some point they did receive this equipment. However, he believed that the equipment could be located in another laboratory.

The UAC has actually two laboratories – one at the upper UAC and one at the lower UAC. It was clear that it is important for development of this pilot project that the equipment in the two different places is available for testing the water.

After this meeting Laure, Rikke and Dolly had a meeting with the two Fathers in charge of the UAC to talk about the agreement between UAC, Caritas and EWB-DK to develop the pilot project. We agreed that Rikke would make the changed needed concerning the agreement and then Laure could present the agreement to them tomorrow. Father Freddy was quite interested in establishing a cooperation between the universities in Denmark and UAC. We agreed to talk to Aalborg University and DTU. Perhaps we can facilitate an agreement on exchange of information and students for shorter or longer periods.

Before lunch, we went to the lower part of the UAC and saw the facilities as well as their laboratories. We were happy to see that they did have the ELISA equipment and other equipment needed to do the analysis of water. We learned that UAC has around 600 students and most of them are living in the facilities. This goes for the teachers as well who give classes a couple of days a week and then leave for other universities.

In the afternoon Rikke went to Coroico to work on the changes in the agreement with UAC. Meanwhile Laure stayed on in UAC. Laure had a more detailed look at the lab facilities, checking the available equipment and making a list of the equipment, which we have to purchase for the pilot project.

Rikke talked to Luis about the satellite photos we need of Coroico and on Friday next week in La Paz, we will buy the photos needed for the municipality.

Lastly, we have a question for Camilla, Mads, Katrine, Christian or Thomas: Is the solution 1:50.000 something that we can work with?

We have taken this picture of a small girl living with her mother in UAC and when she saw the picture she exclaimed, “That baby is me!”

Best regards,

Laure Lopato and Rikke Oestergaard

Poul Michael Øllgaard has been kind enough to answer Rikke & Laure’s question:

“Dear Rikke and Laure,

Thanks for the reports – hard work for you and still I can get ‘fjernve’ (longing for far away).

I’m glad to hear they use 1:5.000 (five thousand) and not the quite useless 1:50:000 you were talking about yesterday…

Have a good time!

Kind Regards, P Michael Øllgaard, Forstkandidat / MSc Forestry"


Chapter four - Hard work and learning the vertue of being patient (30-10-2014)

Hi friends,

We are sorry that we haven´t been able to write our daily report the last 3 days because of activities very late yesterday. In addition, on Thursday afternoon and evening Rikke was sick with diarrhea as well as the light went out a couple of hours.

Today we went to different activities.

Rikke had the opportunity to meet with the municipality (a member of the council and employees of different department) to discuss the elaboration of the environmental action plan. We presented the project and its different components as well as the methodology for making the people of Coroico create and participate in their own environmental action plan. Normally a consultant just visits the municipality and afterwards leave a document, which has a tendency to stay in a drawer. They talk about the importance of telling the population what an environment action plan is and its importance for the municipality as well as for the municipal development plan. They see the environmental action plan as an important step to having a municipal development plan.

The council member put emphasis on the importance of the Municipal Environment Network to be the canal of coordination to elaborate Coroico’s environment action plan. Furthermore, the Council has all the intention to participate and listen to the inquietude from the communities and organizations to find solutions concerning the principal environment problems.

The meeting ended with the elaboration of a minute signed by the participants stating that the local government will participate and be an active part in the elaboration of Coroico’s environment action plan as well as including a counterpart in the budget for next year.

On Thursday, Laure spent a long day at the university to test the Elisa kits. First, she met with Guillermo, the person responsible of the labs and then with the “Doctora” Marcelina. She is a biochemist and she has worked with the Elisa equipment to detect diseases in animals. Together they made a list of all the things necessary to make the analysis and searching in all the labs of the university managed to procure everything – even some distilled water!

It was 10:30 in the morning and the only thing missing was a water sample. By the time, we had some sampling bottles, a car and a driver it was already 2 o’clock. One learns how to be patient in Bolivia. After a nice chicken soup for lunch (chicken is the basis of all meals), in one of the few places free of salmonella at the university, we went to get water samples from a river from an area where they use pesticides for the production of pumpkins. Back in the lab, we carried out the whole test without problem but when the time came at 6 o’clock to read the results with the Elisa reader, we realized it did not work! Luckily, a technician will come to look at it next week – we sincerely hope that it is repairable.

For Laure, though, this was not the end of the day. On the way back to Coroico, the university shuttle bus had to make a half an hour stop at the university health center to pick up a teacher who suffered from allergy before dropping him off at the hospital. When we finally arrived at Coroico at 8 o’clock, there was a power outage in the city. Back at the hotel, by the light of the phone with no internet to send our daily report!

Chapter five - Rearranging the project (31-10-2014)

Rikke spent the morning with Caritas Coroico to reorganize the activities of the elaboration of the environment action plan. The technicians took the initiative to divide the project into phases. That meant that some activities were changed and some added on. The project is now divided into five phases:

  1. Sensitization of the communities in what an environment action plan is (Funded by Caritas Luxembourg)
  2. Participative workshops to analyze the environment problems and solutions (EWB-DK will apply to CISU for the funds)
  3. Environmental information diagnosis (EWB-DK are working on finding funds for this phase and perhaps dividing it into small projects)
  4. Participative assessment of the draft of the environment action plan (EWB-DK will apply to CISU for a second phase of the project)
  5. Consolidation of the EAP and prioritization of the solutions of the EAP (Not yet defined who funds this part)

A transversal phase has to be the empowerment of the Municipal Environment Network with training in different themes as formulation of environmental projects. We need to know how to control the exploitation of the natural resources as mining and logging, etc. It is important that the network does not wait to take actions until the environment action plan has been approved. Still, we can present project proposals to the council taking into account the already know problems.

On Friday morning, Laure went to the university again to plan the practical details for the training course for the water sampling and analyses. It was decided to do the course at the end of the next semester from June 22 to July 3 when students and teachers are free of classes. The university and Caritas Coroico pushed for having the course before the beginning of the semester at the end of January but it seemed impossible to have all the teaching material and all the lab equipment ready by that time. Laure came back from the university in time for a nice lunch at Caritas (chicken again).

In the afternoon, we had a small introduction to the use of the GPS where the technicians who are working in the rural areas can start to register information. The technicians were ready to learn more than just the use of the equipment and we really hope to have the opportunity to talk about what kind of information, the information system needs to make all the maps.

Later in the afternoon, the Municipal Environment Network met with us. We presented the project of the elaboration of an environmental action plan and talked about the role of the network. The network consists of voluntaries from different organizations present in Coroico and persons from the rural and urban areas with interest in the theme. We talked about how to strengthen the participation of people from the rural areas. This network is still in its formation period and need inputs about further strengthened. The members saw the process of the environmental action plan as an opportunity to really make an impact and get the support of the communities to lobby for a better use of the natural resources and protection of the nature.

Chapter six - Spreading the word on Municipal Environment Network and celebrating the Day of the Dead (01-11-2014)

The morning started with a meeting with a small group of representatives from the rural communities where we presented the phases of the project as well as the themes of the participative analysis of problems and solutions. The participants had many comments and were satisfied that their own community members are going to do the project. In fact, they are already ready to point out who can participate in the workshops. We talked some time about the network and how the communities could participate. We proposed that the sub-centrals should be forced to elect a representative in the network. It was clear that not every participants knew about the network and it is important to make the rural communities aware about this network.

The participants saw the elaboration of an environment action plan as important, but at the same time, they had the need of immediate action to problems in the communities. It is therefore important that the network can support and know about these communities and their interest in protecting their surroundings.

The work ended early this Saturday because Coroico is celebrating the day of the dead. Laure and Rikke went to the market, which was very active because of the celebration. Luis had to wait for the car to go to his home in La Paz. Father Freddy had been using the car to go to the communities to celebrate “missas”. Luis then took us to the “calvario” where you can see almost all the area of Coroico. Afterward we tried to leave for Vagante (waterfall), but the road was full. They had arranged a motorbike race and all the cars were trying to go to this race. We went back to Coroico to have some lunch and afterwards Laure had to go to the hotel because she has gotten a bad cold. Rikke and Luis went to the Vagante to see this beautiful place. There, many people some had put up tents to spend the night and other were bathing in the river.

Tomorrow is Sunday and we have the day off. We have been talking about visiting the churchyard to see how the people of Coroico are celebrating this day.  Monday is weekend in Coroico, but Laure and Rikke will be working on the different documents we have to produce for this trip as the application to CISU. Monday we are looking forward to see if Mads can enter the PC of Rikke to help with Q-GIS. We will send our next report Tuesday evening.

Best regards,

Laure Lopato and Rikke Oestergaard


Chapter seven – Experiencing the local cultural traditions of Coroico (02-11-2014)

Hola amigos y amigas,

After breakfast on Sunday, we went to the church to listen to the “misa” as the people of Coroico were celebrating the Day of the Dead. Afterwards, we relaxed a bit. In the afternoon, we took a taxi from the main square to visit the churchyard. It took quite a while though to drive this short distance as the city was full of cars and buses trying to transit through Coroico. During the weekend, Coroico was full of tourists from La Paz and other places in Bolivia. After half an hour, we finally reached the churchyard to see the people cleaning and putting flowers on the graves. The graveyard was a much-occupied place with many different types of graves where families or relatives were visiting.

In the evening, we did as many other locals and strolled around the main square talking with people. Maximo was our host on this tour around the square and we ended up by drinking a beer with Coke – a new traditional drink from Coroico, well, only Laure had the stomach to taste it.

Chapter eight – Greetings from Denmark (03-11-2014)

Monday was just another day at the office. We worked on the documents that we need to bring back to Denmark. In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to connect with Mads in Denmark to see if it was possible to correct a problem in a computer here in Coroico while sitting in a living room in Copenhagen. The connection was very slow and we could not establish a good video connection using Skype, but we were able to communicate in writing and Mads could handle the computer.

Chapter nine - Did anyone mention TEAMWORK? (04-11-2014)

Today, we started in the office of Caritas where Rikke worked on the budget for the CISU application with the financial responsible Willy Campero. Meanwhile Laure worked with some technicians. They discussed the methods most likely to be used during the participative analysis workshops in the communities (first phase of the elaboration of the Environmental Action Plan). Rikke joined the discussions after working the budget.

In the afternoon, we continued working on our documents and we had a brief meeting with Caritas director Dolly Aliaga. Afterwards, Rikke, Rocio and Dolly went to visit a small institution that works with handicapped children to hear about their work. We would like to investigate the possibility of helping this initiative. Handicapped children in Bolivia does not have many options.

Returning to the office, two men from Coroico wanted to talk to Caritas director about getting some support to clean up a waste dump in the community of San Joaquin. Currently, there is a big problem with this landfill, which receives the waste from the city of Coroico and which is contaminating the water of the community. The community does not allow the municipality to dump their waste there anymore and the municipality needs to find another location very quick because the waste is piling up in the streets on Coroico.

Laure had the chance to leave with Marcelo Coritza and Sonia, 2 technicians from Caritas, to visit two communities close to Coroico. Caritas are supporting people in these communities to start up chicken and pig farming. Caritas is teaching them how to produce compost for their crops from these farms. It was also an opportunity to have a look at the communities, e.g., what the houses and farms look like and how their water supply system is organized. On the way back to Coroico, we stopped to look at several gold mines located along the river Coroico. A new mine is being built and for several kilometers downstream, the otherwise transparent waters of the river are orange and muddy because of the construction works.

Best regards,

Laure Lopato and Rikke Oestergaard


Chapter ten – Wrapping it all up and leaving for Denmark (05-11-2014)

Last day in Coroico, tomorrow afternoon we are leaving for La Paz. We spent the morning in the office of Caritas Coroico writing reports and making the budget for the CISU application. Caritas Coroico has had a visit from another organization to evaluate the project on clean water. At breakfast, we talked to one of their representative from Switzerland. We realized that we all joint the same flight back to Europe so we agreed to spend the long layover we have in Lima on Saturday together. In addition, we will leave the airport to visit the city.

In the afternoon, we had a meeting with Father Emilio from UAC to sign the agreement between UAC, Caritas and EWB-DK to execute the pilot project on analysis of drinking water. We talked about our plans to find funds to continue the strengthening of the laboratory at UAC in a second phase. Again, UAC put emphasis on that they would like to have an agreement with a Danish University to exchange knowledge and students. We agreed to continue working in that direction and make the correct connections in DK.

Finally, we ended the day with a small evaluation of our visit and the technicians were very satisfied that we were including the local knowledge in the formulation of the project, because a small misunderstanding can have a large influence on the daily work in Coroico. Laure and Rikke appreciated their collaboration and active participation in our meetings and help in all matters.

Tomorrow, we end with some final agreements and in the morning, Laure will visit a neighboring community to take a sample of water to have it analyzed in Denmark.

Best regards,

Laure Lopato and Rikke Oestergaard


Chapter eleven -  On our way back home (06.11.2014)

Hi friends,

Today was our last day in Coroico. In the morning, Laure went to UAC once again to take a water sample from the waterfall. They went into a pumpkin field up in the mountain to take the sample. Rikke made the final agreement with the director Dolly at Caritas office. We finished in Coroico with a nice lunch where the people from Caritas celebrated Rikke´s forthcoming birthday with presents, cake and birthday songs. It was really a nice way to finish this trip to Coroico.

On the way back to La Paz, we took the death road, which is a dirt road with different qualities and always, the mountainside is just beside you. At some places, the water was failing upon the car when we passed – quite an odd experience. Still, Davin and Willy told us that the waterfalls is getting less and less every year. On the road, we meet some people on bicycles taken the route down to Yolosita. We were both lucky that nothing happened. At the top between Coroico and La Paz, the police was of the opinion that we went to fast, but they change their mind and did not give Davin a fine.

Arriving at La Paz, we passed Caritas office to leave some materials and then we went to the hotel. We are staying at the Hotel Gloria as other hotels are all booked up. The hotel is in the center of La Paz and that gives us many possibilities to act like tourists in the afternoon tomorrow. In the morning, we will join Willy and go to the official office for the air photos of Coroico to buy the digital photos. This evening we dined at the hotel because the height in La Paz gives us headache and short of breath. The view from the restaurant on 12 floor is beautiful at night.

Laure and I have really enjoyed this travel to Coroico and we are looking forward to share our information with you all, when we return to Denmark. We would like to use this opportunity to thank the Caritas team in Coroico, the people from the UAC, the team from the municipality as well as members of the network and the people from the communities. Everybody has been very helpful and positive – always willing to share information to improve the support that we so much want to give them in their process to improve the environment area in Coroico and the elaboration of the environmental action plan for Coroico.

See you in Denmark!

Best regards,

Laure Lopato and Rikke Oestergaard

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