What Can You Buy for $72?

August 23rd

I have been meeting with our Bolivian counterparts in meetings for the last two days, and for the first time in my professional life, I feel like I´m actually bringing something to the table. I can´t put my finger on what has changed, other than I´ve been working in this field for four years and I think I am starting to get the hang of it.
We have been meeting about a variety of things, but mainly to discuss this massive housing project we are starting in rural Bolivia. We (the nonprofit I work for) are one of half a dozen entities helping fund a project that will ultimately build 5300 houses during the next three years. The houses are simple — most just four rooms. A basic bathroom, with running water and a sink to minimize fecal-oral illness, a basic kitchen with a raised stove and chimney to reduce childhood burns (kids can¬¥t fall into these fires) and respiratory illness, a basic bedroom for the parents, and a silo. Silo isn¬¥t the right word, but I don¬¥t know what else to call it in English. Deposito en espa√±ol. It is an area within the house where the family keeps their grain and food for the next planting season. When these rooms were outside, the farm animals and mice were always in them, causing problems. Also, they could get wet and become moldy resulting in an entire infertile planting season that ultimately results in an entire season of hunger and infertility.
The community questionaires we completed before beginning the housing project found that families actually wanted a silo more than a bedroom. They would happily sleep outside if they could just ensure their children could eat and they´d have something to plant. Truly, Bolivians are amazing people.
Imagine their delight when we explained they would receive both. They were also tickled pink to receive the training and education on how to build these homes; the sustainability of such a project is dependent on the participants working for the result. We don¬¥t do hand-outs. These families become masons, electricians, plumbers and roofers over the three-year development process. Afterward, many will find employment in these very areas. Each family must also contribute a bit of their own money toward their house –roughly $72 paid over a 6-month period. Between their sweat equity and this payment, the families must be truly dedicated to having a healthier home. Both their time and this money is a significant investment.
Even though we are at the beginning of this project, I can write these details with certainty. We have been working here for more than 20 years and have built thousands of homes using this public health model. Each family is incredibly grateful and we know we´ve truly made a difference when they are able to keep their children in school as a result. In a nutshell: healthy house = fewer illnesses = more productivity = less stress financially and emotionally = happier homes and more children who are in school, rather than in the fields to help their folks. It takes decades to see these sorts of results, but thankfully we are getting there.
Tomorrow, a day off. I am going to visit the Virgen de Chaguaya. Nope. I have no idea what that means either, but apparently everyone in Tarija is pretty excited about it.


P.S. You know this town is small considering I am in the newspaper today. We were out for dinner last night and a reporter came by to take our photo and ask what we were doing here. I need to go find a copy. Or two.

Posted in
Journal, Public Health, Travel
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35 Responses

  1. “It takes decades to see these sorts of results”

    and as a result of that, the results themselves will be felt by *generations* to come. You are doing work that will affect people positively years and years after you’ve moved on to wherever we all eventually move on to.

    Now *that* is having a job that’s worthwhile. Congratulations.

  2. what a fabulous project! and you’re a celebrity! awesome. 🙂 miss ya!

  3. That sounds like such a great project – I love hearing about stuff like this.

  4. Such an amazing project you are blessed to take part in… thanks for sharing!

  5. What a great project! Good Luck!

  6. Having built a few Habitat for Humanity houses in the Valley i’m a whiz with a hammer. When can i help?

  7. Sounds like things are going really well in Bolivia. You’ll have to post that newspaper photo and article if you get a copy.

  8. Way to go Kelli, you make a difference…ciao

  9. I spent some time in Bolivia near the Brazilian border helping with some veterinary work. You’re making me wish I was back.

  10. i think you may have my dream job. amazing how you are affecting change all over the world. way to go kelli!

  11. Um, I spent $72 on a pair of shoes…and I have many pairs of shoes. Hmmm. Kelli, I’m so impressed – not just with you (although I would love an autographed copy of that newspaper,:) ha ha), but with the organization you work for. It’s SO GOOD to hear about a company doing some good in the world. *These* stories make me proud to be an American. *This* is the kind of help I’d like to see America give the world more often.

  12. This is just fascinating, Kelli. It’s amazing – absolutely amazing – the kind of difference an organization such as the one you’re with can make. It must be so encouraging for you to see the pieces falling into place.

  13. Great posting, Kelli! In addition to all the help your organization and others are providing, I’m glad that the people themselves feel they are also contributing to their own futures and good health. That $72 may seem like a little to most Americans, but it’s a lot of money to them. They are investing part of themselves, too, which helps them preserve what they’re learning and apply healthier and safer tools to their lives.

    I’m so proud to know you–you’ve opened my mind and heart to so many new things to consider in the world. You deserve to be the paper’s main headline story.

  14. Kelli, great to learn so much more about what you’re doing!

    In Mali we called them “granaries” (not silos).

  15. Sounds like an awesome project. Kelli, you are truly amazing & inspiring.

    And now the paparazzi wants you too!! 😀

  16. What could I buy with $72.00. Nothing as meaningful as a house. Materialistic stuff that I don’t really need. I agree that if the family “buys” into the house with sweat and money (alot to them, a little to us) that it means more to them. They are proud of it, and more likely to maintain it, and therefore reap the benefits that were intended. We built houses – lamina houses – one room houses from waterproofed corrugated cardboard for families in Mexico. One house a day. Makes your houses seem fancy. The families always helped with the building and the looks on their faces at the end of the day.

  17. Yes, get copies of the newspaper…

    I am sure that virgen ….. means something like their local saint??? Like in virgin Mary… and most places like here they give local names do each “virgin” – am i making any sense at all???

  18. You totally amaze me.

  19. What neat work you do! I am loving reading about your journey.

  20. I love reading about the work you do. What a great project.

  21. wow, $72, for a house. I am off out to breakfast with friends and our bill will come to more than that.. for one meal.. perspective hey? Best of luck with the project. You are doing a great thing.
    NN2R ( no need to reply)

  22. So wonderful. And that investment familes are making makes all the difference.

    And I take it you were out to dinner NOT eating Llama, you celeb! Can I have your autograph?

  23. You are amazing and have such a powerfully beautiful job. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Wow. $72. That really puts things in perspective for me, and makes me realize how insane our lives are here.

    Wonderful work you and your team are doing!

  25. Such a great project – so worthy. Thank you for sharing the detail about your work.

  26. Wow, that’s amazing!
    It must feel so rewarding to make such a difference.

  27. It has been a long while since I went blog visiting and I expected to see that you were in the throes of final training. Instead I find this wonderful post. This is so exciting!

  28. Sounds like your work there is quite positive and productive!

    It’s wonderful that you can mix business with pleasure!

    Have fun!

  29. ali la loca August 26, 2007

    Good work, Kelli.

    What treasures will you be bringing back for your crafts?

  30. gary moore August 26, 2007

    us curmudgeons sit around the big table at Einsteins and wonder aloud ‘when’s kelli coming back?’ We miss our cookies with lemon zest in them. Not many people make cookies with lemon zest. We miss our kelli. We use the possessive since all of us feel that she belongs to us. The sacrifice a vegetarian makes to eat meat, especially llama jerky is phenomenal. But knowing kelli as we do, we understand the dedication she has to her work, her people.

    Come home soon. We miss you.

  31. Hola Kelli, me alegro por las familias beneficiadas, ojala salga todo bien.

    un abrazo grande!

  32. incredible, fulfilling work.
    how wonderful they will have the silo and the bedroom.

  33. what a fantastic project!! it must be such a joy to be a part of something like this, knowing that it is making a difference for so many people, for generations. fantastic.

  34. this is so inspiring, kelli. thank you for sharing!

  35. What satisfying work that must be, Kelli. Safe travels! I’m sure we all are looking forward to your photos when you get back.