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Youth Confront Their Realities in Relation to Water and the Environment

Clotilde Loza, Coordinator of UMAVIDA, JH Bolivia

Water School

2012 UMAVIDA Water School on the Water Route field trip in El Alto, Bolivia to learn about the distribution of water from the surrounding glaciers. Photo: UMAVIDA

In Bolivia, environmental problems are putting the availability of fresh water resources at risk. Despite being faced with the potential of water rationing in the near future, a culture of disregard for the care of water resources continues to be prevalent in the country, particularly in the Andean Mountains, where the people and the environment are more susceptible to shifts in climate.

Bolivia is blessed with many natural resources, but cursed by the irresponsible management of these resources. Local communities and vulnerable populations are the ones who are impacted the most by the resource exploitation of these resources. These communities find themselves in situations where they have no other choices, but to migrate to cities in search of better living conditions, leaving behind their sustainable ways of living.

The growing scarcity of water is not a secret, nor is its importance to humanity lost upon anyone.  However, even though water is essential for life, its degradation and contamination continue to result as consequences of the daily irresponsible practices of extractive companies, industries and domestic households.  Internationally, the demand for Bolivian extractive resources continues to increase, resulting in industry growth and increasing pressures on water resources.

The entire water system of Bolivia, including snowcapped mountains, lagoons, lakes, wetlands and underground aquifers, is impacted by the overuse, abuse and pollution of water resources. Within the reality of growing pressures on the water system, citizens need to have a better understanding of these issues and the current and future consequences for all Bolivians. A better understanding will permit people to begin to develop practical solutions that address water scarcity issues.

UMAVIDA, the Joining Hands network in Bolivia, developed the “Water School” to work with youth, developing their knowledge of the water system and the environmental threats with which it is faced, and train them to take action in their communities. The school works by encouraging youth to raise their voices in their communities, protest the degradation and contamination of water resources, develop solutions that apply to their contexts and become committed and engaged in supporting local actions.

The school brings together youth from across the nation as well as from different international contexts, which helps to bridge broad alliances on water scarcity as a global issue. The hope is that the youth will go on to work in partnership with civil society and government to find solutions. The UMAVIDA Water School began its first phase for 2013 on September 6-8, in La Paz, Bolivia. Youth from UMAVIDA partner organizations based in La Paz participated and learned about both local and global water issues, as well as were provided a chance to share their own experiences and knowledge of this issue. The second phase will include field trips to learn about the distribution and treatment of water in the region. The third phase is the photo documentary contest, both in Bolivia and the US. This provides an opportunity for the youth to creatively use photography to demonstrate visually the reality of water degradation and contamination. Once a winner is chosen, UMAVIDA will have a photo exhibition to display the winners from the contests in both Bolivia and the U.S. which are held concurrently.

We have seen our youth grow through this process and open their eyes to the world around them. We are excited to begin this work and see what we can learn together about Creation and how we can protect and advocate for it.


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