A letter from Chenoa Stock in Bolivia
One of my primary responsibilities as Companionship Facilitator of the UMAVIDA (Joining Hands for Life) Joining Hands network is to be a bridge of communication between our Bolivian partners and our U.S. partners—Presbyterian World Mission and YOU! Though that communication had diminished a bit when the Facilitator position was vacant, now, with somebody on the ground, learning and experiencing the realities in country, our partnership has blossomed into one with a greater understanding for each other’s contexts and ideas as we work together in solidarity toward alleviating poverty and injustice. At times it is difficult to believe that I have been working with UMAVIDA for more than three years now. So much has been learned and accomplished and yet there is still so much more to do in our learning and accomplishing. It is because of this that I decided to sign on for another three years and continue as the UMAVIDA Companionship Facilitator.
As Facilitator I have personally seen our partnership develop and grow more profoundly with our U.S. presbytery partners in San Francisco and Oregon. In order to faithfully carry out that commitment, a delegation group from both of our U.S. presbytery partners came to visit and learn, in a more hands-on way, from the Bolivian partners, as well as strategically plan our environmental justice campaign work together. My role as interpreter, as well as all-around organizer and leader, allowed me to personally experience the importance of communication, not only through words, but also through listening, seeing and simply accompanying. We listened as we visited the different partner organizations and learned about their varied work with women, youth and churches. We saw as we had a meal with child miners and heard them innocently speak of their involvement with our partner organization, which helps to keep them from working in the mines. We sat together and listened to affected communities share their stories of mining contamination and their struggle for justice.
Our U.S. partners recognized that our Joining Hands partnership requires both sides to accompany and listen, so they invited me with two Bolivian colleagues to visit. They hosted us in their homes and congregations, giving us opportunities to share our struggles and mission work through sermons, Bible studies, youth groups, potluck presentations, and more. We traveled and visited many congregations within both of their presbyteries to give a more personal view of the current situation in Bolivia. As we shared we worked out our goals and hopes for the future of the network’s mission—not only for UMAVIDA but also within the context of our partnership and work on our campaign with San Francisco and Cascades presbyteries.
One of these goals was to bring more widespread attention to our campaign issue for environmental justice. Through this personal interaction and the meeting of alliances interested in similar environmental issues, UMAVIDA learned about the Universal Periodic Review process of the UN Human Rights Council—where every four years a member country’s civil society organizations are able to write letters explaining any human rights or other rights violations occurring in country.
One of UMAVIDA’s partner organizations, representing more than 80 rural communities affected by the contamination of the Kori Kollo mine in Oruro, Bolivia, completed this process in consultation with UMAVIDA. In their submission the communities demanded the protection of their human right to water and food, information transparency in contracts with transnational corporations, and participation in these contract decisions. They also called for corporations to guarantee they would fully cover the costs of reclamation. Additionally, they insisted on the enforcement of already existing laws and regulations in relation to mining and other extractive industries. This submission was a major accomplishment for UMAVIDA as it brought these communities together to discuss and write it, and subsequently their voices and concerns were heard at the international level.
Gregoria, a community leader who longs to be heard, stated that, due to the Kori Kollo mining contamination, “My community is now dead.” Statements like these led us to design a human health study with these communities with the support of Dr. Serrano, a professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at St. Louis University. Aided by his expertise, our goal is to support these communities in gathering more evidence to shed light on these injustices and in proclaiming their truth to power, and to help them strive for the life abundant that God calls us all to live. We ask for your prayers as we embark on this path.
As UMAVIDA we know it is important that all voices are heard. Each year we carry out a Water School for youth to educate them on water rights, injustice, sustainable development and climate change. Through a Photo Contest, the youth portray their personal realities within these issues through photos, which then leads us to the International Youth Congress, a gathering we carry out jointly with our sister network in Peru. Marcos Flores, one of almost 60 youth who participated, came from Oruro, Bolivia. He explains: “The Youth Congress is a gathering between countries including Bolivia, Peru, the U.S. and Canada, where we are able to share experiences and knowledge with respect to our similar environmental issues. These gatherings allow us to understand the problems each of us is experiencing and the work we are taking on in regard to these environmental issues. Upon carrying out this information exchange, we are given new guidelines and ideas on how to confront these problems and take action, both individually and jointly.”
Messages like these are a reminder that our issues are not so different, but rather similar and interconnected at the global level. We must keep questioning and struggling.
I was able to share this local and global struggle with many of you as I itinerated in the U.S. this past year. It was an honor to spread the good news of God’s mission in Bolivia with such diverse and curious audiences. Thank you for your continued commitment to God’s international mission, through your prayers, correspondences, and financial contributions. We only grow stronger when we work and walk together in God’s call. I look forward to continuing that sharing and walking together when I return to the U.S. for another three months this November 2014 to February 2015. Please be sure to contact me if you or your congregation is interested in planning a visit together and learning more about our mission in Bolivia.
Please keep the UMAVIDA network in your prayers as we begin our education process with a new group of youth, as well as prepare for our Youth Congress in Peru, which will be carried out in conjunction with the COP+20 (Conference of Parties) and the important discussions and decisions held there around climate change and other global topics.
You all remain in our thoughts and prayers, as you carry out God’s mission in your own neighborhoods and churches. May we continue to yearn and work toward justice and equality in God’s Creation.
Peace and blessings,