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Monday, August 8, 2011

Interview with Alberto Salazar, Sancayani Resident

Last week Mano a Mano volunteer Libby Arnosti visited Sancayani, Bolivia with local Mano Mano staff, where we are currently constructing a major water reservoir project. Libby is a 20-year-old college student from Minnesota who is spending the summer collecting stories of people touched by the work of Mano a Mano. The purpose of her project is to get to know more personally the people we work with, hear their reactions to Mano a Mano projects, listen to their thoughts and ideas about the future, and gauge the need for more community improvements. While in Sancayani, a local community leader mentioned to Libby that a resident was interested in doing an interview with her.

Alberto Salazar

Below is the transcript of the interview with Alberto from Libby:

What is it like to live here? "Life is hard. There are a lot of responsibilities, starting with getting food to survive. In agriculture, even though it's a hard job – brutal – when you grow a lot, there is that much more income. In the city you have to buy everything! Everything. Meanwhile in the campo at least you have potato, beans, wheat, oca, chuño [peeled and freeze-dried potato], something. Which you don't have to buy. So in a big way that alleviates the economic situation in the family."

Why the water project with Mano a Mano is important: "Well, I think Mano a Mano is giving us [the associates of the project] a great opportunity. Because before in the highlands there was a lot of rain, a lot of water. But these last five or ten years, the water has dropped a lot. So now there isn’t enough to water our crops. We have spring waters higher up, but before a lot came down and now there is only a little. We don’t know why the spring waters are drying up, but this is also why this type of project benefits us so much. The reservoirs, during the rainy season, will fill up, and in these times [the dry season] we will have enough to water the crops, to plant, to produce. So what Mano a Mano is doing is going to at least somewhat alleviate that problem. So at least we will be able to produce potato, wheat, soybeans."

On hopes for the future: "In the campo, though, money is still important. If there is no money, there can be no studying. So you have to produce first. We sell our crops at the market and with that money the kids can study, we can buy clothes, food. Looking to the future I think that you always have to look out for the kids, no? My kids are the happiness of my family. My children, I think that their future is primarily through education. As their dad I would like them to study. Study - because here in the campo there is a lot of need. If there was a professional here who understood agronomy well, for example, that person could make a lot of money. Because in the campo we don't have the same possibilities as in the cities. In the city there is everything, but in the campo, we make do with what we have."

On future projects: "Maybe from here looking to the future, doing more projects with Mano a Mano, no? And I would think that not just here. Here we still have spring water. In other places they don't even have water to drink. So they have more need. This is what I hope, that [Mano a Mano] continues, and that it keeps supporting like that – directly – the community members. Because when help comes from the state it sometimes arrives very late or doesn't even arrive at all. So it suits us that help arrives directly to the communities. And this benefits us in a big way. This is the only thing I would ask; if they could do other reservoirs for Sank'ayani, even better, no? [laughs]"

More comments: "I have finished high school. Few people, maybe ten percent finish high school, of the people in Sank'ayani. My older brother was working as a carpenter, he was working in Punata. And so he brought me so I could help him during my summer vacation. And I stayed there, to work and to study. I worked by day and studied at night, for six years. Working eight hours a day Monday through Friday – and only until noon on Saturday – and studying from 6pm until 10:30. 

After high school I went to Chile, to Concepción. I was looking for more opportunity. But there, as a stranger it is not easy either. And so I came back too and when I came back I dedicated myself more to agriculture. But you always bring something from other places. 

There are some people – like me for example, no? – study, finish high school, but sometimes forget about their communities, and they go somewhere else, to the city, or somewhere else, foreign countries. But they forget. And when they come back, they come back then like strangers, no? And it's not the same. So, we always want to retain those roots, of where we came from, where we were born – we want to retain that, not lose it. Because, if it is lost, I don't know, then there wouldn't be this community – there would be no organization, and so everyone would think of their own family and no more. And we wouldn't achieve any type of project – like we always say, 'unity makes force'. So this worries us a little sometimes, that when our children leave here and sometimes forget. 

Of course, older people, with the time they have lived, have more experience than we do. And that is a good thing. So they have more experience but this person maybe has not had even one day of classes. They haven't gone [to school]. They don't know how to read, they don't know how to write. But they have more experience than we do. We always share their experiences and our thoughts – we who have finished high school – and so we strengthen ourselves between the two. And so any type of problem that comes up we can solve quickly. So, this is the good thing. Between their knowledge, and those of us who have learned a little in school, in high school, so we between the two make our living so that any type of work that has to be done, we do it easily. And this – and this, I think, is our wealth."

Libby Arnosti and Alberto talking in Sancayani

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