It is almost noon so the sun is high and finally taking the chill out of the day. I pull off my sweater and let the rays warm me up. As I walk along the road and toward the school, I notice the principal in the schoolyard. I have long wanted to meet the man running the school Chimpa Rodeo’s kids attend. It just hadn’t worked out in 2000. And there, coincidentally, he is standing close by. I approach, say my name, and he says that he remembers my attempts to meet him. He was ill for a while that year. He invites me into the school. On goes my sweater again. The narrow windows in these thick-walled adobe buildings keep them very cool, too cool for my liking.
The school is like most I have seen this year and in past visits to Bolivia. The classrooms are small, crowded with basic wooden tables and long benches. Each has a worn blackboard at the front and a combination of educational cutouts hanging from the ceiling and posters on the walls. Pata Rodeo is on the road into Ravelo, so there is electricity. Two light bulbs dangle from the ceilings at either end. The infrastructure improvements promised in La Reforma Educativa have not yet reached this school. The upgrades will happen soon, people have been told.
The principal, on the other hand, is not of a past vintage. He is middle-aged but seems to have fresh ideas and dreams. He tells me about how he welcomes the promised changes in the reform program. He just worries that the resources needed to make them work won?t be forthcoming. And his teachers, he says, are not well equipped for the changes ahead. I detect discouragement, although not yet resignation. He is doing his best to remain positive and professional.
The children are about to have lunch. Staff members are settling them in their seats. I notice a packet, some powdered drink of sorts. I ask Senor Director what they are. This is a nutritional drink mix that ‘FH’ is providing along with the World Food Program. With an obvious note of sarcasm in his voice, he adds: “Before the ngos we had to do it all ourselves. Now everything is free.” 6
His comments hit home. I share his frustration. The children he serves need the additional nutrients. There is no doubt. But there are other options. We begin to discuss the local food crops that could be feeding these children and could be expanded if the aid investment was to go directly to the food producers themselves. Indigenous potato varieties and crops like oca and tarwi are full of micronutrients and antioxidants. The local potatoes, in fact, have one of the highest protein levels within the major food crops. And tarwi galletas or cookies are easily available in city markets. Almost every farm family in their region could have the right combination of food and would happily bring that diversity back into pro- duction if these crops and varieties were valued more. Some training money would, of course, also be needed to revitalize skills lost when synthetic chemicals replaced the need to keep the farmers’ knowledge current.
It just seemed so obvious to us as we chatted this warm March afternoon. Yet, apparently it was not so obvious to the decision-makers set on a packaged approach to health. El Director’s handshake is warm as I offer mine to say goodbye. But his smile remains wry. How much longer will he stay, I wonder.