“AMPARA Initiative” 

By María Antonia Pérez

Caring for Each Other

Ampara” means “Hand” in Aymara, one of many indigenous languages spoken in Bolivia.  I learned that word and about the Aymaran culture while working with Quaker Bolivia Link (QBL) and United4Change Center (U4C) on a sanitation and COVID-19 Prevention campaign, as part of a Rotary Global Grant in Bolivia. This Rotary Global Grant, which is under implementation, has two main objectives. One is to provide more than 300 hundred people in two indigenous villages of La Paz (Coro Coro Municipality: Phina Litoral and Quinoani) with access to clean water and the second is to provide local training in sanitation and prevention of COVID-19.  

Although QBL had developed successful sanitation campaigns, after a global pandemic, things have gotten worse for these communities, already facing challenges due to the impacts of climate change and extreme poverty. After conversations with my colleague Rotary Peace Fellow, Ximena Murillo, U4C’s CEO, and the team from both organizations, the AMPARA Initiative was born. 

I met Ximena in 2018, during a Rotary Peace Fellowship Program in Thailand, and after our first conversation, we both knew that we were destined to work together to make a positive impact in our region, the Americas, and the world. That’s why in 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, I’ve partnered with her and U4C for a collective purpose to co-create an innovative campaign for these two indigenous communities to learn about the critical importance of sanitation and how to prevent from getting the virus COVID-19. Then, we created an amazing working group with U4C’s team in the US & Bolivia, QBL’s team in Bolivia -who is the cooperating organization of the Rotary Global Grant, and myself, consultant & designer from Colombia. Indeed, moments of crisis also bring moments of opportunity and when U4C invited me to participate, I could not refuse! The AMPARA Initiative no only promotes health, prevention, but it also promotes sanitation practices based on local culture and traditions. 

Since August of 2020, this incredible team has been meeting virtually to identify areas of misinformation related to COVID-19 and other informational materials already distributed to communities by local entities. After several conversations with the team in Bolivia, we found that while some information was being disseminated at a local level, most of the people in these villages did not know nor understand what COVID-19 was and the importance of taking care of themselves and each other.

After the preliminary findings, used Design Thinking and worked together for three months to create a plan and to implement the campaign. We worked tirelessly to identify the problem, held virtual conversations and brainstorming sessions, developed prototypes later tested, validated them, created the strategy, and then began implementation planning. 

 The AMPARA Initiative was designed as an education and communication strategy targeting individual and collective behavior and awareness related to sanitation and COVID-19 prevention. The designs were inspired by the Aymaran culture, which is known for its colorful textiles, music, and customs. The initiative also included reaching families through many other ways of communication. For example, Radio and the application WhatsApp were the most effective alternatives. Approximately all 60 (direct beneficiaries) chose WhatsApp to help to disseminate the message. Every week messages with graphics used on the brochures are been sent on their WhatsApp group to remind them about the importance of washing their hands, social distancing, and using a facemask.      

This material that communicates the phrase “Que Cuidarnos se vuelva un hábito” (Let’s Caring for each become a habit) was distributed in homes, community centers and schools with the help of community leaders. The content was in both Spanish and Aymara with highly visual and attractive graphic material. The relationship QBL & U4C has with this community allowed us to confirm the correct use of language, formats, and content to ensure their comprehension. We were able to put into practice “Think globally, Act locally”. It was very important to inform and equip this population with necessary elements for individual and collective sanitation and COVID-19 prevention, so we decided to create a comprehensive informational and practical kit containing posters, brochures, a facemask and soap. 

 “We are going to have water and we will follow the steps we just learned, so that our grandchildren know that we can also take care of ourselves” – Elderly in the Community of Quinoani.

U4C launched this initiative in March 2021 and reached more than five hundred people in different communities. We held several community informational and training sessions and reminded the community that the global fight against COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility. The training sessions were well attended and more than 200 kits were distributed to 200 families, reaching approximately 600 people from both villages and other communities close by. The kits were inside reusable, local-made bags and were well received by the community, local representatives and leaders. These rare times are calling us to be more creative, to get to know each other and see each other in other ways and in other spaces and has also been an opportunity to connect virtually more so than ever before.  

 “This is going to reinforce our knowledge… it’s so important to prevent, and with water, our lives will change for the better” Florencia, Phina Litoral

I connected from Medellin, Colombia, with incredible and committed people in Houston, La Paz, Bolivia and with the communities in Coro Coro, who even though I do not know in person, are already dear to my heart and where I feel we all gave a lot of ourselves and to each other and planted long-lasting ideas and seeds for care. By working on this project, it gave the team the incredible opportunity to experience “Jarkakhasiñani”, taking care of each other, through the care of communities, generative topics and relationships. We also learned from each other and from the communities we cared for and understood that creating strong connections and relationships by coming together and working together no matter who they are or where they come from is essential, Quaker Bolivia Link and United4Change Center collaborating, exemplifies just that!

“Ampara” hands, as a way of our own responsibility, as a way of connecting, as a way of taking care of each other. Hands working together, and the word “ampara” in Spanish comes from the verb AMPARAR: that mean Support, caring, protection.

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