Herbal tea and witch doctors

Clara Vreeken, KF 14, Bolivia

Clara volunteered as Kiva Fellow in Bolivia. She worked for the micro finance institutions IMPRO, Pro Mujer and Emprender. In this blog she elaborates on health issues in Bolivia – Bolivians prefer to drink herbal tea and listen to witch doctors instead of seeing a doctor – and she says goodbye as the end of her Kiva Fellowship has arrived.

Bolivian people prefer to drink a herbal tea (maté) than going to a doctor.  The herbal tea here in Bolivia is delicious, however it does not cure you from all diseases. Therefore the Bolivian micro finance institutions try to get their customers seeing a doctor. The two Bolivian field partners Pro Mujer and Emprender have both clinics at their offices and IMPRO provides health loans.

Medical checkup with your loan
Most of Pro Mujer’s offices have a clinic at the office. When clients want to borrow money, they first have to go for a checkup at the doctor. In this way Pro Mujer’s doctors find out if clients have diabetes, cancer or other diseases. 

Clinic at Pro Mujer’s office

Another way of fighting for health are Pro Mujer’s health campaigns. When the clients come every two weeks or month to repay their loan they get training. One important theme is health. I attended once a training where the trainer explained how you can keep your hands clean when working in the street: by using a bottle upside down with a little back of soap attached. Pro Mujer also provides information about how you can protect yourself from pregnancy. In Bolivia sex is a taboo and many young girls get pregnant before reaching their twenties.

Information about preventing pregnancy

Witch doctors
Also Kiva’s Bolivian field partner Emprender has started a pilot with one clinic at the office in La Paz.

Clinic at Emprender’s office

When I was verifying Emprender’s clients in Cochabamba, I stayed at a friend’s place. This friend Carmen has employed an indigenous woman named Maria for helping her with cleaning and cooking. Carmen told me that Maria once produced an unpleasant smell. Carmen found out that she had an infection between her legs. Carmen said her that she had to see a doctor, but she did not want to.

Fortunately Carmen knows about the customs of indigenous people. She told Maria that she had visited a witch doctor in La Paz. Every day the witch doctor sent some messages via Carmen to Maria. In order to cure her infection she had to clean her room, had to light a candle, had to clean her room, etc. One day the witch doctor said that Maria should see a doctor. Because the witch doctor said it, she was convinced and went to the doctor. And he cured her from her infection.

Attributes used by witch doctors

Loans for health
Kiva’s field partner IMPRO has another approach to help customers with health problems. IMPRO provides loans that can be used to visit a doctor, for operations and medicines. I visited one borrower who had used a Kiva loan for health issues. This is the story of Silvia.

Silvia did not know that she had diabetes until visiting a doctor because of an infection at her leg. Unfortunately she had to amputate part of her leg. She is going to use the Kiva loan for a prosthetic.

Silvia wants to buy a prosthetic for her amputated leg

Silvia lives with her husband Francisco with their three grown up children in La Paz. Silvia and Francisco live on the highest floor of their house. Silvia tried to go down the stairs – which are very steep -, but she fell twice. Now she has decided to stay home, until she gets the prosthetic.

Silvia and Francisco make chips from potatoes as their job. Silvia cleans and cuts the potatoes and Francisco and one of their daughters sell them (see video).

The doctor advised Silvia to wait with the prosthetic for at least two months. Francisco lent 500 dollars from Kiva, but the prosthetic cost 800 dollars. Their children will all support to get the last 300 dollars together. However, their son-in-law – who had another loan – died one month ago in a car accident. So now they have to take care that his loan will be repaid, next to the contribution to the prosthetic.

You can imagine how live has changed tremendously for Silvia and her family in such a short period of time. Let’s hope that they can find the additional money for the prosthetic so that Silvia can walk again.

In April Bolivians were striking to get a higher loan. The government had offered a 10% rise of salaries for the salaried people in Bolivia. However, because of a higher inflation than 10% the salaried people – including medical staff – did not agree to this increment and went to strike in La Paz as you can see here. They striked for more than a week. And the result? A salary incrementation of 12%, but also 200.000 people who were not attended at hospitals and around 2.000 surgeries that were not performed (source: newspaper ‘La Razon’, 20-4-2011).

My volunteering for Kiva has ended. It was a wonderful experience to work for IMPRO, Pro Mujer and Emprender and to meet and write about their clients in Bolivia. I have made a compilation of the borrowers I have met, which I would like to share with you before leaving Bolivia. Here you can watch the videos of Emprender’s clients. On this video Pro Mujer’s borrowers are shown and here you find IMPRO’s borrowers.

After this wonderful experience as a Kiva Fellower I am going to travel with my husband trough Peru and Colombia. We hope the people there are as nice as the Bolivians!

Goodbye La Paz, goodbye Bolivia!

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