[Bolivia bloggers] Day 7: Sex and poverty

Paulo has 8 children ranging in ages from 14 years to 6 months. Three of them walk 2 hours to school and 2 hours home. He told us that he used to live near the mines, but it wasn’t a safe place for children. He bought the land in the mountains where we visited him, and moved his family there. But he can’t grow enough in his fields to feed them all.

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

As we talked, his wife nursed their baby, surrounded by five of her beautiful but shy little ones (the older three were at school).

As we walked away, I couldn’t help wondering when the next baby would come.

In rural communities, we’ve seen a baffling series of contradictions about the value of children. On the one hand, their’s is a close-knit large-family culture. On the other hand, if a cow and a child are both sick, the family will usually seek care for the animal.

Rural Bolivian women believe that their role is to make babies, care for their animals, cook food, and make more babies. Their identity is wrapped up in this. They also have a real need for children to help them work their fields.

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

Bolivian men also see children as helpers for the farm. But the extra mouths to feed are an inexpressible strain. Almost all Bolivian children are abused sexually, physically, and verbally. If you were to take a U.S. class of 30 kids and move it to Bolivia, 27 of them will abused and 12 of those are sexually abused (both boys and girls).

Many parents just walk away. They usually go to find better work somewhere else, promising to send money home, but many never return and never send money. They just disappear.

How can you find your identity in child-bearing and then turn around and abandon your children?

It seems obvious to us that if you can’t afford to feed more children, you don’t have more children.

But it isn’t obvious to rural Bolivians.

I don’t know how to help Paulo and his wife. He is so underwater he doesn’t even know what his problems are, or how World Vision can help.

But it takes time. You can’t barge in, point your finger, and say “Stop having babies and here’s how. You can’t have sex with your spouse certain days.”

It’s far more complicated than that. You have to build trust which requires building friendships. You have to open their minds to new ideas through education. Children need to grasp a vision of their future that includes options like higher education, small business ventures, agricultural innovation, and giving back to their communities. Families need to embrace the value of children, the responsibility they have to each child, and their capacity to meet that responsibility.

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

World Vision does all of this in the communities within which they work. They also teach nutrition, cleanliness and sanitation, and healthy practices. They have the opportunity to teach about fertility, the reproductive cycle, and why and how to space pregnancies for the health and well-being of the mother.

Because unless they take ownership of their capacity to provide adequate care for the children they have, the cycle of poverty will only continue.

Join World Vision’s work with communities. For just $1 a day or 1/4 of a Starbucks latte, you can help break this cycle of poverty.

Sponsor a child in Bolivia

This post originally appeared on deepeerstory.com

Read more posts from the Bolivia bloggers team.


    Though heartbreaking, it does seem like the most logical choice. :/

    Maternal mortality in Bolivia is one of the highest in the world. According to the ENDSA 98 survey, the maternal mortality rate corresponds to 390 per 100,000 liveborn. In rural and indigenous areas the maternal mortality rate is much higher. In certain rural areas of the highlands (altiplano) the maternal mortality rate reaches 887 per 100,000 liveborn (UNICEF november 2001).

    Is World Vision against any type of birth control except the rhythm method? Just curious.

    World Vision respects the customs of the communities in which it operates. Bolivia has a large Catholic population, so WV would never recommend a family planning method that the Catholic church does not support. In addition, there are financial concerns -- most other methods cost at least a little money.

    Great points. When someone stabs someone and you start to speak and are interrupted by a commoner who says, "No, it's okay, this is a custom of ours." Will you stand by silently and let them destroy themselves? No. When an ideal is wrong, it is wrong, even when it is hoisted over their heads by one of the 3 Abrahamic religions of the world. If education truly is a means you incorporate into your method of raising them out of poverty, maybe a science course, an economics overview, or a general education in the similarities of world religions would be a great addition. After all, if they aren't educated in different perspectives and perspectives that give positive results, they will lost without a compass... and as we can see, their moral compasses don't seem to be pointing them in the right direction thus far. Birth control in the form of condoms is not only more practical than the withdraw or rhythm method, it's safer and more reliable. No one knows they will choose something if it is never made an option. The church may make a suggestion, but it is up to us to become informed and realize if it is really helpful or not. You want to help them? Help them help themselves. :)

    How can the rhythm method work when women and children in these communities have so little power? Even condoms will not protect them from men who will not use them. Is it Catholic teaching to abuse women and children? There is no solution to poverty unless effective birth control as used by Catholics in Australia, US and UK is made available.

    I believe in the mission of World Vision. I have supported World Vision and its programs in the past. I am confused by your statements about the cycle of poverty. In one sentence you say "unless they take ownership of their capacity for the children they have, the cycle of poverty will only continue". Then you say that "For just $1 a day or 1/4 of a Starbucks latte, you can help break this cycle of poverty". Please explain how $1 a day affects their taking ownership of their capacity to provide adequate care for the children they have and breaks the cycle of poverty. Please consider this before you writing a cogent response.

    Poverty has little or nothing to do with one's ability to have sex or to have children. Poverty is a material condition or circumstance of human existence. Sex is a natural procreative behavior found in every living animal. Solutions to the issue of poverty are generally economic and political. Issues of children born in poverty are generally enviromental, social and behavioral. Education is a tool proven to assist in the decline of birth rate among some people in poverty. There are other tools available to help reduce birth rates among the poor but the reality is that controlling the birth rate among poverty stricken people is not resolvable without immense cost.

    The example of Paulo does not seem to include issues of morality or religion or even crime. Poor people have every right to make life decisions that affect their economic status. Having children in poverty is one of those decisions. What is assessed as irresponsible decision making is no less than a choice made and a result occuring. Perhaps the real issue is how to reduce or eliminate poverty.

    Bolivia, unlike America does not allocate significant state funds to the raising of children in poverty. Many other countries also refrain from this costly endeavor. Poverty contains many issues affecting the lives of those trapped in its grip. Raising the standard of living and enabling people in poverty to choose a better life would seem a logical solution. However this solution requires more.

    Jesus said "the poor you will always have with you..." (Matthew 6:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8), and it is written "there will always be poor people in the land..."(Deu. 15:11) I ask, what is God's way of handling poverty and children born into poverty?

    Hi Ted. Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, I don't have time to respond to your question fully as I begin a 24-hour journey back to the States in just a few hours. However, I'd like to recommend this post by a fellow team member as a good explanation of how the child sponsorship model World Vision follows does indeed break the cycle of poverty. http://rachelheldevans.com/child-sponsorship-skeptic

    If you still have questions about what I wrote, I'd be happy to correspond further next week.

    Have a blessed Sunday.

    No offense but you are being melodramatic. Obviously is you have five children you cannot feed it is not practical to bring more children into the world, it is not good for the children, so it is not going to be good for the rest of society. That is obvious! You say "perhaps the real issue is how to reduce or eliminate poverty." For obvious reasons having fewer children would be a start to reducing poverty right? yeah I would think that that's one of the points the blogger was trying to make, no need for melodrama.

    Thank you Marcia, I was going to say the same thing. For some reason, the religious zealots of the world like to quote the ideas of a man from the middle east every time want to justify their views. Even if they held this view on their own with no assisted indoctrination, it wouldn't change the fact that this world isn't put here for humans to just continuously repopulate beyond responsibility. We owe it not just to ourselves, and our children that we do have, but also to the rest of the world and our fellow species. Whiny comments like Ted's just takes away from helping and tries to attack the method of help. World Vision, though they mention prayer and other religious relics of past human primitive thinking, are at least using their hands to work, not just talk to clouds or type complaints. (Though I wish they wouldn't mention the talking to clouds bit, but what can ya do?) ;)

    Exactly. When you think about the complicating issues involved, you can at least see how they come to the decision they make, even if you still find it painful and tragic. The animal has the potential to provide food for the family long term. To them, in that moment of desperation and surrounded by other hungry family members, the sick child looks like a liability.

    This absolutely breaks my heart. Is sexual abuse something that is talked about in the community? Are the children usually assaulted by family members? What is WV doing to help combat it?

    Thanks so much for working hard on behalf of children in communities around the world.

    Hey Steph, I just talked to Andrea (our fearless translator and trip host while we were in Bolivia) and I asked her the exact same question from what I remember while we were there. She said that abuse can be a very taboo topic in Bolivia because of a number of factors. But that 9 out of 10 children are expected to be abused in the Bolivian countryside, 3 out of those 10 have suffered from sexual abuse. One of the many reasons why it is not talked about there is because the children and mothers often depend on the men as their income source and they are often fearful that if they report the abuse, the men will leave them. World Vision is helping by hosting workshops and conversations with the communities so that all people know abuse should not be tolerated. We're also helping to ensure that men and women alike are developing income sources for their families so there is not such dependency on the men. Thanks for asking this question. It's extremely heartbreaking to know and it needs not only our help, but our prayers as well.

    Your sex and poverty blog brings home the day-to-day struggles and the mindset so ingrained in poverty stricken areas. My heart was touched with the statement "if a cow and a child are both sick, the family will usually seek care for the animal." For a moment I let myself empathize with the plight of Paulo and families like his. Then the fragility of the situation made the decision to do the right thing less obvious. The Lord bless you for sharing this with us and for all of the WV staff on the ground in Bolivia and all around the globe.

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