Stories of Change

Women from Flowering Lapachito work on preparing food together.

“When we excel, we encourage other women.”

Five years ago, the women of the Lapachal neighborhood in Yacuiba, Bolivia, took matters into their own hands. Their families were struggling in this isolated part of the Bolivian Chaco region. “The neighborhood is very far from the city center,” explains Paola Portal. “Sources of employment are scarce, so women must leave their daughters and sons to go look for work. We do not have good nutrition, which causes malnutrition and leads to diseases in children, pregnant women and adults.”

Paola is the president of the “Flowering Lapachito” group. Twenty women formed this group five years ago in order to improve the quality of their families’ lives. In 2017, the Center for the Integral Development of Women helped the group to attend a Communities in Action meeting. CWS and partner CREAS provide grants through Communities in Action to groups like Flowering Lapachito.

Flowering Lapachito applied for a grant for their “Women Entrepreneurs in Economics” program. “We asked for help to train us on preparing and selling regional and national dishes so that we can improve our economic situations without leaving our families,” Paola says. “We also asked to know our rights better so that we would have more freedom in managing our businesses.” They were awarded the grant.

The women of Lapachito bought equipment to prepare food and received training on cultivating small-scale vegetable gardens. Paola says that by growing the vegetables, they are feeding their families better. Plus, they use them to prepare typical dishes that they sell at a farmers’ market every other Sunday. “With the profit we buy more seeds and we harvest more. We are contributing to our families and to the community that buys our products,” she says.

In this part of Bolivia, there were seven femicides–when a woman or girl is killed because of her gender–in 2018. Women do not have the same status as men, which is why the grant also provided for a partnership between Flowering Lapachito and the Center for the Integral Development of Women, or CEDIM. “We were able to work on women’s self-esteem and address issues like gender roles, democratizing domestic roles and valuing their work,” says CEDIM director Primitiva Martínez.

“There are women in the group whose husbands do not let them go out to sell, and they are forbidden to go to trainings and meetings,” says Paola. “We are holding meetings to bring women who are not yet in the group for this reason. With this project, we learned that there are laws that give us the same freedoms [as men] to carry out these activities. Now several women have been motivated to cook for the markets, and we encourage them to start selling.”

“We have managed to change the women’s mentality, and put it on the table that they should have the same opportunities as men as well as access to public resources for their productive undertakings,” Primitiva says.

The women of Flowering Lapachito have big plans. They want to invite women from other neighborhoods to the farmers’ markets. Plus, they are planning on constructing their own headquarters to store their equipment and have bakery products available for sale. In Paola’s words, “Then we can look for contracts with schools to offer breakfasts, catering, lunches, etc. We will continue to need help; we want to learn more about how to sell, get to know the market and encourage other women to stop being afraid. When we excel, we encourage other women.”