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How the Other Half Lives (except it’s actually “The Other 95%”)

Do you ever wonder how the other half lives? I have, but I had no idea just how hard it was until I saw it two weeks ago in Bolivia. And then I discovered here that this isn’t the way half the world lives — it’s actually how 95% of the world lives. This is a rural Bolivian mom’s typical day, best-case scenario.

She wakes up around 6am and starts cooking breakfast. Her menu is either potatoes or beans. If they didn’t eat their chickens for meat or if they managed to sell some potatoes and get to town the day before, she might have an egg or a little bit of meat to throw in her pot.

I have a pantry stocked with prepackaged cereal and pop-tarts, bread on the counter, frozen waffles in the freezer, steady electricity to run that refrigerator/freezer, microwave oven and toaster, milk in the fridge, and sanitized dishes waiting in the dishwasher.

Bolivian woman herding her sheep.

Bolivian woman herding her sheep. (c) Matthew Paul Turner

Before the kids wake, she hurries outside to tend to the family’s animals – cleaning waste, feeding them, moving them from one spot to another.

I go to the grocery for my milk, eggs, and meat. My animals are pets, not future meals, complete with veterinary care and their own food.

In time for school, she wakes her children, tries to comb their hair (I think that Bolivian kids hate combs as much as U.S. children do), gives them a little food, and gets them dressed.

At last, something in common…. except my kids can choose what to eat for breakfast.

The kids must sleep through anything because their homes only have one bedroom for everyone (even families with 8 children) and sometimes the entire home is only one room. The floors are dirt. The walls are planks hung with plastic if they can get it. Otherwise, they use sheets and feed bags to try to keep a little of the wind and cold from blowing through the gaps between each plank.

Elena's home - only 2 walls

This home has ony two real walls - the rest are curtains. And the home is two stalls of a large pig farm.(c) Matthew Paul Turner

I have insulated walls, carpeted and wood floors, water-tight roof, air conditioner and furnace, glass windows with screens, separate bedrooms and bathrooms, living space indoors, indoor plumbing, a decorative fireplace for looks, doors that padlock.

She sends her school-age children out the door to walk to school. Older children may have to walk 2 hours to the nearest 6-12th grade school. All the kids walk alone, vulnerable, unprotected.

My children walk 2 houses down to the corner where they climb onto a bright orange school bus.

Younger ones sit in the dirt while she finishes caring for her animals and then she carries them out to sit at the edge of the fields where she works for the rest of the day.

Bolivian children

Bolivian children spend their days outside. (c) Matthew Paul Turner

My toddlers get dirty, but they don’t spend their days living in it. I putter around doing chores with fancy electric machines like the washer, dryer, and vacuum, while my kids play with any of their dozens of toys or watch TV. I have the luxury of driving to the store, getting my hair done, and going to the gym.

Most poor Bolivians do not eat lunch. They don’t have enough food to serve a third meal.

We always have something to eat for lunch, even if we secretly (or not so secretly) complain, “This is booooooriiiiiiing.”

Her school-age children return home after school and remain in the house and yard alone until she and her husband return from the fields. She tends to the animals, the family eats a small dinner (same menu as breakfast), and everyone is in bed around 9pm.

Children in a rural Bolivian school

Two teachers live in this school, separated from the classroom by a curtain. They teach five grades in one room. (c) Amy Connor for World Vision

My children come home to me and play Wii or read books or play with neighbors. I can make a variety of foods very quickly. We bathe regularly and sleep on mattresses.

She is pregnant or nursing (sometimes both simultaneously) her entire child-bearing life, whether or not they can feed and clothe another family member. She delivers her babies at home because the nearest health clinic is an hour’s walk and she has no transportation to the nearest city’s hospital.

I see a doctor regularly and can read about fertility. We have the funds for whichever method we choose to steward our family’s capacity to raise children. And I get to choose where and how to have my babies, including in a room a mere 100 feet from a newborn intensive care unit when needed. 

Bolivian mom and her baby

Bolivian mother with her 6-month-old, born at home. (c) Amy Connor for World Vision

That’s best-case-scenario. Let’s talk about normal.

Many parents leave their children longer for days, weeks, even months at a time in their desperation to find work. Others turn to alcohol and drugs in their despair. Abuse is rampant in these homes. Older siblings are forced to quit school and take over their parents’ role as provider. All of these children are vulnerable to attack, not only by strangers but by trusted authorities who know the parents are out of the picture. This is why 9 out 10 Bolivian children are abused in some way.

We have safety nets for situations like these. (Those programs could always be better, but we have them.) We remove children from abusive homes, finding them safer places with relatives or in the foster care. We terminate parental rights of those who abandon their children, and we prosecute child molesters. We have food stamps, welfare, and the School Breakfast Program so that even our poorest families can gain access to bread, cheese, and peanut butter.

We have so much to be thankful for in this country, even with all of its flaws. What can you spare to help someone without the safety nets we enjoy? Partner with World Vision as they work with the poor in Bolivia. Sponsor a child today.


[Today, I continued counting 1000 gifts with new eyes as I think about these women. Today’s post includes gifts 358 to 422.]

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