If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of self-sustainability and use of natural resources, indigenous communities, or simply your comfort zone, then Bolivia should be at the top of your list when looking to study abroad. My experience in Bolivia was humbling, rich, and overall the most invaluable travel experience thus far.
What I enjoyed learning about most was their wealth of knowledge in and use of the nature environment. The Tacana communities we visited are extremely remote (we traveled on dirt paths and rivers to most communities). As such,it takes a great effort to accomplish just about anything, and I found a lot of their techniques/methods to be extremely clever. Some examples include, use of various tree species for specific parts of the housing structure (i.e. mahogany, palm) and for cooking (i.e. palm leaves, bamboo) as well as medicinal use.
Plants are used medicinally most often as medical attention from a healthcare professional can be a rarity. For example, we stayed in an indigenous community where a doctor would only visit twice a year. As such, medicinal plant use is extremely common and can be used to treat a variety of conditions from an upset stomach to a broken bone. There are other communities along the Beni River that receive medical care from professionals more frequently. We had the opportunity to meet a small group of medical professionals who provide services to remote communities along the river; however, they face many challenges. One challenge is lack of funding, which has resulted not only in having to charge community members for services, but it has also made it extremely difficult for providers to obtain adequate medicine and afford traveling costs. Another challenge includes the physical strain that care providers endure during their travels. For example, not only do they haul medical supplies from the shore to the communities, but for more remote areas, they have had to haul 160 lb. cement water filters into communities as a means of providing a long-lasting clean water source. A final challenge that these health care providers face is lack of medication compliance from community members. They explained to us how health literacy greatly impacts medication compliance since every community has a different dialect. As a result of misunderstanding, medications tend to get misplaced, taken incorrectly, or in the hands of small children. These are only some challenges faced when providing medical care to Tanaca communities along the Beni River.
What stood out most was the warmth and compassion of the Tacana people. I find it difficult to put into words the hospitality and graciousness that community members radiated. They were always willing to share their indigenous knowledge as well as do anything in their power to ensure our comfort and safety.
As I left Bolivia, I felt full. Full of compassion, full of knowledge, full of humility, full of resilience, full of perspective, and full of incredible food.