By Calixta Choque Churata, Xiomara Sainz Salinas, and Zsófia Sztranyiczki
The leadership pilot program in Bolivia – launched thanks to women and men who donated to IWC’s Faithify campaign in the spring – kicked off in August under the leadership of project coordinator Calixta Choque Churata. A Unitarian and former human development director in the Luribay Municipality of Bolivia, Calixta attended IWC’s 2015 Gathering in Bolivia, where she emerged as a leader to carry forth the participants’ commitments to action.
The pilot initiative aims to build the capacity of women to unleash their leadership potential, empowering them to spark change in their own lives and in the lives of their families and communities. The project takes place in District 7 of Viacha (a city next to El Alto and close to La Paz that is home to Aymara immigrants; it has 45 thousand inhabitants, most living in poverty). Women in this area are overwhelmingly homemakers or street vendors (and thus part of the informal economy). State services including health facilities are scarce, streets are full of dust, and there is no garbage collection or sewage system.
Three practical simultaneous workshops – vocational training in hairdressing, sewing, and baking – are empowering women economically, breaking down the barriers that hold women back. Each training has approximately 20 women of all ages, and many take their children with them. The baking class teaches how to make bread, cookies, empanadas, and Swiss rolls. The sewing class teaches how to master a sewing machine and has produced cholitas (traditional pleated skirts), tablecloths, sportswear, and other types of clothing. The hairdressing class is quite popular because the professional hairdressing school is far away and costly. Incidentally, the clientele has grown substantially since the classes provide free haircuts for the children of poor mothers.
The program plans to build women’s leadership capacities and skills through topics addressing entrepreneurship, labor rights, personal skills (developing self-esteem and self-confidence), domestic violence prevention, as well as spirituality. The leadership courses envisioned will take place outside of class schedules or in class hours, depending on the situation. The resource persons for these courses come from institutions or specialists on the topics.
As of this writing, a few introductory sessions have been implemented focusing on power, toxic masculinity, and femicides; entrepreneurship (how to start a small enterprise); leadership; as well as spirituality and meditation. Two women broke their silence, coming forward to share their domestic violence experiences, two in public, and one in private. The meditation classes revealed that the women didn’t have any experience with meditation, providing their first time for self-observation. They could feel, at least for a few seconds, inner peace. This process will help them lead to more self-awareness and acceptance of who they are; it will enhance their self-confidence to make empowering, conscious choices.
“The pilot project in Bolivia is a demonstration that with few resources it is possible to support the training of women to increase their income, as a step towards their better economic positioning,” says Olga Flores Bedregal, leader of a small UU community in La Paz. In addition, leadership skills and attitudes will enable them to bring positive change not only in their lives and that of their families but in their communities as well.