ACDI/VOCA’s USAID-funded Special Development Activity Fund contributed to the development of civil society in Bolivia by empowering citizens to identify and address problems in their communities. To accomplish its goal of achieving sustained and equitable development, the SDAF program implemented small projects that responded to the expressed needs of low-income groups in urban and rural areas. The 44 grants provided an average of $7,000 in assistance.
To be considered for implementation, projects had to be timely, have an immediate impact, and be responsive to expressed critical needs of the beneficiary communities, some of which were urgent.
Types of projects included remodeling or completion of school and health centers, providing school or health equipment/materials, upgrading water and sanitation systems, implementing small community infrastructure projects, and conducting activities that increased the inclusion of historically excluded groups such as indigenous and rural populations. ACDI/VOCA’s role was to ensure effective technical implementation, from selection and prioritization through activity close-out.
The SDAF program achieved tangible and intangible results, contributing to the improvement of beneficiaries’ economic and social conditions. It reached approximately 28,000 individuals, including more than 8,000 children. Fifteen projects improved access to health services and medical assistance for vulnerable populations, and sixteen significantly improved education conditions for over 8,000 students.
In addition, through the implementation of small infrastructure and other types of activities, the program provided temporary jobs for participating local organizations, communities, or neighborhoods. Communities provided in-kind contributions to the projects in the form of local materials and labor, which helped instill a sense of ownership.
Civil Society Strengthening and Inclusion
Many Bolivian citizens have limited access to social services and political participation due to a long history of discrimination and exclusion based on ethnicity and social class. The indigenous population, women, and the poor are the principal, often overlapping, groups suffering from social exclusion.
All SDAF projects contributed to the inclusion and empowerment of vulnerable groups, taking into account that access to education and medical assistance are crucial for social inclusion in the long term. Out of the 44 SDAF-funded projects, 10 focused on civil society strengthening and inclusion. The beneficiaries of those projects included senior citizens, women, indigenous communities, and abandoned children.
According to the 2001 census, the majority (approximately 62 percent) of Bolivia’s 9.25 million people self-identified as indigenous (primarily Quechua and Aymara). Most are rural subsistence farmers living in remote areas where government services remain unavailable.
In 2008 70 percent of Bolivia’s indigenous people continued to have little access to basic services such as health, water, sanitation, and education. Twenty SDAF projects had a direct beneficial impact on over 10,000 indigenous peoples’ lives. The majority of these projects fell under the civil society strengthening and inclusion category, while the remaining projects were related to health and education. The SDAF projects, Institutional Strengthening for Indigenous Communities in La Paz, and Chiman Community Birth Certification and Identification, worked to improve the situation of indigenous people and advocated for their social inclusion and participation in civil society.
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report on Bolivia, the country is still far away from reaching all of the Millennium Development Goals, especially in terms of reducing extreme poverty and child malnutrition, and in improving access to health and education (UNDP, National Report Bolivia).
School attendance rates in rural areas are often below 50 percent. UNICEF reports that between 2000 and 2007, only 41 percent of students finished primary school (UNICEF). Sixteen of the SDAF projects contributed to access to education and improved learning environments for more than 8,000 rural students.
The donation of school furniture or classroom reconstruction not only produces tangible, material results by providing better learning conditions for students but also provides qualitative, intangible results: students and the whole community feel proud of their school. A new classroom might motivate parents to send their children to school, and students are often more motivated to learn. Under SDAF, when the community contributed cost-share, the members were likely to value the project as their own and assume stewardship over the long term. Almost all SDAF projects received a counterpart contribution from the beneficiary communities.
The lack of access to proper medical assistance and care on the part of rural Bolivians leads to tragic health consequences. A July 2007 study by the UNDP and UNICEF reported that over 230 babies in Bolivia died per day from lack of proper care, six out of ten children and minors lacked basic necessities and five out of ten lived below the poverty line (Amnesty International Report 2007 – Bolivia).
The focus and resultant impact of the 15 SDAF projects related to improving access to medical care varied substantially. For example, “Cleft Lip and Palate Repair Reconstructive Surgery for 30 Children” (SDAF 0003) had a very specific impact on the lives of one group of children in La Paz, while the project, “Health Center Repair—Socpora, Chuquisaca” (SDAF 0040) offered an entire community access to a quality service that meets all hygiene and environmental standards. All SDAF health-related projects had a direct and often immediate impact on individuals’ lives.