30,000 Aymara Quakers?

Fanny Huanca- a Bolivian Quaker speaks

She started at the university of La Paz in 2008 studying tourism. In 2010 she received a scholarship from Bolivian Quaker Education.

“I live in the Tahuantinsuya barrio in El Alto. I want to tell you about my Friends church, Tahuantinsuta meeting. I participate in the Iglesia Santidad or Holiness Friends church. I help teaching the children, about 11 children every Sunday. I teach about the Bible and many other things. We combine many ages in the same class, so they are between 5 and 10 years old. Teaching is very important because I long for the children to serve God. I teach Bible stories, and how the children can serve outside the church. I also enjoy playing with them.

The TV is a major influence. I teach the children that It’s good to learn, but only to learn healthy actions. While watching TV shows, the children pick up that fighting or insulting is acceptable. So I discuss that with them in Sunday school. I ask them, 'How do you treat your friends?'

In my family all of us have attended the church for 20 years. I go with my 3 older sisters (and sometimes a brother) and my grandmother. My mother died 20 years ago. My father doesn’t want me to go to church, and this worries me. He argues with me, saying it’s a waste of time. He wants me to work and earn more money. This is painful for me. My father is still angry with me. My father works as a bus driver and is a mechanic. My two sisters both work as professional chefs. One works in the Spanish Embassy and the other works in the Korean Embassy.

Every Sunday we sing many songs. I love to sing Seguir los Pasos, Following the Steps (of Jesus).

The adult class in my church has three pastors. They teach us many things about the Bible and about social problems. For example, one problem is between parents and children. Parents often are lost in how to help children behave. Some parents are very frustrated and exasperated with the children’s behavior and they end up yelling at them. It's true that the church is helping them--I saw this with my own eyes. One or 2 children told me that their parents have changed. Somehow after the Bible class the parents don’t scream as much.

Every Sunday we collect donations. Many of our donations go to our monthly meeting where the money is used for poor. One group goes to the hospital to give a little help to whatever sick person is in need. If we only have a few donations that week the money goes to Friends (members of the church) who are sick.

My church learning compliments my university learning. I am so grateful. Thank you for all the help that you have given me.”


Aldo Chiri-an engineering Quaker

Aldo Chiri, 21 years old,  is studying engineering at the Main Campus of San Andres University. He is in his third year, and expects to graduate in 2014.

“This semester I’m studying the complex Variables in Calculus, Differential Equations, Basic Advanced Physics (III), Thermal Dynamics (chemistry) and Fluid Mechanics. In these last two classes about 30 are in the classroom. Some classes have 100. In my classes there are few women, maybe 3 or 4 in the specialties. And about 30% in the Engineering Department are women professors.

I live in El Alto with my mother and sisters. Our only means of livelihood is my mother who is a weaver. She uses a loom and makes polaina (kneesocks without feet), blouses, scarves. She uses cotton and polyester. She has a home industry and sells her clothes to nearby shops. I have 2 small sisters; my youngest studies in 2nd grade. I suppose my mother wanted to spread out the childbearing over years.

I’ve been in the church 2 and ½ years. My church is Emmaus. One day my paternal uncle said to me, “why don’t we go to the church?” He took us (3 siblings) to the local church even though he doesn’t attend there. I liked the church the because of the reception . I went to the front and all the church sang and they sincerely were happy to see me. “Bienvenido // los hermanos de aqui nos gozamos en decir Bienvenido. Dame la mano// y mi hermano seras.” (Welcome. The brothers here joyfully say Wel-come. Give me Your hand and my brother you will be.)

When I first attended at Emmaus there were so few youth. Now there are so many more young people my age. We celebrate each other’s’ birthdays, we visit our friends at home for special occasions. In November 2011 we celebrated the 23rd anniversary of our youth group. It lasted 3 days, we invited other youth from our quarterly meetings. We probably had 120, the church was packed. A folklore group called Revelation played for us with their sampoñas and charangos. Revelation is a Friends group. Another Quaker band is called Luz y Vida who also rocked the church walls.

We all shared a huge cake. The adults at Emmaus were willing to provide the cake and refreshments for our celebration. For that we were grateful. There’s a tradition for anniversaries, that the youth leaders come up front to take a bite of cake. The platter of cake is held up for all to see. Then when they came to receive and eat their slice of cake, we pushed it in their face. White icing makes a beautiful decoration on top of the rich dark skin. The whole church bursts into laughter.

One exciting part of my life is that I’m learning how to play the keyboard. I’ve been playing the piano during church now for 6 months. The only keyboard I have access to is the one at church. I have to concentrate while accompanying the songs. Many songs I’m learning by heart. I love the hymn called One More Day in the Hands of the Lord.” Written by Aldo 2011. Translated by Minga


Bolivian Messenger of Music

Mabel Lourdes Mena Fonseca is a 29 year old Aymara Quaker living in El Alto, Bolivia. Mabel plays the ancient Andean flutes, las sampoñas. Like many Quakers in Bolivia she is poised to use all her talents for the good of her people. Here is her story:

Do you want to know how my ministry of music began? Actually, I launched my music career  in the church. I started at 18 y old and I didn’t know a thing about music. I started with a malto, a flute with 2 rows of reeds that you blow into. Now I play the sampoña with 3 rows and a chromatic octave. I have experimented with the Sanka and the Toyo which are even larger cousins of the sampoña.

At first we were 3 Quaker friends who played together, Sarah, Eva and Mabel. We knew each other in Rio Seco, part of the Altiplano. The 11 of April in about 2001 was our first concert in the large church Max Paredes (the mother church in La Paz). We then played for another event in our own small church called Vida y Paz on 25 de mayo which is Mother’s Day in Bolivia. Mother’s Day is special for me, because my mother is the breadwinner for a family of five. She works hard everyday selling food in La Ceja. She sets up the stall as early as 7:30 and works on her feet until dusk.  In 2001 our church was still young with only 20 attending on Sunday. I felt so happy the day of our concert because we had a great turn out, many people came who hadn’t been seen by Friends before. Attenders invited their mothers and grandmothers. Mothers invited their children, and it ended up being a good publicity for the church. And I gained confidence. There’s nothing like getting hugs from the people you love to boost your ability to play in public. And imagine a concert in the church where Friends are praying and clapping.Read more

Bolivian Quakers-Escuela Emmanuel de los [email protected]

February (summer) class Emmanuel School
11th graders at Emmanuel School February (summer)

El Alto is perched 1,000 feet above La Paz, the capital or Bolivia. When the sun glitters you stare down into a cascading spiral of lego-like houses. Once your lungs have adjusted to less oxygen, El Alto seems like Kansas City. Except everyone speaks Aymara or Spanish. Except there's no SUVs. Except instead of greasy hamburgers, open markets sell quinoa drinks and fish soup. And another extraordinary fact: teenagers in Bolivia are eager students. Education is fresh to them.

I fell in love with the Aymara students at Emmanuel Friends school. I met Flavia, Marta, Estevan, and Eduardo in 2011 when I volunteered for 6 weeks. Some classes had 7 students but most classes had 18 students. In high school Bolivians study English twice a week. It's usually their 3rd language and they can start it as early as 6th grade. Their class load is immense, and even 8th graders study philosophy and technical arts.

The K-12th grade Quaker school has 4 stories, standing tall between the Santidad Iglesia de los Amigos and the sports field.  Avenues are wide in 40 year old El Alto, known for its robust political activism and Bolivian modern music scene. Have you ever heard hip-hop in Aymara? Can you pronounce tuqitpachwa qillqanipxstani?

The students eagerly shared their stereotypes about the US and asked me lots of questions. Eduardo showed me his science project on "el Medio Ambiente." In 10th grade he was preparing to give a poster presentation on green energy. Before class, Flavia sang me the Bolivian national anthem and was learning to site read. I answered her question about the US national anthem by singing "Oh, say can you see..." wondering how I could turn the "Star-Spangled Banner" into a useful English lesson. Bolivian history, like the US has been a series of battles and domination. Nor did I want to tarnish my country as being the evil empire. I wanted to be a Quaker ambassador speaking even-handedly in English class about the positive and negative aspects in the US.

Did I feel that teaching English was difficult? Sometimes. Did I feel confused? Yes. Sometimes, classrooms would switch and as the bell rang I walked into the wrong group of students (They were polite enough not to laugh). Plus, I had to decide what kind of classroom discipline to use. I wanted students to use the Internet, dictionaries, and libraries. Emmanuel students had none of those, not even an English textbook. Was teaching a positive experience? Definitely!  I learned so much about myself and what Bolivians see as valuable. The students liked learning English lyrics from Mylie Cyrus and 50 cents on their MP 3s. But I was still puzzled as to whether teenage Quakers would understand the peace testimony when Northamericans sing.

"Oh,say does that star-spangled banner still wave,

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"

The Keys to the City

I was walking with Juan down into the valley of La Paz. Not really walking, my feet sideways picked nimbly between stones and holes. It was a valley, with the descent so steep in this city 10,000 feet above the sea that I was breathless. Nevertheless I was happy to hike instead of drive cramped in a mini-van with 12 passengers. This Friday the city was awake. La Paz with a million people, was clear of fumes and noisy engines. Bus unions all over Bolivia had called a transportation strike on Feb. 25th. Una huelga firme. A total strike. Schools were closed. The streets were a river of people getting to work. Juan and I edged down the curving roads to the Quaker Education (BQE) office. I wasn't about to stay grounded at home, because I hoped to see Pablo at the office. Juan and I both enjoy our work with copy-of-bolivia-feb-090Friends. The air buzzed with novelty. The cost of living was climbing and the bus fare of 1 boliviano (15 cents) too low. The unions were asking to raise the fare from 15 to 25 cents. The unions made a strong chess move today. How would Bolivians resolve this major problem? People seemed riled up and resolute. I was excited. As a Quaker I was impressed to see people using economic pressure, not military might, to voice their dissent. Bolivians felt empowered and were acting on it.

Juan lives in Villa Harmonia and it takes 25 minutes by bus, and 45minutes by foot. Juan is BQE's business manager with dark eyes behind boxy glasses. Juan exudes the Bolivian delight in conversation. I soaked in every word while pouring out my best Spanish. We chatted about his house (many houses near his street are built on dangerous precipices; the torrential rains (the summer even had several hailstorms); the new Education Law (adding the teaching of native tongues and diversity); the closing of 2 Quaker schools (some of BQE scholarships students spoke with determination to reopen Emma Camaday school). There was so much to understand how a nonindustrial country raises the bar in its schools.

We reached a circular plaza near Plaza Comacho. Juan suddenly pointed out a crowd of men, mostly in dark pants, standing in the street. Two vans flanked them on one side. "There's one of the large unions." Juan explained. I watched a large man in a jean jacket pull off his belt. The shouts were pitched higher, "Si, si se puede. Adelante." Why are they yelling go ahead? What was the crowd was urging? Then the crack of a belt smacking the back of pant legs. "The busdrivers who got caught transporting today are being punished for busting the strike." I was confused and remembered how Quakers always travel in pairs. Well, I needed Juan now. I understood that the beating was shaming the busdriver and was more symbolic than painful. Still I was unnerved by the primitive public flogging. Juan's presence was assuring, "That's not the way the church changes behavior." I saw that we shared a lot. As Quakers we don't hit miscreants. In working at BQE we share the value of reaching agreement, or persuading someone to change. Quakers keep their belts on.

Juan expertly guided me through the bridges and plazas of La Paz. We reached Plaza Eguino, just 2 blocks from our BQE office. Juan smiled as I sucked in the misty air.
"I know where I am. There's the statue of our patron. She looks like Athena." I said in staccato Spanish. Eguino loomed 30 feet over the vendors, tourists, and children.
Juan looked me in the eye. "She's not Athena. Vicenta deEguino was a real heroine of LaPaz, who fought for Bolivia's liberation from Spain. Her weapon was her elocution. She did fight, and even used her living room to store ammunition back in the 1800s. When captains sank in retreat, this lady rode on her horse and spoke in the native tongue, Aymara to the people. Eguino animated peasants to lay down their despair and keep fighting for their rights. She sacrificed her class privilege, enduring many hardships with the rank and file. When Bolivar, flush with victory, entered laPaz she greeted him at the gates. No words were necessary as she lifted higher than a sword the keys to the city. She handed them over to the Liberator with a flourish and the jingle of keys was heard over the crowd." copy-of-plaza-117
Juan gave a nod to the statue of Equino as he steered me around a woman selling avocados on the road. There was no fear in the streets as people bargained; some children played with dolls; teens sold DVDs (only $2 and pirated).

I met with Pablo in one room while Juan opened his laptop in the adjacent room. Pablo studies at the university agronomy and business. He wants to combine selling healthy foods while helping the Quaker youth. He doesn't want his career to intrude on mentoring his younger brothers from the rural area of Sorata. Juan leaned into our room. He grinned and added, "Pablo, just don't let your brothers become bus drivers."
"Yea. They might get hurt."

I told Pablo about witnessing the whipping of busdrivers. Pablo's response was insightful. "How do we encourage change? Managers need to understand why a busdriver would ignore the strike." Pablo, like many Quakers saw the whole picture. Universities also have angry students who can't pay tuition.

Juan explains that one student last year only had 80 cents spending money a day. He could eat a meal at the cafe (no McDonalds in Bolivia) with enough money to return home, or he could pay for a notebook. He put his studies first. To save money he ended up walking hours home on an empty stomach. This year he was accepted for a BQE scholarship and is studying engineering. BQE students don't even know the word lazy. Now he doesn't have to choose. He can eat and buy school supplies. I could see why Juan was proud of working for the Quaker scholarship program. Juan works hard so 20 year old Quakers can emerge from poverty. This poverty has haunted the Aymaras since the Spanish conquest. Pablo has a dream including meaningful work and helping his generation.

As we closed that day, I sent bouquets of thanks to our Creator. I sighed imagining the steep hike before getting any supper. Suddenly in the air I seemed to hear the stamping foot of a horse. was it the altitude or did my heart flutter? I saw the lady, our patron Equino as a beacon here at BQE. Juan heaved shoulderpack under his arm. Equino like Juan and Pablo threw all their weight into the struggle. We stepped onto Illampu Street and the cacophony of evening sounds greeted us. And I distinctively heard the jingle of city keys.