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Advocacy for Highland Seniors: Oruro and Norte de Potosí, Bolivia

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2003-2007

Fundación Horizontes was founded in 1996 by HelpAge International to assure the rights of older people on the Bolivian altiplano. Almost completely dependent on external donors, of the eight projects evaluated, its results proved the least durable in part because of the demographic group it served. The grantee coordinated its work with a consortium of three other Bolivian organizations: Centro de Investigación y Promoción Educativa (CIPE); Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Andinos (CEDPAN) and Centro para la Educación Técnica y Apoyo a la Tercera Edad (CETATE).

The goal was to reduce poverty among the elderly by developing the ability of their networks—Redes de Ancianos de Zonas Rurales—to negotiate budget allocations and other decisions in 24 municipalities in Oruro and Norte de Potosí. Its plan included funding agricultural production on a small scale to improve nutrition and household income, which the grantee managed successfully. Fundación Horizontes significantly sensitized officials to working with organizations of the elderly, and several municipal governments entered into formal agreements with such entities. Elderly residents became more integrated into the community and their own families, and were valued as contributing economically, which improved their self-esteem.

Seven years after the IAF’s funding ended, however, most gains cited have disappeared. Of the organizations in the consortium, CEDPAN has gone out of business, CETATE works with the elderly suffering diabetes in La Paz and CIPE focuses on agriculture. Funding from the European Union enables Fundación Horizontes to continue to work, but 41 percent of the Bolivians served by its IAF grant either died or left the area served. The agricultural activities disappeared along with their contribution to family income. Leaders drifted away because of increasing age and the lack of pay and they have not been replaced. And changes at the top on both sides mean the agreements signed between Redes and municipalities are no longer active.

Developing the habit of participation among the elderly met with limited success, mainly, the evaluator says, because the grantee was dependent on the organizations in the consortium, which were dependent on external funding. When funding ended so did work, and accomplishments faded away. Illiteracy also limited participation and was more difficult for older people to overcome. Redes had drawn its original leadership from the ranks of the retired, many of whom had acquired some organizational experience through activism in miners’ unions, indigenous groups or rural syndicates. With training in principles of participation, they became effective, but all were over 60 years old. With no mechanism for recruiting new leadership, decline was inevitable. Because the initiative to open opportunities for participation came from the Bolivian government, there was no sense among participants of having struggled together to obtain them. Organizations helped people take advantage of opportunities, but when the organizations departed, so did much of the energy.

The grantee’s most important achievement was the creation of 13 networks of elderly people that entered into agreements with municipalities, thereby acquiring a political presence and municipal funding for their projects. But once donor support ended, the networks lost ground, and the delivery of resources reverted to a dependence on paternalism. While the rights of the elderly are inscribed in law, without external organizational support the elderly are not in a position to demand them.

Another limiting factor was the constant turnover in the municipal government, resulting in the departure of officials with experience in applying the concept of participation. The grantee did help develop Asociación Nacional de Adultos Mayores de Bolivia (ANAMBO), the principal organization for the protection of the elderly, although at the cost of drawing leadership away from the local level without creating connections that made both levels effective. Although little remains of the grantee’s accomplishments in the altiplano municipalities where it worked, ANAMBO continues its efforts to influence public policies affecting its members, in part through participation in planning for the budget in municipalities. ANAMBO, which had previously served an urban constituency, was able to build on some of the grantee’s success in temporarily strengthening rural organizations of the elderly even if it did draw much of their leadership away.

The project demonstrated the difficulties of working with the elderly population of the altiplano, where illiteracy is widespread, especially among women. The health problems that increase with age cut into attendance at meetings and other forms of participation. To the extent that productive projects are central, the physical ability to undertake them diminishes, and gains can be reversed. While nongovernmental organizations provide essential training, dependence on them is the main reason cited for why the grantee’s accomplishments faded. The decline in Redes’ meetings with municipal authorities because of insufficient support, both technical and financial, weakened the relationship with government.