We live our lives by stories and can change our lives by changing the stories we tell.
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Isabel Ugarte Huanale came to Cochabamba when she was eight years old. She had her oldest son with her first partner and bought land in the Maria Auxiliadora community after they separated. Habitat for Humanity helped Isabel build the home that she owns in the community. She lives there peacefully with her second husband and three children. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Isabel prepares vegetables to cook during a monthly community meeting and work day. Bolivia has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Latin America, but there is very little in the Maria Auxiliadora community. Isabel feels safe because everyone in the community knows and protects one another. She enjoys spending time with her neighbors on the communal workdays. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Isabel doesn’t have space on her land to maintain a garden, so she uses community owned land across the street to grow and harvest vegetables to cook at home. She says that she saves money and eats fresher and more delicious vegetables. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Isabel works a full time job cooking three meals a day at the local elementary school. She takes care of her family and home before and after work. She sweeps the entire house and patio every morning before preparing breakfast for her family. On Saturdays, she uses her “free time” to wash clothes and mop the patio. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Isabel works an average of ten and a half hours at her job. She said, “There are moments that it’s really hard to be there all day until such late hours. The salary is small and there is no security or support, if I am sick for example.” Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Rosa Angulo dehydrates green beans to use during times of food insecurity and to save money. She cooks all kinds of dishes, from soups to meats, with the dehydrated green beans. They rehydrate as they are cooked and she says they retain most of their flavor. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Maria Eugenia Veliz is the 2011—2014 President of the Maria Auxiliadora community. A group of women from the community helped her and her son kick out her violent husband. She works long hours at night as a baker and occupies her day with responsibilities leading the community. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Maria Eugenia sleeps very few hours between baking overnight and carrying her pastries to sell at street stands and the elementary school. She came to Cochabamba when she was thirteen and suffered abuse and mistreatment until she left to work as a domestic worker. When she was twenty-three, she attended baking school. Upon graduating, she fell in love with her son’s father “…and later we had a son, but my life has been a torment,” she said. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Maria Eugenia brings her baked goods to regular customers every morning. They catch up and make fun of each other before she hurries to the next stand. She sacrifices sleep at night to make the deliveries. After she delivers the pastries and has time to sleep, her body isn’t tired. She said, “I have sacrificed a lot of myself and now I am afraid of the night. But, I have to continue the sacrifice because sometimes there isn’t enough money. A day not worked is a day without food they say. When I don’t work, I am eating into my own capital.” Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Maria Eugenia became president on April 18, 2012. “It’s as if I married the community because I have a huge responsibility here…Unity always creates strength because if everyone is united, you can achieve many things,” she said of her presidency. Because she took on the role of president, some people tell her that she is not a family woman, but a woman out looking for men. Maria Eugenia perseveres through the insults and discrimination to do her best to lead her community. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Image provided by Maria Eugenia Veliz
Maria Eugenia promotes nutrition in the community and strives to cook “foods with value, not the foods with chemicals” for her son. Those are foods like lentils, corn, and quinoa. “Sometimes they say that the community isn’t worth fighting for like this, but I say, despite everything, it is worth it because here we are better than in other places,” she stated. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Rosa Angulo dehydrates locoto (a species of chili pepper) to use during times of food insecurity and to save money. She can rehydrate the locotos and make llajwa, a spicy salsa that accompanies every Bolivian meal. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Rosa Angulo is the 2011–2014 treasurer of the Maria Auxiliadora community. She was born in Totora and moved to Maria Auxiliadora for accessible housing and to live in a ‘collective,’ as the welcome packet called the community where no one can sell or rent their houses. She explained, “My role in the community is to be a leader. I take care of the accounts, payments, and everything financial. As treasurer, I also support my neighbors in community work.” Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Rosa prefers the tranquility and safety of her neighborhood in the south zone of Cochabamba compared to the noise and insecurity of the city’s northern zone. “The truth is that this house is my creation. Some things are contributed by my husband, but this is more my work,” she asserted. Rosa raises her three children in the house with little support from her husband. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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As treasurer, Rosa collects the two bolivianos taxed at the start of the each monthly community meeting and workday. When there are issues in the community or when materials and vegetables’ prices rise, the tax increases to five bolivianos. “Here in the community I have learned many things—to be a leader and about solidarity. We aren’t political figures, we are leaders in the community,” Rosa commented on leadership in Maria Auxiliadora. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Rosa harvests spinach with her youngest daughter. She enjoys plants and flowers and finds her garden relaxing. Neighbors ask her for certain vegetables like locoto, a species of chili plant, and she sells to them when there is a surplus. She also dehydrates her vegetables when there is a surplus to use during times of scarcity, draught, high vegetable prices, or protests. She said, “It seems really important to me to have our small garden, our small piece of land here in the community.” Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Rosa received a phone call about an issue with her eldest daughter while she prepared green beans for dehydration. She dehydrates vegetables for periods of food insecurity and high vegetable prices. She said, “It happens that I suffer from violence in my house. That’s why I say that it is so important that here in the community there is no partition or division…you are always worrying about your kids, about your house, about not having food to eat.” Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Rosa says that it’s important to have dehydrated vegetables during emergencies, when vegetable prices rise, or when she is busy. She said, “In my house, when I’m rushed or when I can’t go to the market, I use what is dehydrated. It hasn’t changed flavor. I have economized. It’s more economical to use what you have saved from times of greater abundance.” Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Irene Cardozo came to Cochabamba from Chuquisaca and now lives in the Maria Auxiliadora community with her two daughters. She works as a nurse, but struggles to buy clean and pesticide-free vegetables when the prices increase during droughts and protests. She now maintains a garden in her front yard and the rising vegetable prices no longer affect her. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Maria Auxiliadora has monthly community meetings and communal work. Irene and her neighbors peel and prep vegetables to cook for the community during a spring 2012 meeting. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Irene owns her home in Maria Auxiliadora, a community where everyone intervenes when there is any form of violence, especially domestic violence. If someone sees violence, they whistle, and all of the neighbors come and intervene. Irene and her daughters are survivors of domestic violence and were defended by the community’s protection system. Now divorcing the father of her daughters, she is grateful that there is no partition or division in the case of divorce in the community. The house stays with the mother or father who best takes care of the kids. Irene will keep the house to raise her daughters. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Irene and her daughter prepare dinner with pesto and broccoli harvested from their garden. She said, “Now we feel happy. We have a place to live, to be calm and to be at peace. If my daughters want to bring their friends over, they can do that without problems. We couldn’t do that before.” Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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The garden is Irene’s primary tool of resilience to financial hardship and rising vegetable prices as a result of increasing drought. She also enjoys having the garden because the vegetables are fresher, more flavorful, and healthier than market vegetables. “In the community, I live better than I did before. Because before I didn’t have a place even to sow seed, I didn’t have my own land. Now I have space to make a garden,” Irene said. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.
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Rosa Angulo dehydrates onions to use during times of food insecurity, to save money, and to enjoy its flavor. She cooks the onions in every kind of dish, from chicken to soup, and loves their flavor. Sivingani, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2014.