Pilon Lajas Indigenous Reserve Clean Water Program, Bolivia
This program is providing clean drinking water for indigenous villages along the Quiquebay River in Bolivia, in a way that is sustainable and allows the villagers to be self-sufficient in water supply. Upstream pollution and land clearing combined with natural biological contaminants results in diminished water quality and related health concerns. In addition the time- consuming role of collecting water falls on children. The villagers also want to attract cultural and nature-based tourism to their area. Their forest is being explored by petroleum companies and is being illegally logged. The trees being felled contain the spirits of their ancestors. With corruption among the authorities who should be policing the protection of the reserve the villagers see the only way to end the logging and secure their forests is to bring tourists to their area and to do this, they need to ensure they have a clean and sustainable water supply.
About the community
Villages along the river in the project area are made up of indigenous Bolivian Amazonians from several ethnic groups. Although many were exposed to Christianity up to 500 years ago by the Jesuit Priests they have created a harmonious blend of the Christian religion and their traditional nature-based spiritualism.
The people live a predominately traditional life with around 80% of their food and belongings, and 100% of their building materials, produced from the jungle with which they coexist. They have a symbiotic, physical and spiritual relationship with nature and live as one within the ecosystem and mother earth. Their ancestors live on in the trees and animals around them and provide the nourishment and medicines they need.
Benefits to the community
Clean drinking water is now flowing in the first village. Given the success of the pilot project, we intend to roll-out the same program with another 27 villages in the reserve. This pilot village (San Louis Grande) now has the infrastructure to provide for the water needs of the village but also for the comforts of foreign tourists who visit.
To ensure the sustainability of this approach, a water working group was formed within the village and several members of the community have been provided with training in the installation and maintenance of the pipe work. The members of this working group will be the trainers and installers for consecutive villages. It is expected that after the first six installations, the communities of the reserve will become self-sufficient. The improvements in the water supply have also opened up possibilities in eco and cultural tourism and village children now also have more time to attend to their education.
How our volunteers are helping
An environmental scientist, agricultural engineer and their family from Australia with support from two English and one Belgian volunteer assisted in the community workshops, site survey and feasibility studies. A hydraulic engineering student from Holland assisted during the installation. Other support from outside the village came from the US, Holland and Bolivia.
Opportunities for new volunteers
Opportunities for independent and adventurous volunteers exist as part of the roll-out of the program in other villages.
Living in a remote Amazon village with no power, limited communications, few luxuries and the risk of mysterious tropical disease may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however, the opportunities for growth and to make a difference are exceptional. Although specific skills are not necessary volunteers will need to be very self-sufficient, healthy and with a high tolerance for extreme situations. Basic verbal Spanish is preferable as the locals only speak their traditional language with Spanish as a second language. Manual labour is welcome. Some knowledge of pipe work and or appropriate technology would be useful but not necessary. All expenses will need to be covered by the volunteer as the communities do not have any capacity to support volunteers. Some additional money may be required to pay any village members who have to be diverted from their everyday activities to support volunteers (transport, guiding, cooking etc.).