The Aymara people living in the Bolivian Altiplano region are plagued by hunger and poverty. About two-thirds of the population does not receive the recommended daily intake of calories considered necessary to live a healthy life. Families sleep in huts without running water, sanitary systems, electricity and chimneys and the community is being weakened by urban migration as many of the Aymaran people leave the poverty of the plains for the city. Most of the Aymara people are subsistence farmers, often toiling the land with oxen and wooden ploughs. The inhospitable environment is at an average elevation of 4,000 metres with poor soil, fields on the slopes of steep hills and a climate that except for the rainy season is arid.
The Canadian Association of the Order of Malta in collaboration with the Canadian International Development Agency, helps 400 farming families – about 2,000 people – to improve their cultivation methods for their crops. The aim of the Order is to reduce the hunger and poverty of the Aymara people so helping them to have a better quality of life with less socially de-stabilising migration to the city. All measures taken in this project are developed in co-operation with the farmers and include endogenous and ecologically sustainable methods such as crop rotation, fallow cycles and improvement of the genetic quality of the seeds used. These improvements substantially increase the quantity and quality of crops produced.
As part of this project the Order of Malta sponsors twenty-one young women, aged from 17-24, to be educated in a three-year programme at a boarding school at the foot of the Altiplano. The aim is to teach the women essential skills such as reading, writing, arithmetic, assisting with child birth and good agricultural practices, as well as giving them a grounding in Information Technology. This education will help them to assume leadership roles in their families and communities.