RSS Feed Blog | Sustainable Bolivia
Click here to view our annual report for 2015 (English) Haga un clic aquí para ver nuestro informe anual de 2015 (Español)

Combating malnutrition with Spirulina


By Lucas Mackie


Back in 2016, I was fresh from university and keen to see some of the world. I decided to go on a trip to South America, a continent which had always fascinated me. With four months of traveling around Chile and Peru planned, I want to do some volunteering and stumbled upon the Sustainable Bolivia webpage. The variety of volunteer work available through 30 partner organisations, the community of volunteers in the SB house and the opportunity to explore Bolivia all made it an appealing place to come and I was soon linked with an organisation called Fundación SODIS.

SODIS are a non-profit NGO based in Cochabamba who run a number of different projects which improve access to safe water supplies for rural communities. The project I worked on was to grow a type of health food called Spirulina, distribute it as a means of battling malnutrition and also sell it to people in Cochabamba to obtain funding for the organisation. The project was still in its early stages when I arrived and I committed to six months of volunteering.

Spirulina is a type of algae that is green in colour, spiralled in shape and can be consumed both fresh and in its dried form. It has gained worldwide recognition due to its extremely high nutritional content: it is one of the richest sources of protein, vitamins and minerals nature has to offer.


It grows best in hot, tropical climates, needs relatively little investment or maintenance as it grows in bodies of water, and can be consumed both in its fresh form or as a powder. Additionally, it is a highly sustainable food source.

It has been sold on the health food market for decades and it is also used to treat a number of types of malnutrition such as protein deficiency, zinc deficiency, iron deficiency and vitamin A deficiency. After identifying that no one in Bolivia is producing Spirulina, SODIS decided to begin a project to cover both these areas.

At the end of October, I received a share of the $500 mini-grant fund available to volunteers who work at partner organisations of Sustainable Bolivia. After submitting a successful application, I was given $385 towards my project. The fund was required to obtain the algae, set up the project to begin production and then determine the best conditions for the Spirulina to grow in.

As Spirulina is not available in Bolivia, starter cultures needed to be purchased from a lab in the US. Ten samples were ordered to account for the risk of the cultures dying on the journey. 1ml culture vials were mixed with nutrients and fertilizer and after three weeks, eight of the ten turned a healthy green colour.




The fund was also used to purchase other materials to experiment with various conditions and determine which were the best for this particular project. The aim was to find a good balance of cost and productivity. The experiment was a chance to get well-practised at methods of growing Spirulina and observe how it behaves. Four tubs filled with Spirulina were set up in a makeshift greenhouse to limit their exposure to UV. They were connected to air pumps to keep them continuously agitated.



The experiment had two variables: the culture medium and the fertilizer. The culture medium is the liquid in which the Spirulina grows and is composed of water and nutrients. One of the mediums tested contained various chemicals, while the other had a more organic composition. The same was true of the two fertilizers.

To harvest Spirulina, it must be filtered through a cloth. It can then be consumed in its fresh state. However, after two days it is no longer edible so it is better to dry the fresh produce into a powder where it can keep for up to a year.

The mini-grant fund was also used to buy various materials for a dehydrator, which will be used to dry out the Spirulina. This included wood for a frame, shelves made of stretched cloth and a ventilator.


The project is currently at the stage where Spirulina is going to be grown in a 400L pond. A method for growing in this project has been established and experimentation is ongoing. The funds obtained from the mini-grant were vital to get the project started and it will soon be self-sustainable from the income it generates from sales.

The project was a great opportunity to develop new skills, experience working for an NGO and learn a new language. It was also great to be part of the Sustainable Bolivia community. There was never a dull moment in the house and I have made some lifelong friends. An experience I could not recommend enough!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Follow your dreams – The Story of Tebo, Sustainable Bolivia Art Resident


By Jaana Yli-Kauhaluoma

Who is Diego?

Diego Estebo, best known as Tebo, is an artist born in 1982 in Barcelona, Spain. He studied Graphic design in Vigo and illustration in Coruña in Galicia. After graduating he moved to Madrid where he worked in various part-time jobs such as digital press and conducting surveys. After two years he decided to open his own web and graphic design studio with two of his friends.

Still it was art that had always been his passion and illustrating was the way Tebo spent his free time outside his regular working hours. As an illustrator he also carried out many projects for instance for record companies, festivals and magazines. Having never been completely satisfied with his day jobs and feeling they were rather just for earning money he finally, after four years of working in his studio, decided to take a step forward following his dream to become a full-time illustrator. Unfortunately things did not go quite as planned and after two months he was offered a job as an online marketer and in order to make a living, he accepted the offer. Once again he was stuck in a job he felt was lacking creativity. However, Tebo seized his window of opportunity when he heard that the company he was working for was closing down.

“I started to plan other things, not just searching for another job. I did not want part of my creativity to be stuck in a job I didn’t like.”


Codes – beginning of a journey

Tebo made the change he had longed for and started working in an art residence, Alfara Studio in Salamanca, Spain. There he began an art project called “Codes” in order to create a portfolio to present when applying to other art residencies. The idea of the project was to go to different places in different countries and search for local things that caught his attention, for example writings, objects and places, and then create art inspired by the things he had found.

The first location his project took him to, was another small town in Spain where he found his inspiration in the landscapes. In his own words, he used “the language” of flags to create flag-like landscape inspired artwork with a printmaking technique. The first part of the project was born, carrying the name “Códigos_Encina de San Silvestre”.


LRM_EXPORT_20161122_105954“Códigos_Encina de San Silvestre”

Towards the unknown

The second part of the project ended up taking him a lot further, all the way to India to the Uttarayan Art Residence. In India he immediately paid attention to the writings of Hindi and Gujarati and the styles of the alphabets. What also caught his attention were the posters on the streets and the labels in local shops with their simple, humble, and easily identifiable style. In his artwork he wanted to combine these styles and details.

We often ignore other cultures, travel too fast and miss a lot of small things. The idea behind my art may not be understood by others without explanations but it doesn’t matter. It is good that people can make their own assumptions and have their own feelings about the artwork. It is good not to give too much information for the viewer.

He based his artwork on the writings of Hindi, which he combined with the style of the posters, and Gujarati, which was combined with the style of the labels seen in local shops. As a result there were two art series: an acrylic collage “A Quick View from a Tuk Tuk” and a silk print “Zoom in Gujarat”.


LRM_EXPORT_20161122_152136“Quick view from a Tuk Tuk”


“Zoom in Gujarat”

From the busy streets of India into the heart of South America

The second part of the project had come to an end, but the project itself was not yet finished. After recovering for two weeks back home in Spain it was time to leave again. The next art residency was offered by Sustainable Bolivia in the city of Cochabamba.

Always when I go to a place I don’t know what I will be working with. In Bolivia the public buses and Micro’s caught my attention immediately. I wanted to start working on that and I soon realized it was a perfect idea. They are a local icon. If you see a Micro you know you are in Cochabamba. That is what I want from my artwork.


Originally the whole Code project had served as an excuse to travel to different art residencies but soon it became an important part of Tebo and his work. The explicit theme of the project Codes allows him to know what to do and where to aim with his artwork.

I like to make signals. If you are not from Cochabamba and don’t know what Micro’s are you might like the artwork or not. But the thing is that you don’t understand it if you have never seen the Micros or the other origins of my work. There is encrypted information in the artwork.

In Cochabamba it has not only been about the Códigos_Cochabamba project. Working on a project requires a lot of energy. Tebo says, taking time to do something totally different makes it easier to concentrate and reenergizes you. In Cochabamba that meant working on an additional art project at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón Architecture faculty in the EDAV (Estudio de Artes Visuales) studio, creating a more inspirational learning space for the students.

LRM_EXPORT_20161122_111932Students of Universidad Mayor de San Simón enjoying the more colorful workspace

For Tebo the reason for choosing the locations of his art residencies has never been about where he wants to travel but rather where it is the best to practice his art. Bolivia was no exception. He searched for many residencies in South America however most were too expensive or otherwise unsuitable. Tebo chose the Sustainable Bolivia art residency because he had heard good reviews from his friend who had completed a residency with Sustainable Bolivia and Bolivia was also economically more attractive.

I wrote an email to Sustainable Bolivia proposing my project and attached my CV. They said the project sounded interesting and told me I could start in October. It was perfect, as I was leaving India in September. I spent two weeks in Spain recovering from my travels and on the 28th of September, I arrived in Bolivia. Staff kept in contact with me while I was in India. It was really nice to feel that I they were expecting me at the next residency.

To date Tebo has spent a month in Cochabamba and feels comfortable in the city. Especially in comparison to the energy consuming cities of India, Cochabamba has felt really quiet and calm. He enjoys how people have a special kind of relationship with the city and how people interact with each other. The life on the streets is one of the city’s best features. There are people and vendors everywhere on the streets, for example you can just ask for a fresh orange juice and someone makes that for you, he mentions. The constant interaction between people has felt unique. Also the Cancha, a huge outdoor market, has stolen a part of his heart.

I love and hate the Cancha. When I go there for a walk I might buy for example some cheap clothes but if I ever want to go back to the same place it is impossible. I have a really bad sense of direction. But in the Cancha I don’t mind getting lost. And I love that.

Still, Tebo feels the Micro’s are the coolest thing in the city. Tebo’s wish is that if the Micros are ever replaced that at least their easily identifiable style should be maintained as it is a really important part of the city’s identity.


LRM_EXPORT_20161121_165227Micro – Cochabamba city

Living and working at Sustainable Bolivia main building has also felt enjoyable. Though it is a communal residence where there is always someone coming and going it has not felt overwhelming. Living in a place with people from many different countries has helped Tebo to improve his language skills and furthermore he has been able to offer assistance for those trying to learn Spanish. In addition he has enjoyed the opportunity to learn from different cultures.

“This kind of place gets you out of your routine. It is more dynamic here. People are really nice and staff and volunteers are always creating different activities which makes it easier to get to know other people.”

Tebo’s art residency in Cochabamba will end in December 2016, however the plan is to continue the project maybe for two more years:

It would be nice to go to at least three more locations. Maybe another place in Europe. Also North America could be really interesting. I never planned to go to India or Bolivia even though I like to travel. This is traveling for my art. I have no idea what will happen next year which is exciting and scary at the same time.

Tebo will complete the Codes_Cochabamba project with an exhibition held in the museum la Casona Santivañez on the 16th of December. After that the future lies open. With an exceptional talent and an eye for details, only the sky is the limit for “Codes”. With so many places to explore in the world we cannot but eagerly wait to see what hidden beauty he will reveal to us in the future.


Are you passionate about art and working in an international environment? Find out more about Sustainable Bolivia Art Residency and how to apply at and for any further questions please email


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

My Time as a Marketing Intern at Sustainable Bolivia


 Marketing Intern – Elise Fjordbakk


By Elise Fjordbakk

When I first found out I was actually going to Cochabamba to work as a Marketing Intern at Sustainable Bolivia (SB) earlier this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But after four months of getting to work alongside great colleagues, making new friends from all over the world and travelling throughout Bolivia, I know for sure I would go back in a heartbeat.

As the Marketing and Social Media Intern for Sustainable Bolivia my main responsibilities included managing all social media platforms, writing and editing blogs on volunteer stories, partner organisations as well as cultural events in Cochabamba, and managing online job listings. My favourite thing about the internship was that I got the opportunity to tailor it to my interests; during my time in Cochabamba I also got to do a lot of photography and create several videos for SB and partner organisations. This meant travelling to several of the organisations, and also around Cochabamba to shoot, interview and get to know the network of grassroots organisations that SB works with and the people behind them, in addition to working in the Sustainable Bolivia office.

In my role I had a lot of freedom, which meant that I from day one had to take charge and organise myself effectively, but I always felt supported by the rest of the team at SB. Working at SB was to me an invaluable experience in a professional working environment, as I from the very beginning felt valued as a fully fledged staff member. Working alongside amazing staff members, drinking endless cups of coffee and cooking up some great lunches; after no time at all I felt that my colleagues were also my friends.

One of the main skills I took away from working at SB was the improvement in my Spanish. By translating job listings and participating in meetings I was able to use and improve my language skills quickly. I still remember how I nerviously stuttered my way through our first staff meetings, but after a while I was helping out with translation and really felt confident with my Spanish. Doing lessons with the SB Language School and being able to practice every day definitely made a huge difference.


IMG_0507 Twitter

Day hike – Pico Tunari

I didn’t just work, but also live, in SB’s main house and office for four months. Living where you work might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but living in an amazing environment of volunteers and like-minded people was a great experience. As any seasoned SB volunteer can tell you, Casa P is the hub of SB, with its kitchen and amazing garden being the scene of weekly shared dinners, language exchanges, workshops on everything from urban composting systems to Bolivian politics and cultural events on Bolivian traditions.


IMG_0705 low

Weekend trip to Toro Toro National Park

Living in Cochabamba was great. The city in itself is neatly located in the middle of Bolivia, and it’s a great place to go travelling from. Together with other volunteers I ventured to Pico Tunari, Toro Toro national park, Sucre, the mines in Potosí and the renowned Salt Flats in Uyuni.

If you are interested in marketing, communications, photography or film, doing an internship with Sustainable Bolivia is a great way to develop your skills and get professional working experience, whilst also getting the opportunity to live in a new and exciting place, practice Spanish and meet people from different backgrounds.

The only regret I have is that I didn’t stay for longer.


- Are you seeking a unique opportunity to gain professional experience in an international environment supporting grassroots NGOs?  Sustainable Bolivia offers Marketing Internships for periods of 3 to 12 months. If you are interested in applying or would like to find out more, please email or complete an online application form -


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Live and Breathe Sustainability

Sustainability Intern PhotoSustainability Intern – Ida Ketonen

By Elise Fjordbakk

Here at Sustainable Bolivia, sustainability is pretty important. It’s in our name, the way we work and our way of life. This means we’re dedicated to promote sustainability both within our organisation and in the communities we work with. It’s safe to assume that most people have an idea of what sustainability, or sustainable development is. That does not mean that we all share the same definition.

Sustainable development has various definitions, but the age old definition was set by the Brundtland Commission in the report “Our Common Future”, also known as the Brundtland Report: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Commission, 1987). Arguably, the biggest issue with sustainability is that it’s a buzzword, and that it does not in itself provide a framework of actions and goals. Having definitions is one thing; another is actually implementing a more sustainable way of life. To make sure this happens, SB implemented an internal sustainability project back in 2011, with the goal of evaluating the sustainability within our organisation and in the larger community we work in. To help out with this, SB hires a Sustainability Intern every year, who produces a report with reviews and recommendations.

To find out a bit more about what the implications of this report actually is, I had a chat with the latest Sustainability Intern, Ida Ketonen. Born and raised in Sweden, Ida is currently studying Development Studies at Lund University. For the past couple of months she has been evaluating the resource footprint of our physical operations, and also the local and global impacts that occurs through our programs.

“Here at SB, we mainly look at sustainability in three ways; environmental; minimising the environmental impact of our operation, social; building mutually beneficial relationships with volunteers, partner organisations and the local community, and economical sustainability; looking at how SB can make an impact without partner organisations being dependent on our support.”

“During my time here I found that energy, water and gas use had mostly gone down in both of the SB houses since 2011. I think the biggest issue is obviously that people come here from all over the world into the local community, mostly by plane. The ideal would of course be that SB was not needed at all, but as long as we are, I think that these are trade offs that have to be made. Sustainable Bolivia as an organisation should not be responsible for the travel emissions, but we do of course have to take it into consideration”.

As an organisation, SB always tries to encourage people to stay longer, emphasizing the value of their experience as well as benefit to the environment. We also encourage volunteers to learn about a sustainable lifestyle; from the training they get at the beginning about communal and sustainable living, as well as by talks and workshop throughout their stay.

“Only in the past couple of months we’ve had Simon Kaiwai talk about Bokashi compost, we’ve had lectures on sustainable development and urban gardening. We’ve also incorporated a sustainability quiz into our monthly volunteer meeting. This hopefully encourages SB volunteers to make more sustainable choices every day. The organisation is only as sustainable as the volunteers are, because that is what SB is. Therefore everybody has to do their part”.

Interested in reading the latest Sustainability report to get your hands on all the juicy statistics? Find it here. Check out our website to find out more about the Internal Sustainability Project here at SB.

Fun fact; the word sustainability was mentioned 15 times in this article!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

How to do Crowdfunding for Your Organization

Jessie and kid - blogJesse Wilson in Tunas Pampas

by Jessie Maguire

Jesse Wilson spent a good portion of her time in Cochabamba fundraising, and you could too. I sat down with her to discuss her success and exactly how she did it! Here’s the Q and A.

Q: Tell me where you’re from, what you studied and why you chose to go to Bolivia initially.

A: I’m from Vermont, I studied Biology at university at Hobart and William Smith. I couldn’t get into healthcare afterwards, and I wanted to learn a second language. I knew someone who had worked with Sustainable Bolivia. Then after a few months in Cochabamba, I started working with Mano a Mano. So the main goal was to learn.

Q: What kind of NGO is Mano a Mano?

A: Mano a Mano Bolivia is a Bolivian NGO that creates clinics, roads and schools in rural parts of Bolivia. I got to see the opening of a couple of schools, clinics that were going to be rebuilt by Mano a Mano and a road opening. They also hold courses for the doctors that work at Mano a Mano clinics.

Kids - blogLocal children from Tunas Pampas, where the school will be built

Q: Bolivian doctors?

A: Yes. While I was there, doctors from Minnesota taught a course on emergency care, but for the majority of the time, Bolivian doctors take care of the medical care.

Q: Did you decide to fundraise for them, or did they ask you?

A: I was working in the mornings at Vivir con Diabetes, a diabetes clinic, and I was looking for a second project. I contacted Alyssa Chase, who was volunteering for Mano a Mano, and she had just applied to Global Giving; a global crowdfunding platform connecting non-profits with companies. I joined Alyssa and initially worked on social media and advertising. Then when we hit traction, we both started organizing fundraising events in the US and Cochabamba for a school in Tunas Pampas.

The area where the school is situated was surveyed, and it is in an earthquake zone. The risk of an earthquake happening is super high; so it jumped to the front of their priority list. That’s also why they started a crowdfunding campaign instead of their usual means of fundraising.

Q: So you were fundraising for the school to be rebuilt.

A: Yes, there’s a school there now but it’s structurally unsound, so the Tunas Pampas Town Council contacted Mano a Mano to ask for support to build a new school.

Tunas PampasThe existing Tunas Pampas school

Q: Is it a primary school or secondary school?

A: It’s a primary and secondary school, supporting the community of Tunas Pampas. They’re going to leave the existing school and rebuild a completely new one. Alyssa Chase contacted an engineer who specializes in earthquake resistant construction.

Q: So you did the fundraising alongside Alyssa. But your area was social media.

A: Yes, we ran a crowdfunding campaign, which started with a two-week long goal, where we had to raise $5,000. That was all done by contacting old volunteers, doctors who had worked with Mano a Mano before; one of the doctors has a great relationship with a hospital in Minnesota. That was the first part, and it was really successful because of Mano a Mano’s strong relationships. Then we started to organize events.

Q: In the States and Bolivia, right?

A: Yeah, we organized a few at the same time. We did a pole dancing event in New York City, organized by a friend of Alyssa’s. And I have friends in Rutland, who organized an event at one of the local bars. They had local musicians play. My friends have a good relationship with the bar, so they arranged a sale and auction where Magic Hat, a beer company, donated $1 for every draft that was bought on that one night.

We also held four events in Bolivia at Parlana (a weekly language exchange social event held at various venues across the city), which was incredible. One at Pulse. We learned a lot from the events, and talked to a lot of people about what was happening. We sold about a thousand raffle tickets over the four events.

Q: How much were you able to raise in total?

A: At the Rutland event we raised about $1000, and now we’re going to do one in Boston. It hasn’t ended yet.

Q: Did you put a time limit on the fundraising campaign?

A: No, it’s open until we reach $25,000. We’re at $13,958. The fundraising is ongoing until we reach our goal.

Q: All of it will go to the school?

A: Yes, Mano a Mano will provide half of what is needed for the school to be built, and the local town council will then cover the other half. Once the money is raised, the school will be built over a period of around four months.

The building project includes the school – two new classrooms and bathrooms, and housing for the teachers. The teachers live at the school. It’s hard to find bi-lingual teachers that speak Spanish and Quechua, so the living accommodation is an incentive used to attract them. Those teachers will teach the children from a community of 500 people.

Q: Describe the process you went through with the fundraising.

A: There were so many stages, that I had never done before. The first thing I had to do was find a host for the events, then a bar to hold the event, then organize invitations for advertising. I had to write thank you cards to everyone involved. It took a lot of work, but it was awesome because I feel like people socialize anyway. It was nice to be able to mix that with something I believe in. I haven’t felt that purposeful in a while.

Q: Do you think it will help you get a job in the future?

A: I haven’t looked into that, but I started looking into a bar in Boston that uses its profits for social projects, so I’d like to see if I can work using activities that people do normally and use them to give back to my community. Community involvement is really important to me, whether it’s just information giving, social advertising, or whatever. I got a lot of feedback, and it made me realize how much social change is actually happening in Cochabamba and Rutland, where I’m from.

Q: So you enjoyed the process?

A: Yes, I felt like I was good at it. This is a hidden strength I didn’t know about. Once this fundraiser is done, I want to look for new ones.

Q: What attracted you to working in Bolivia specifically?

A: I didn’t know anything about Bolivia and I was really curious to see what it had in store for me. When you’re a volunteer, you’re not a tourist, so you’re able to learn. People don’t treat you like an outsider. People are welcoming and that’s so great.

Q: Did you have trouble with the language?

A: I didn’t speak any Spanish when I arrived, but the host family I was living with in Cochabamba definitely nurtured my language. I also improved loads by taking classes. You learn so much from having to work. That motivates you.

Q: What would you say to people who would like to follow in your footsteps?

A: It might seem like a lot of work, and a bit tedious, but it’s a great way to raise money and spread the cause of your organization. Be persistent, and talk to a lot of people. It can be really fun, the combination of going out and fundraising. I met a bunch of bands, local musicians in Cochabamba and the States, so if you’re interested in music and nightlife, it can work really well. It goes well with social enterprise. You can mix that with something you believe in.

I had such a positive response from people in the nightlife industry. Jody from Parlana was so responsive, Pulse were too. The musicians were so motivated to donate their time. That was nice.

Q: People are scared of getting rejected, right?

A: Yeah, they think they’ll try and organize something and it won’t be a success, that it’ll be embarrassing. You don’t lose money doing this kind of event if you organize it right. Everything went well for me and I’m so happy I did it.


Have you had a similar experience, or would you like to fundraise for your organization? If so, get in touch with Sustainable Bolivia about how you can contribute. Email us at!

You can still support Mano a Mano’s fundraiser here!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Reflecting on My Time in Bolivia

IMGP1061A fun game of tag at an Orphanage in Cochabamba.

by Logan Miller Pratico

One question that I frequently found myself being asked over the past 7 months is ‘what is your favorite part about Bolivia?’ Most people, looking for a straight answer, are quite surprised (and maybe somewhat irritated) when I respond with an answer that can take most of 10 minutes.

But the truth is that there is no simple answer to this question. After 7 months of travel in Bolivia I have seen so many great places, talked to so many amazing people and had so many incredible experiences that it is impossible for me to limit my experience to just one thing. During my time in Bolivia the people that I worked with ranged from children to medicinal plant healers. The places that I traveled to ranged from salt flats to jungles to mountains. Each experience was undoubtedly as incredible as the last.

12993520_10209209674869870_5019910116673120911_nGabe Roberts, artist of the Gringo Pants (LP) shows off his artwork at a Sustainable Bolivia art exhibition.

After experiencing a different culture with my host-family, experiencing a different type of work at my volunteer placement, and making an unbelievable amount of new friends at the Sustainable Bolivia (SB) volunteer house. I can honestly say that I have had enough amazing experiences in the last 7 months to fill a life time.

During my time working with SB I was able to gain a plethora of new knowledge through each individual volunteer placement. While working with children in an orphanage I learned to be patient, to always keep a positive attitude, and more importantly to have fun. Each of these characteristics can be very easily forgotten, however through my placement I was able to learn just what it meant to be a kid again. Furthermore, while working at the Cochabamba Botanical Gardens and with a medicinal plant healer I was able to learn a lot about Bolivian culture through plant life. This taught me a lot about how plant life has shaped Bolivian and South American culture for centuries. Finally, while working as the Resident Coordinator for Sustainable Bolivia, I gained insight into the inner workings of an NGO and how they operate. This provided me with a unique perspective into what it takes to keep an NGO running smoothly. The work that I did was not only full filling at the end of a long day, but it also provided me with a deep insight about myself and about the world around me that I certainly would not have gotten anywhere else.

12742584_10208305540415782_5025381632261885865_nThe Sustainable Bolivia crowd at Cochabamba’s famous Corso festival.

More so, between the Friday night Koas, the Coca leaf chewing, and the Chicha drinking. My trip to Bolivia has given me an in depth insight into a culture that I could never experience at home. From the afternoon cooking sessions with the Spanish teachers where I learned to make ‘Sopa de Mani’ (peanut soup), or the late night drum circles at Kasa Muyu. Bolivia’s deep culture has impacted me greatly throughout my time in Cochabamba. Due to the fact that I would never have had a chance to experience any of these opportunities back home, I felt that by learning about a different way of life I was able to learn so much more about my own.

In addition to my work placements and the culture I experienced, the people that I met while working at Sustainable Bolivia affected me in an amazing way with the new ideas including ways to experience new cultures, ways to live a sustainable lifestyle, and ways to look at life differently. In addition, the incredible kindness that they brought forth on a day to day basis was something that I had never experienced before in my life. I have never felt so accepted by so many people as I did during my time in Bolivia. The people that I met and the true friends that I made will always have a special place in my heart.

So after all of the weekend trips around the country, after all of the days spent working, after all of the late night talks on the couches in the back yard of SB. One thing is for sure, I will never forget my time in Bolivia.

12832378_1151483648209745_4836633204853601302_nThe first Sustainable Bolivia Ping Pong tournament. Founder, Erik Taylor, took home the gold.
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Smart Volunteering: Play to Your Strengths

Joey Taylor

by Joey Taylor

You might have heard of the term “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR), also known as a corporate conscience, responsible business  or corporate citizenship. If not, the ethos of CSR is to deliver initiatives that benefit society and involves being responsible for the impact of the companies’ actions.

CSR is something I feel passionately about. I have worked in this industry for the last three years; managing corporate employees who, between them, gave thousands of hours to volunteer, and raisied over £1 million for charity. Of course, reasons that companies participate in CSR are not all selfless, and there are many sceptics of the concept.  However, companies do want to make a difference, and it is also a great way to engage staff and keep them happy, develop the professional and personal skills of their staff, make companies look better in the public eye, and ultimately CSR helps them do business. So it is a win win situation for both parties, if it is executed successfully.

If you think about it, this is not too different to international volunteering. Another area I have worked in for three years and feel passionately about, I have met and worked with many international volunteers. Of course all volunteers want to have a positive impact from their work, but volunteering is not solely altruistic. People volunteer to make themselves happy, to have new experiences, to develop their own skills and learn new ones, to make themselves look “good”, to help get ahead in the job market and improve their employability chances. Again, mutually beneficial.

Regardless of motivations, with both companies and international volunteers, there is always the potential to achieve a lot of good and make a real impact, if it is deliverd effectively.

There are many examples of corporate volunteers painting fences or building planters at charities but due their lack of painting or DIY skills, their achievements will then have to be completely re-done again by the organisation.  It cannot be expected that someone who sits behind a desk all day has “expert decorator or builder” on their CV. But companies have learnt from their mistakes of misdirected enthusiasm, and have moved away from somewhat tokenistic volunteering to something smarter.

Utilising the skills of volunteers is key. A strong understanding of volunteer’s skills is just as important as understanding community needs. For example, an IT expert can transform NGO’s computer and database systems, accountants can help charities understand their finances, marketing personell can help community groups be more effective with their communications. I organised countless numbers of charity strategic reviews with professionals, set up strong mentoring relationships between charity staff and corporate staff,  and helped organisations set up enterprise business programmes. This was hugely mutually beneficial for both organisations, the business and the staff.

Just as there are sceptics of Corporate Social Responsibility and corporate volunteering, there are sceptics of international volunteering. There are hundreds of examples of international volunteers that are more of a hindrance than a help, do a role or tasks they are not really qualified for, or that can feel useless. But just as corporate volunteering can be smart, this is where I think Sustainable Bolivia is a great example of doing international volunteering “right”.  Matching community need and volunteer skills is key to a successful volunteering placement, something that I think Sustainable Bolivia (SB) knows how to do and is in the heart of their organisation.

In my six weeks here, I have passed on my knowledge of volunteer management, fundraising and impact reporting, and and worked with the team at my placement (Bolivia Digna) to help improve their operations and staff’s skills.  Not to say my knowledge is perfect (far from it!) but this is what I know, what I do best and how  I can best contribute to an organisation who wants that support. My boyfriend, who used to coach football in the UK and US, ran a brilliant football programme with the children at Bolivia Digna, using his drills and football coaching skills and training the new volunteers on how to continue his successes. If you ask any SB volunteer, they all have great stories of their smart achievements.

You might think that this is common sense, and you are right, it is! But it is surprising how many companies, international volunteers and agencies can lack that. So before you volunteer, take a moment to stop and think about your motivations, and what skills and passions you can bring with you. A good match means the more rewarding your volunteer experience will be, and the greater the impact your placement will have on the community. Whether you are a corporate or an individual volunteer, we know that this is ultimately the most important outcome… there are just added benefits to both parties along the way.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Ewe, me and Maria: A Day in the (Performing) Life

Amy and Maria

by Amy Booth

I’m looking at the sheep, and the sheep is looking at me. I naively believed this to be an ordinary and unremarkable sheep, but from the way this girl is cowering from it, there is clearly a Pandora’s box of malice behind its blank, ovine eyes. This is probably a sheep that shouts sexually objectifying insults from truck windows. It probably siphons funds to Panama.

This was not entirely how I expected this afternoon at work to go, but after five months volunteering with Performing Life in Alto Buena Vista, fewer and fewer things surprise me.

When I go to Buena Vista, locals often think I’m lost. “You’re getting off here?” the bus driver once asked me, as I got off half way down Avenida Petrolera. It was hard to tell whether he was more incredulous or worried. “You know I’m going to Buena Vista, right?” asked another when I got on at the market.

Buena Vista is one of a multitude of barrios to have sprung up on the hills of Cochabamba’s Zona Sur, the part of town with less money about. There’s no running water or sewage and most roads aren’t paved. But twice a week, I come here to teach aerial silks and juggling to a bouncy gaggle of children between 7 and 14. Performing Life teaches performing arts, especially circus and music, to children in low-income parts of Cochabamba, and this is one of our centres.

Today, I get off the bus early to buy papayas and water for the children. In the shade of a tree by a corner in the road, Quechua-speaking ladies with long braids and white sun hats sit with wheelbarrows of fruit and a little stand selling fried potatoes. You can see why they choose this spot: from up here, the view stretches right across the city and into the contours of the Tunari mountains. Cristo de la Concordia, Cochabamba’s giant Jesus statue who looms over the city at night like a luminous ghost, is diminished to a white sliver.

When I reach our circus centre, the children jump at the offer of fruit. I don’t know how often they get fruit, but sometimes when I ask them what they had for lunch, they say “nothing”.

Calling this facility a centre is perhaps a little generous. It’s a local community building where we keep aerial silks, juggling paraphernalia, unicycles, teeter boards, and a few glasses for thirsty fledgling acrobats to drink from.

There are no functioning toilets, running water, or power. We have to remember to go to the toilet before we go there. It is a bare, concrete-floored hall with a high ceiling and a lot of little, glassless windows that let in clouds of dust.

Often while teaching, I turn around to hear the patter of running feet or catch a playful smile from the corner of my eye: local little ones too shy or busy to come in. Today, I saw eyes peeking around the door and looking a little glum. I went out to have a look and found Maria, 8, with her mum and two younger siblings.

“Are you going to come in?” I asked.
No response. Wide brown eyes in a very sincere face fixed on the ground.
“Go on, give me your rucksack and go in,” her mother called.
Then she said, very quietly, “I’m scared!”
“Why are you scared?” I asked, worried for a moment that the older boys who like to run around and play rough might seem intimidating to her.
“Because of the dogs,” she said.
Eventually, I understood that there were some nasty, barky dogs on the way home, and she didn’t want to walk past them alone. So I promised to walk her home after the lesson, and she came inside, leaving her little pink backpack with her mother.


Aerial silks is a highly physically demanding discipline, requiring all the strength in your arms, back, abdominals, and just about everything else. At the start of each session, we warm the children up with plenty of jogging, stretching, and partnered conditioning exercises to help them build up the strength and flexibility they’ll need to reach an advanced level.

It takes perseverance, determination and more than a little bravery, but even though Buena Vista is a relatively new centre, some of our participants can already do dazzling drops and rolls.

Maria and Javier are recent additions to the group, so I work on teaching them to climb the silks, as well as showing them a fun little position we call “the vampire bat”. Maria makes visible progress, and I’m glad that she decided to come to the session. Andy, who is volunteering with me, shows the more advanced participants how to climb the fabric, wrap and wind themselves in the air above our heads, and then release into a dashing mid-air somersault.

Teaching children to do circus presents all sorts of challenges I never faced in my previous life in a London office. Finding the words to explain complicated body movements to eight-year-olds stretches my brain far more than doing silks stretches my legs. Today, my group are struggling to get into hip lock.

The first time I taught a group to do hip lock, they told me they didn’t want to learn it because it was hard. But two of the girls from that first group are currently next to me, confidently swinging into hip lock and doing drops from it. The point being? Even things that seem impossible can be learned if you persevere and concentrate – a message that’s valid beyond the circus.

The gear put away, it’s time to take Maria home. She leads us nimbly over the crest of the hill, along a dirt road, and off down a path between some small, squat houses. There are, indeed, some very loud barks as we pass, although the dogs are inside just now. Maria lives in the valley between Buena Vista and Kasa Huasa, currently basking in the late afternoon sun. The path long since left behind for bare mountainside, she descends with such ease that I struggle to keep up. It’s second nature to her: this seems to be the only way of getting to school each day.

At the bottom of the hill, a sheep is standing at a street corner.

“Oh, I hate this sheep!” Maria wails.
The sheep shambles over to us and stands with its face by my knee. Maria screams a bit and hides behind me.
I consider the sheep. It is black and white, small, and covered in spines. Not spines like a monster has spines: spines from the local vegetation. It lets me stroke its head.
“It’s just a sheep. It won’t do anything to you,” I say. But as soon as I move, she shrieks and moves around me again.

Finally, I put my parasol up and use it as a sheep shield. She takes the chance to scurry off to her house, where her mother and siblings are waving at us. The sheep sniffs my leggings.

It takes me a while to find my way back up the hill without Maria to guide me. When I reach the top, I’m breathing hard. Perhaps Maria can skip the warm-up next time.


Written by Amy Booth

Photos by Isela Camacho

Posted in Partner Organizations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

How to Make Chicha While You’re in Bolivia


by Jessie Maguire


Chicha is a traditional, fermented, Bolivian drink made from maize (AKA corn). Although chicha can refer to both non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks across Central and South America, the methods vary by country.

Artisanal, Bolivian chicha is carefully made using an intricate, ancient technique passed from generation to generation. It’s served in chicherias: halls where simple tables and chairs are set out onto a mud or concrete floor. The chicha is served in buckets and drunk using a tutuma, a cup made from half a hollow fruit from the Crescentia tree.

If you want to experience this ancient, traditional custom, get yourself down to Tarata and sample some of the best chicha in the Cochabamba region! The raw materials used to make Tarata chicha come from fertile soils and are cultivated organically.

This week, I interviewed Dennis Salazar Gonzales, who runs artisanal chicha-making courses in Tarata that you can attend. Check it out!

Q: So tell me about yourself Dennis. What’s your background?

A: I’m a graphic designer by profession and studied photography. I’m in a photography group called Claro Oscuro. Last year we did art exhibitions, interventions and workshops with kids in Tarata and Cochabamba. So I have an artistic background.

I’ve also done similar work abroad. In 2012, I was able to travel to the USA, where I gave photography workshops to children from disadvantaged families from all over NYC. I was there for four months. Then I was worked at El mARTadero, and later opened a cultural bar here in the city called Simon Bolivar. I also work on photography projects, and take groups out trekking in the mountains around Tarata.

Q: So you’re from Tarata?

A: Yes, all of my family is. I run a center there called Centro Alternativo Taratara. It’s name comes from a tree – the place was full of tara trees in the past. It’s endemic to Tarata.

The center is like a base, but we do activities all around Tarata and the surrounding areas. We hold workshops on how to make artisanal charangos (a small Andean guitar), woven and other fabrics, ceramics and chicha.

Q: Is it difficult to make chicha?

A: Well the process is quite complicated, and long. We do it the traditional way. We were able to find some huge ceramic crocks. They’re the best vessel to use to make sure the corn ferments really well. We also bought a bronze paila (plate or bowl) that’s about 3cm thick. It’s about 200 years old, from colonial times.

The paila and the ceramic crocks keep the temperature just right. That’s very important. If you put the chicha ingredients into plastic or metal containers, the flavor is completely different.

Q: What sort of ingredients is it made with?

A: Well first of all you need to find the best quality corn. The chicha in Tarata is considered some of the best in the world, because of the raw materials and the careful procedure.

This is another great thing about our center and the Tarata area: all the corn that is grown in the region is organic. It comes from the mountains, and the Río Caine, on the border of Potosí and Cochabamba, far into the mountains. The waterbed is huge and they have a lot of water, so the corn production is amazing.

The farming families that sell their corn in Tarata produce small quantities. Then they come down to the town with their harvest and deliver it to the ladies who make chicha.

So the first thing you need to do is soak the corn in water. This procedure may even go back as far as the Incas. You soak it in water for about a day with wheat, which helps with the fermentation process, at a ratio of 9:1, and then you leave it in a dark area covered with a cloth. You need to wait until it germinates. The little roots start to come out. Once that happens, you have wiñapu.

Next, you dry the mix in the sun. Once it’s dry, you take it to the mill to be ground into corn flour. Then you take some boiling water and make a little volcano-shaped dough ball.

You use a tool to give this dough a smooth consistency, and then you start to step on it. With your feet!

This part used to be done with your mouth – chewing it up. But people don’t really want to do that anymore. You need a lot of saliva. This part ensures there aren’t any dry, hard bits in the dough. It’s all smooth. This dough is called muku.

Then the dough is cut into pieces and dried again. This is such an old process, and the people that really know how to do it know exactly when to go onto the next step in the process. They know how the chicha will turn out if they do something differently, from generations of experience.

The corn now forms into lumps – dried muku. You now put your muku into the paila, add water and boil it. You boil it for a certain amount of time, and then you add sugar and chancaca (molasses). People used chancaca on its own in the past, but the sugar speeds up the process.

So you make a marmalade-type mixture with this. 400 liters of it! It’s called miskh’eta, which means dulce (sweet). It’s got a marmalade consistency, and it’s very sweet. You put that into the crocks. Ours hold around 400 liters.

Then you boil some water with a little corn flour in it, to make a tea with a little corn essence in it, and you mix that with the miskh’eta and boil that. When it’s boiling away, a white froth appears in the middle. That’s called ñawi. When that’s gone, it’s ready.

This liquid then starts to separate into layers, the first layer is upis, and you have to remove that. The ñege is left on the bottom. That’s a very delicious drink! It’s the starch from the bottom. So they separate the sediment from the liquid above.

Now you have to let the liquid sit again, and then remove the sediment a second time. This time, it’s called arrope. It’s very nutritious laxative. Nothing is wasted during the chicha-making process. People from the village come and collect these by-products free of charge.

The liquid now looks like chicha, and it’s taken and put into vessels with narrow bottlenecks. It’s poured into them, and that’s when the real fermentation starts. Three more layers form:  borra, the chicha, and the yeast on top.

You wait, now. In summer you have to wait for three or four days, but in winter maybe a week. And the vessels have to be covered with blankets to keep them warm if the ambient temperature isn’t high enough.

Q: So Tarata is the best place to do this?

A: Yes, because the knowledge there is passed from generation to generation. There are no secrets. If you ask, they’ll tell you how they do it. But each family has their own technique. Hearing about the process isn’t the same as seeing it. I think we’re going to do another workshop at the end of the month (Feb, 2016), but as soon as we have 8 people on the list for a workshop, we run one.

Q: Can you do this at home?

A: Yes, my uncle makes apple chicha at home, and it comes out really well. That’s a mix of apples and corn, fermented together. But you have to make it out of really good corn. There are some types of corn that don’t turn into chicha. There are special types of corn that are prepared for specific times of the year.

Kulli, is a specific type of purple corn (not api). It’s used to make chicha during special holidays. Ch’uspillo is another that looks dried, and it has really high oil content, so the drink is creamy and  very delicious. Aloja is made at special times, made with a tiny type of tuna (cactus fruit), cinnamon, orange peel, pineapple peel, and cloves, Ahirampu.  It’s purple. You put desiccated coconut and cinnamon on it. It’s ridiculous.

Our chicha is clean, because if it’s not fermented properly, it turns into vinegar or goes bad. The city chicha is also horrible. They use a completely different process. I can only drink the chicha in Punata and Tarata, not even in Cliza now. There are factories in Quillacollo, Cliza and Tiquipaya. They don’t do it well. With Tarata chica, you don’t get a hangover.

Q: Does it keep?

A: No, it’s meant to be served immediately. It turns to vinegar unless it’s buried in the dark, underground in vessels with no oxygen. Then it keeps.

Q: Tell me about the chicha workshops.

A: We charge 350 Bolivianos. That includes food, board and the workshop. Traditional food, made with local ingredients. It lasts for three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, generally, and it’s held in Spanish. You make the chicha, and then you come back later to taste it! Our doors are open if you want to come.

Q: What about the other activities you offer in Tarata?

A: We work with tourists and volunteers, running workshops. We’re planning a fabric-making workshop using rustic looms and a charango-making workshop that will be available very soon.

Another big project we’re working on right now involves children from the city, taking them on tours around the historic town of Tarata, which is full of Colonial and heritage buildings.  Opposite our Center in Tarata is the Instituto Tecnológico Agropecuario, which belongs to the state. They have farm animals there, and organic vegetable plots. They make marmalade, yogurt, cheese, cold meats and other products.

We are partnering with them with this project. We want the city kids to see all the animals, to show them how everything is grown and give them the opportunity to plant seeds and make their own bread, cheese or yogurt. We also want to give talks on environmental awareness and develop their team working skills. That’s the project we’re working on right now. It’s called EDS, Educación para el Desarrollo Sostenible.

We also offer living quarters to 10 music and agriculture students, and we charge a minimal amount so they are comfortable and are able to continue studying. These students come from small communities around Tarata, and a few are from little villages near La Paz, Oruro and Potosi.

We actually have 40 rooms. We want to offer 10 more rooms to volunteers, who could come to participate in the workshops and give their own workshops. We also run ceramics workshops. So there’s fabric-making, weaving, ceramics and charango-making. The ceramics workshop is in the Huayculi community, where more than 30 artisan families live.

So the 40 rooms will be split up: 10 for the students, 10 for volunteers, 10 for guests who come to stay and 10 for the children who visit from the city, with bunkbeds.

- Jessie Maguire

Fancy making chicha?

If you haven’t tried it yet, Tarata is one of the best places with the most nutritious variety.

The Educación para el Desarrollo Sostenible project will also be open to volunteers and people interested in participating very soon. For more information about this and the various courses available there, get in touch with Dennis Salazar Gonzales on Facebook, or contact him on 76441410 or at Thanks to Dennis for his time!

Images courtesy of Dennis Salazar Gonzales.

Posted in Cochabamba | Tagged , | Comments Off

How to Pursue The Artists’ Dream in South America: Gabriel Roberts’ Story



By Jessie Maguire


Gabriel Roberts might be just like you, if you’re an artist or an aspiring artist. His intention is to paint, and he enjoys working hard at his craft. However, it’s not always easy to get enough time to delve deeply into his dream – except now he can. He’s saved and taken the necessary leap to pursue what he loves: painting from life.


I sat down with Gabriel Roberts, a professional, 29-year-old artist originally from Sacramento, California to talk about his artwork, the benefits of art residencies and the colors of Cochabamba. Here’s the Q and A!






Q: So what’s your background?


A: I started painting in about 2009. In college I studied ceramics, I took a couple of painting classes, but I was really into ceramics.


I went to a summer art program right after college as a ceramics student, then switched to painting in the first couple of days, because all the painters got their own private studios, and all the ceramicists were expected to share one communal studio.


I thought I want my own studio (laughs) and there was also a professor there called Stanley Lewis, a landscape painter, who’s one of the most passionate artists I’ve ever met and he talked about painting in a way that I’ve never heard it discussed.


He kind of talked about it with a very scientific outlook. He talked in the same way about completely abstract paintings as completely representational paintings. Like to him there’s no difference – it’s only about the picture, and what effect it has on you as the viewer.

And it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, it doesn’t matter what message the artist is trying to convey, it’s all about the viewer’s experience with that picture. From that standpoint, you can analyze any art, because you know as much as you need, even knowing nothing, to appreciate the art.




 “…it’s only about the picture, and what effect it has on you as the viewer. And it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, it doesn’t matter what message the artist is trying to convey, it’s all about the viewer’s experience with that picture.”

He got me into landscape painting so I switched to painting and then went back a couple of years later and studied with him again, and I’ve kind of been on it since then.I had a full-time job that I left at the end of 2011, and since then it’s been gradually getting to a point of supporting me. It was about 50/50 between that and landscaping or construction and that kind of hourly work.

Now I’m doing it full time, this is what it’s all about. I saved up so I could come and just paint.


“Now I’m doing it full time, this is what it’s all about. I saved up so I could come and just paint.”


Q: So what kind of material are you working on? What mediums are you using?

A: I use printmaking paper from France, called Rives BFK and then I put acrylic gesso on it. It’s just like rag paper: thick and soft. And then I put some gesso on both sides to seal it. I think the gesso should protect it.


It works just like canvas, but it’s easy to store and transport so I’ll be able to pack up my paintings and transport them in a little folio, and then I’ll frame them up when I get back to the States. And I have my oil paints. That’s what I use.


Q: So you don’t ever think to hell with it, and just start on the wall or something?


A: No, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I was thinking about that as I was doing this first painting. I mean here I am – and I could do anything, but I’ve chosen to focus on like a one foot by one foot view of a bush! And I spent hours on the detail of that bush.


I’m not tired of it though, and it’s pretty exciting for me to be working from a figure. It’s new to be working from a drawing. If I were to go to art school, I’m sure they would think I was crazy, and encourage me to do something new, but I like it and I’m not at all tired of it yet.


I set the stage by bringing my paints and my box – so the work is very much in line with what I do at home.




Q: Yes, because everyone has the right to do the kind of art that they want to do, right?


A: Yeah – right.


Q: So you sell your work? Do you do exhibitions?


A: I have had some shows, but I haven’t done many and I haven’t put a lot of effort into getting gallery representation. It’s somehow not felt very accessible to me.

It takes a lot of energy to promote your work, and it can be quite distracting from the work itself. It’s been nice to be able to pick up work – carpentry or house painting or whatever, and then be able to do the painting for myself and not have to think about the money side of art too much.

But I think I’m getting to the point where I’m getting more confidence in my work, getting a larger body of work, so that soon I’ll be able to find a gallery that appreciates what I do. I just haven’t found a good fit yet.


Q: I guess it depends where are you in the world, right? What city you’re in…. The people that live there. How do you sell your paintings right now? In shops?


A: I sell most of my art directly to friends. I post all the stuff on Facebook and Instagram. Before I came here I did a video and an email and put a bunch of paintings on Etsy, which is super easy.


My average patron has been my age. I’m 29. Somebody that I went to college with or school with, that has a full-time job, appreciates my art and wants to support me.


And the most I’ve ever charged was $750 for a piece, and the average is about $100. I’ve sold about 200 paintings. I set the prices depending on how long they take me, but I spend more time on painting from life now – anything up to 30 hours paint time.




Basically at this point I just try to keep painting. Just keep painting. And I also make a podcast, and I keep that regular. I photograph my work so I always have pictures of it, and upload it to my website so people can see what I’m making, and that’s full-time, pretty much.


I have a lot of different ideas, and there are a lot of wonderful ways that one can sell their work. People have found my stuff out of the blue, but I’ve met most of the people that buy my art in person, and that seems to be the best way to do things.


Q: Did you choose Bolivia specifically?


A: A couple of years ago I did a lot of searching for residencies. There are sites that aggregate art residencies you can do all over the world. I went to a place in Colorado, then I ended up living in a little town there, where the residency was.


I forgot about residencies for a while, and then last spring I started to feel like I wanted to take a big trip of some sort.


I studied abroad in Barcelona for a year during college, so I learned Spanish and I always thought that South America would be the next destination. So I thought, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do this trip.


I did a search and I applied and Alex got back to me real quick. It just seemed like it was meant to be.


Q: Do you like it here?


A: I do, it’s good. It’s less developed than Spain. There are some similarities, but it’s a good town. It’s the right size. A bigger city would be too much for me. I feel like I’d like to get out a little more.


I wanted to stay at SB and settle here for a few weeks, but the colors are exciting, and the various states of decay in the streets, the buildings and the paint on the walls. The people, the hats and their aguayos.



“It’s the colors I find exciting (in Cochabamba), and the little unexpected views where you’ll see a combination of rooftops receding to the hills….the colonial architecture is beautiful, too.”


Q: What else interests you about Cochabamba specifically?

A: Yeah, it’s the colors I find exciting and the little unexpected views where you’ll see a combination of rooftops receding to the hills, or something like that, or you’ll be walking down the street and a parking lot gate will be open and you’ll see brand new cars parked in a really dusty yard.

Things like that, different unexpected things. The colonial architecture is beautiful, too. With the palm trees, it’s an awesome combination. I’m excited that the plaza is just being redone.





Q: Do you think it’s possible to capture culture in your paintings?

A: I’m sure it is. I guess the most direct way would be to do a portrait of someone from here. Of an indigenous person, or with other subject matter…. There’s a little clash between the old world and the new world which is pretty interesting.

You see people in traditional dress walking by a supermarket or in a supermarket, or with a smart phone. That’s what makes this time and this town special.


I think that anything that’s in your surroundings makes its way into your paintings no matter what. Just sort of on an energetic level. If you’re kind of open and absorbing what your environment is – no matter what your painting is of, it’s going to have some flavor of that.


Q: So your experience is communicated through you into the painting?


A: That could be the case, especially if you spend hours in a setting. When you find a spot to make a landscape painting, just being out there for hours every day – I think your body absorbs some of the vibes, and you kind of put them into the painting subconsciously.





“There’s a clash between the old world and the new world….You see people in traditional dress…in a supermarket, or with a smart phone. That’s what makes this time and this town special.”



Q: It would be cool to do a painting from the Cristo, right?


A: Yes. With that view? Looking out from the hill? Yeah, there’s a lot there. You could go insane trying to paint that.


I’m using photos for color reference right now, but I find that if I actually work from a photo…. The camera flattens the scene, and I prefer to flatten it myself. If you work from a photo, the scene is flattened twice and it means that the viewer is removed from what’s exciting about that space.


Whereas if you do the flattening yourself and I’m looking at the depth, the viewer is still directly connected to the experience, they can access it. It’s not explicitly shown because of course it’s a 2D image, but if they look at it long enough, then they get to assemble the space and work out like, oh, that’s actually way back there.


And that’s related to what Stanley Lewis talks about. In his theory of painting, that’s what makes it exciting: when the viewer can’t actually determine where an object actually exists in space, so at first glance you might think that that it’s in the foreground, but when you look at it from further away you realize, whoa! It’s way back there!


That creates a kind of tension in the picture. And I think it’s harder to do that from a photo. But I think if you have more illustrative capability as an artist, you could probably create that. With more experience.


Q: So you do a mixture of abstract and representational art. So are you more excited about one of them? Or does it depend on what you’re painting specifically?


A: I guess I’m more excited about the representational stuff right now, because I feel like it is directly related to the things I get excited about visually while walking around. My abstract work feels different somehow.





I’d like for them to intersect more, and not feel so separate in my mind and my work, but at this point they feel like color study somehow, separate but complementary. And when I’m walking around I’ll get ideas about a representational picture, and not abstract pictures. So we’ll see.


When I’m working abstractly, I’m forced to be more creative. I’m forced to generate something, and I have to figure it out, thinking, does that work there or not?

“A place that’s just for art. I think that’s so important…it feels good to have a place to go to work, and…put in a good number of hours, and then you get to fully enjoy your free time, and not feel like you should be painting or thinking about painting.”

Q: What do you think the benefits are, as an artist, of leaving where you’re from, going to a new place and having a space to explore whatever you’d like to?


A: Well the space itself is huge. Depending on what you are already working with. I mean, a lot of artists don’t have a proper studio, so having just that is a huge thing, where all your thoughts can collect, a wall where you can tack things up. Also a place that’s separate from your bedroom, or your kitchen.


A place that’s just for art. I think that’s so important. I’ve rented a studio. A tiny place, but having a dedicated place was so sweet.

For me, the art feels like work, in a good way, and it feels good to have a place to go to work, and feel satisfied if you’ve put in a good numbers of hours, and then you get to fully enjoy your free time, and not feel like you should be painting or thinking about painting.


There’s a lot of that among artists. They can be really competitive and there’s a lot of glorifying the pain caused by the amount of hours you put in, and so it’s nice to have a separate place to work. I think that travelling is hugely important, just seeing new sights is enlivening and I think being in one familiar place can be comfortable but deadening, too.


Here you’re blasted with new sights and I think there’s definitely something to digging into a new place and studying it more. I feel so fortunate that I get to do this.

It’s so crazy to be able to get on a plane and fly down to South America and get picked up from the airport by somebody and driven to this place and it’s like, here’s your room. It’s like what?! And have internet and get to watch football on the weekend. It’s totally amazing.




“I think that travelling is hugely important, just seeing new sights is enlivening and I think being in one familiar place can be comfortable but deadening, too.”



Q: Do you think there are any disadvantages to doing it?


A: No. I can’t think of any disadvantages. I mean, if things go bad, you can always go home and you will have learnt something.


I mean, obviously there’s challenges to doing it. And I think they’re there for a reason. That’s the sweet stuff, the things that normal society makes it difficult to do.


That’s where it’s at, and that’s where you get to learn and grow and be challenged. All the good stuff.


I was packing my bags before coming here and thinking, am I really doing this? And then I flew to Lima, where I had a stopover. I got off the plane and it was like chaotic and hot and the streets were a mess and I was like, what am I doing here, this is a third world country, and I was comfortable at home.


So it’s definitely a bit of a challenge but then you realize that it’s not that big of a deal. But if you don’t do it for a few years or whatever, you lose your sea legs.



“It really doesn’t cost much more to be here than it does to be there. It really doesn’t, but people think it does. You tell people you can get a round trip ticket for $500 to South America, and they’re like what?!”



Q: What about cost?


A: It really doesn’t cost much more to be here than it does to be there. It really doesn’t, but people think it does. You tell people you can get a round trip ticket for $500 to South America, and they’re like what?!


I mean it’s not always that cheap, but mine way like $600 to La Paz from New York. But you get trapped so easily. If you have rent to pay or a job, you can’t just necessarily do it. Or car payment, a mortgage. You get locked down quickly.


I’m not really cut out for travelling or backpacking. I’m kind of a home body. I like to get a little bit settled.



Q: You prefer to have somewhere to go.


A: Yes, oh my gosh. Because there are like endless amazing places in the world, where you could go and have an amazing experience, and it is sometimes a question of somehow choosing one and committing to it, and then seeing what meets you there.


Q: Even going online and looking at a few different places and the opportunities can get the ball rolling right?


A: That’s right. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure in the States for people to tie themselves down. I feel like there’s this overall societal pressure to be a good little producing unit.


And yet there are so many wonderful opportunities and networks that are growing, like the Wwoofing network or the work away network or couching surfing, which enable people to move around a little bit and come to see that it isn’t that much of a big deal, life is kind of the same wherever you go and in a way, you can go anywhere and make it.


Q: Anything you’d like to add?


A: Just that I feel really blessed to be here, have the opportunity and I’m grateful. I’m happy, excited and hoping to gradually get into a better and better rhythm and keep the painting going, see what comes out of it, travel a bit around Bolivia. It’s nice to be here on my own terms.


The year goes by and you have as many pictures as you made in that year, and that’s it! So I want to have good paintings from this time. I also worked really hard to be here and paint, so I want to take advantage of that.


I remind myself that I’m here for my own growth and fulfillment, and that feels great.


Many thanks to Gabriel Roberts for his time and for sharing his story with us. If you’d like to contact him about his work, his website can be found here.


And if you’re an artist wondering whether now could be a great time for you to do an artist’s residency at SB, in South America, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!


Images courtesy of Gabriel Roberts.

Posted in Cochabamba | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off