The first time I came to Bolivia, my contact was Dr. Dardo Chavez, who worked at the Andean Rural Health Clinic. He received his medical education free but had to give two years of community service to the poor. He chose to live with the Guarani Indians for those two years. These Indians, much like our Indian tribes, had no concept of land ownership. When the Europeans came to South America, these Indians were displaced from Argentina and Paraguay and wandered about the land, being persecuted along the way. Three groups were placed on 600 hectares of land near Montero, Bolivia.
They built adobe huts with palm-frond roofs from the materials readily at hand. Unfortunately, these huts were also home to a bug called the kissing bug, which causes Chagas disease. This disease causes heart problems and gastrointestinal disorders, which are fatal some 20 to 30 years after being infected. Also, there was hardly a week that went by when a child didn’t die from diarrhea, as the only source of water was a nearby river. This river also floods every time there are five to six inches of rain, which is a common occurrence in the rainy season. Dr. Chavez brought in a clean water supply using a deep well run by a generator. The generator is only used for the water pump and for Sunday service at the church to power the keyboard and amplifier. He had to wait for groups like ours to help with the housing problem.
Over the years, several mission groups have built homes for the Guarani Indians. We have constructed six homes for the families, and now we are building a medical clinic and enlarging the school from the two-room school house to a four-room school. With the healthy water supply, virtually none of the children die, which is good, but now there is a need for more classrooms. Only time will tell if the incidence of Chagas disease will drop with the new housing, but there is no reason to think that it will not. It is hard to imagine that these serious diseases that really don’t affect us here in the United States cause the life expectancy to be about 45 years old in this community.
These are some of the most peaceful people I have ever met, and they have practically nothing. There is no electric power, save a generator, and there is only one pick-up truck for the whole Guarani community of about 600 people. The people survive on faith, which is the only thing they have. There is no savings, no store of food if the harvest is bad, and no transportation to go to town to find a better job. One of the positive aspects of working here is that the chief had his house build almost last, instead of first. I respected him for this and that these fine people do seem to truly live on faith alone. They have to life that way, but they seem so much happier than we are. We brought them Bibles several years ago. One of the recipients has been in the hospital for a few weeks and he held up his Bible to give thanks, kissed it, and began to cry. This same man helped us build the clinic and school this year.