After 12 days on a “solidarity tour” to western Bolivia in August 2017, I have a clearer understanding of the term “solidarity.” Our group of 14 Western Canadians set off to learn about Bolivian projects funded by Development and Peace. But to describe “solidarity” as information and funding would be to reduce it to a monochromatic contractual arrangement.
Our tour had a whole pastiche of colours. The sight of Clemente Paco Huanca, director of CEPA, running towards us with open arms as we wearily climbed off the bus in Oruro revealed a more colourful picture of solidarity.
That evening, we took part in an Indigenous Aymara ritual symbolizing Pachamama (Mother Earth) coming to life after her winter’s rest. We also journeyed deep into the bowels of Bolivia’s largest tin mine in a large dump truck to share something of the life of miners.
Near Lake Titicaca, local Indigenous people treated us to a Saturday afternoon feast of fresh fish and vegetables, danced with us and showed how they were slowly returning their arid villages to a viable vegetable and livestock producing area with help from Development and Peace partner NUNA.
When we attended a presentation, it was rarely with a lone presenter in the room. Typically, many others associated with the organization were there as well, displaying their appreciation for the partner’s work and gratitude for Development and Peace’s funding and our having come to visit them. Always we were fed with local dishes by people whose material resources are scant by Canadian standards.
Participating in this solidarity tour was humbling. We had given so little; we received so much. Solidarity is not so much about information, analysis and funding, but is rooted in heart touching heart. Solidarity is discovering that when you thought you were the benefactor, you were actually the recipient of something more valuable than money.
The journey of solidarity continues upon our return to Canada. We want to tell others about our experiences in Bolivia so the web of solidarity can grow. Development and Peace is more than a funding organization. Money is essential, but positive change requires us to see the world through others’ eyes, to walk a kilometre in another’s shoes. Development and Peace enabled us to do that.
I told our group that I wished that every Canadian Catholic could make a solidarity tour. Given that that is impossible, our group of two staff and 12 Development and Peace supporters will have to do our best to pass on the gifts we received to those unable to make the physical journey.