Lieke vander Steen in Bolivia

Experiences in Cochabamba, Bolivia

This year I spent my summer in Cochabamba, the 3rd biggest city of Bolivia, a country in South America. In the three months I stayed in Bolivia I did research on urban gardening for the Dutch NME Mundial Foundation. The main aim of my research was to think of opportunities to improve the gardens and gardening projects of the foundation. I started with some literature review, next I visited the projects of the foundation, I interviewed some of the employees of the foundation and some of the participants of the projects, I did some experiments in the garden and last of all I made some new designs for the gardens.
As I am a student Industrial Design I did not have a lot of knowledge about urban gardening before I started and therefore it took some time to get familiar with the content. Practical tasks were sometimes hard because I did not exactly know what to do. Fortunately my supervisor of the foundation helped me really well! At the end of my research I could say that I have a lot more knowledge about urban gardening than before and I provided the foundation with some new ideas which they will bring into practice in their next projects.

Living in a country like Bolivia is very different from living in the Netherlands. During my stay I lived in a host family consisting of the parents and their 3 sons and 3 daughters. As Spanish is the main language in Bolivia they only spoke Spanish. I did not speak Spanish before I went there, so the first thing I did was taking some lessons, otherwise it would have been really hard to communicate with my host family. Family is really important in Bolivia, all sons and daughters, their husbands, wives and children came to my host family to have lunch, as lunch is the main meal in Bolivia. There is a clear division between the tasks done by men and by women. Often men go to work and women stay at home to take care of the children and to take care of the household.
Bolivia is said to be the poorest country in South America. As I said before I lived in one of the biggest cities of the country and at first sight I did not see a lot of poverty. Of course, there were some beggars living on the streets, sometimes they were really old and sometimes they had children with them. It is hard to see this as you cannot really help them. Poverty became more visible when I visited other parts of the city. People were living in really small homes, did not have access to water etc. In rural areas the situation got even worse as there were often no clear roads and no public transport. I have been to places where people had to walk for more than 6 hours to buy their food.
For Dutch people it is really hard to imagine living in these kind of circumstances, for a lot of Bolivians this kind of life is the truth. They do not complain about it but they try to make the best of their lives with the things they have and they even try to help others.

I would recommend everyone to go to a developing country as you learn a lot about the world, different cultures and also about yourself. If you have any more questions about my experiences in Bolivia you can contact me by e-mail:

Lieke van der Steen

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