El Alto, Bolivia

"Everything was getting better"

EL ALTO, Pedro Domingo Murillo department, Bolivia – Before 2008, Victoria Mamani Sirpa had only ever cooked with four vegetables – carrots, chard, celery and onions.

That soon changed after she and her family built a huerta, or greenhouse on their property with the help of MCC’s partner, Fundación Communidad y Axión (Community and Action Foundation, FCA), which is working to improve access to nutritious food in El Alto. FCA provides many of the materials for the greenhouses as well as seeds and training, but project participants build them.

Victoria Mamani Sirpa was one of the first people to build a greenhouse through MCC's partner FCA.MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

Now her family consumes, in a day, the amount of vegetables they used to eat in a week.

“At first I was interested in the program because my husband was ill and had heart pain. The doctor told him he needed to have more fresh food and vegetables,” she explains.

Shortly after they began harvesting vegetables, Sirpa noticed a big difference.

Leafy greens grow in an FCA-supported greenhouse in El Alto, Bolivia.MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

“We realized everything was getting better. I noticed my children weren’t getting sick at all. Before they weren’t getting the nutrients they needed and we didn’t have enough money for vegetables,” she says.

Sirpa now saves what little money she did spend on vegetables.

She also discovered that her whole family wanted to be involved in the project.

“My children grew up in the huerta and it’s like part of the family. Every person puts in their part. I don’t have to ask them to open the door or the windows (to let in the heat). I wake up in the morning, it’s already done,” Sirpa explains.

Victoria Mamani Sirpa visits Luciana Llamaca de Condori at her greenhouse.MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

She appreciates the greenhouse so much, Sirpa started working full-time for FCA as an agricultural technician and teacher in 2012, showing others the skills she’s learned in her own greenhouse.

“My favourite thing is seeing the families start to produce their own vegetables and how it changes their happiness. Every time I go visit them, they tell me what they’ve eaten and how happy they are. When they have questions, we work together to find the answers,” Sirpa says.

She adds: “It gives me a lot of strength that I can pass on the knowledge because I didn’t study in university and they understand me. I speak Aymara (an Indigenous language) like they do and I use the words we both know.”