Kami, Bolivia is a seemingly idyllic village nestled high in the Andes Mountains just beneath the clouds. It is also a place where physical isolation from the rest of the country -- coupled with harsh living conditions, a persistently cold climate and the health effects of tungsten mining -- means that the average life expectancy of its residents is just 40 years.
Before Salesian missionaries first arrived in Kami in 1977, illiteracy rates were extremely high. With the exception of mining, the sole source of income and sustenance for families was through farming. And, while water in the village was mostly available, electricity was not. Without electricity to power the local school or hospital -- or to support new business enterprises -- the village seemed destined to remain in poverty’s unyielding grip.
But the missionaries, led by Father Serafino Chiesa, immediately understood Kami’s potential -- and that potential started with the river. With no access to clean water, children and families had been drinking from contaminated sources which left them chronically susceptible to a variety of illnesses. So, the missionaries built an aqueduct that brought safe water directly into Kami -- and, in the process, earned the loyal trust of the people they served.
During the ensuing years, Fr. Serafino and his compadres systematically introduced educational and social programs designed to improve the living conditions of Kami’s people. Then, in 2010, a fortunate opportunity arose: the discovery of an abandoned and defunct hydroelectric station that had once serviced the mining community.
“Fr. Serafino was overjoyed,” explains Humberto Camacho, a native Bolivian and past Salesian student who is now the national coordinator of an NGO that supports Salesian-run programs. He realized that the abandoned plant could help increase the value of Kami’s agricultural sector and create a local, clean and sustainable economic resource -- one that would support the community in becoming self-sufficient and autonomous.
“He is fearless,” Mr. Camacho continues. “So he seized the opportunity!”
Today, thanks to this opportunity, Kami is now connected to Bolivia’s national power grid. Under Fr. Serafino’s guidance, experts from several NGOs and volunteer groups collaborated to bring the power station back online. Now, refurbished turbines supply light and technology to students, improved medical care to patients and power to a new sawmill facility and other businesses. They also create excess energy that residents sell back to the Bolivian Electricity Board. As a result, Kami is now beginning to finance its own sustainable development and faces a much brighter future.
“The human development of this community -- which had always been abandoned to its own fate, in this place which didn’t even have roads -- is an extremely important result; even more important than the stone and cement buildings of the power plant,” says Fr. Serafino.
You can watch a documentary about Fr. Serafino’s work here.
Our mission helps bring water and electricity to those who need it. From ensuring that communities have access to clean water for drinking and agriculture, to constructing water-powered electrical plants, Salesian missionaries are working to alleviate poverty, restore hope, and build stable societies in 132 countries around the globe. What’s your mission?