Bolivia’s women remember BBC journalist Lola Almudevar

By Will Grant
Bolivian women outside Centro Lola, Choritotora, Bolivia

Lola Almudevar was a freelance journalist working for the BBC in Bolivia when she was killed in a car accident in 2007. Young, passionate about Bolivia and full of enthusiasm for the region, her death was a loss to Latin American journalism. On Wednesday, a women’s centre, called Centro Lola and built using funds raised in her name, was opened in Bolivia, as Will Grant reports:

The tiny village of Choritotora is nestled in the Bolivian Andes, at around 4,000m (13,123ft) above sea level, where the dry brushland is used for little more than potato and quinoa crops, or sheep grazing.

It could hardly be further from the green forests of Nottingham, but it is in Choritotora, amid the abode huts, that a memorial to one of Nottingham’s brightest young journalists has now been unveiled.

Amid music, dancing and fireworks, the ribbon on the Centro Lola was cut, and traditional blessings were made in Aymara, Spanish and English.

Lola Almudevar
We wanted to do something special to commemorate the person she was. Lola loved it here in Bolivia – she’d found her spiritual home
Rebecca Almudevar
Lola’s younger sister

The women’s drop-in centre is a shiny new orange and red building with a bright red roof. Yet the simple construction represents something far greater.

“The most important thing about this centre is that we’re protected from the sun and the rain so that we can meet easily,” Jostina Chuquijuanca de Soria told me, her Aymara language translated by a local woman who spoke Spanish.

Jostina said that the women in her community used to meet outside.

“But it was really very uncomfortable. Now that we have a centre we can have workshops.

“Our papers don’t fly away and we can pin them up on the walls. We use centres like these for children’s nutrition programmes, and also for children’s early stimulation programmes where we learn how to play and to work on making toys.”

Nottingham lace

The maternal mortality rate – the number of women who die in childbirth – in this part of Bolivia is unusually high, and on a par with levels seen in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Carolina Hilari, health adviser to Save the Children in Bolivia which helped build Centro Lola, says the importance of such a space in health terms is invaluable.

Jane Todd of Nottingham City Council swaps a gift of Nottingham lace for local textiles as part of the ceremony.

Jane Todd swaps a gift of Nottingham lace for local textiles

“There’s no health centre in this village. So once a month, all the women who have children under five will meet here to look at their children’s growth and weigh them.

“The nurse from the next village will come here too and administer vaccinations and treatments, and give out health advice,” said Dr Hilari.

But the centre is by no means intended solely as a healthcare centre.

“The women will also meet for educational workshops, they’ll have courses, they’ll invite outside speakers on issues such as family violence, what are the rights of women, of children, and so on,” Dr Hilari explained.

As the women flocked into their newly-opened space, they blessed it with floral offerings and confetti, liberally sprinkling petals over the members of Lola’s family and friends who had made the trip from Britain for the event.

On the floor, they opened out parcels of their handicrafts and brightly coloured textiles which are the mainstay of their income.

During the opening ceremony, gifts of Nottingham lace were exchanged for Andean textiles from the women in a further connection between the two regions.

Spiritual home

“Nottingham has always had a tremendous textile base, particularly lace,” said Jane Todd, the chief executive of Nottingham City Council, who travelled to Bolivia as a close family friend.

“Indeed, it’s brought us tremendous wealth over the last 200 to 300 years. It’s really very powerful to see the women using their own, beautiful textiles, as a way of gaining economic independence. Despite the obvious differences between our two parts of the world, the parallels really come through for me.”

Whether the Centro Lola will play primarily an economic function or a social and healthcare one, in many ways, doesn’t matter, said Dr Hilari.

Centro Lola in Bolivia

Centro Lola will be an important space for local women

“It seems such a simple thing to have a space like this, but it means something very significant for the identity of the women. Aymara men will usually have a room for their farmers’ union meetings and so on.

“But for the women to have a space just for them is incredibly important. It’s a definition of power, I think.”

For the members of Lola Almudevar’s family present at the inauguration, the centre was a fitting use of the money they had raised at an event in Birmingham on what would have been her 30th birthday.

“When Lola was killed in the accident close to here,” says Rebecca Almudevar, Lola’s younger sister, “we wanted to do something special to commemorate the person she was.

“Lola loved it here in Bolivia – she’d found her spiritual home.”

Source: BBC


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