Bolivia: Escaping to a land of freedom

Amanda escaped from the farm where she was working when she was 15. She fled the abuse perpetrated by her employers, poor living conditions and a future that condemned her to poverty and dependence. Like hundreds of other Guaraní families in eastern Bolivia, hers had no land and no freedom.

Two years later, Amanda got married. She had eight children, who she maintained by working as a house maid. Poverty, lack of access to land, and to the means for cultivating it, often makes women dependent on the income of their partners, or forces them to engage in tasks that reproduce the role of servant that society has imposed on them.

I didn't know I had so many rights

"I didn’t know I had so many rights, finding out about them changed my life and that of my people”, says Amanda excitedly. “Now we have land and know how to cultivate it, we have livestock, wool sheep, and have even become honey producers. The good thing is that we’re doing it as a community”.

Oxfam’s work in the forgotten, desert areas of the Chaco region of Bolivia has contributed to creating conditions that allow communities to recover power and control over the land, develop agriculture, breed and sell livestock and plan how they are going to use the natural resources. This translates into more income, more rights and a stronger Guaraní People’s Assembly – the highest representative body of this indigenous nation.

Securing land for the indigenous people

In 1950, 4.2% of the Bolivian population owned 70% of the land in the east of the country. Today – as a result of the demands made for land by the indigenous population and peasants from the 1990s onwards – over 28 million hectares have been signed over to the original communities or people, including at least 1.7 million hectares that were regularized with the support of Oxfam and its allies in the country.

That’s the story. Amanda went from serving her employers to becoming a landowner, administering her own income, defending rights and acting as a leader. Today, she is the infrastructure and production secretary of the Capitanía de Machareti, her community’s governing body.

As she says herself, hers was an escape to freedom.

Text: Susana Arroyo/Oxfam
Photo: Patricio Crooker