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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

En el Cerro Rico se excava más que plata: In the Cerro Rico more than silver is uncovered

Hola queridos amigos y familias,

I write to let you all know that the past few days, after our three weeks of homestay family time in Tiquipaya, we have spent in Potosi, a colonial city that gave rise to the capitalist system that exists today. Our time in Potosi has explored the beginnings of colonial rule in Bolivia and how these structures from five centuries ago still persist to this day.

On Friday morning we had a chat with Luz, an activist and social worker who has worked with child laborers for the past 17 years. Her work and her talk with us is an inspiration to join the struggle of dismantling poverty, the key in being able to relieve the 1 million children workers in Bolivia of their daily reality. Her message was loud and clear: These children do not need the pity of anyone, they need respect, dignity, and rights in order to work for a better tomorrow. As an extension to this talk, Dragon students were able to job-shadow some child laborers on Saturday morning to see these children in action. We hope that Luz’s talk and the job-shadowing experience will allow the students to understand a different perspective and understand the root causes of why child labor exists not only in countries like Bolivia but all around the world.

My conversation with one student, Teresa, after her morning with an eleven-year-old girl was one that made me proud of Luz’s work. Teresa explained to me that by working with this girl she was able to see a different side of the story that she would otherwise not have seen. Working during the morning selling black plastic bags made her realize that the perspective she might have had about child labor before was one of not knowing the full story of why children had to work. Putting a face on the situation had helped her to learn a new story. One that I would argue, dignifies the work of that small child and all the other children who are vendors in the market, shoe-shiners, cemetery workers, newspaper sellers, miners, etc.

Saturday afternoon we went to the Mint. The instructors tried to prep the students before going saying that they should take in the information of the docents with a grain of salt. Sometimes history has not been fully uncovered and the information we are give may not gice justice to what has happened in the past. Post-visit srudents gathered in the plaza to talk about the questions and impressions that had arisen after our tour of the museum: an institution that had seen the destruction of 8 million indigenous people and enslaved Africans during its operation.

During our short time in Potosi, Cerro Rico mountain, barren, reddish, and austere serves as our backdrop and always as a witness. It is amazing to think that when the Spanish came during the 16th century, in such a short amount of time they had turned indigenous people and their lands into indentured servants and natural extraction projects respectively. Their goal in raising an empire only wreaked havoc on indigenous culture, ideologies, and bodies and stripped the land of dignity and respect as well.

Today, Sunday, the group is visiting a mine with Basilio, once a child laborer who worked in the mines of Cerro Rico. Again, we know these experiences are sobering, but we all must know the roots of what we, knowingly or not, benefit from daily and how it is that we can join the struggle, as Luz invited us all to do, in order to turn the tide of corruption, poverty, and structural inequality around. She said that she wanted the children of Bolivia to question but not to stay in the commentary phase. It is only by acting and joining the cause that we can construct a better tomorrow. We must join the movement–united.

This evening we will be heading to La Paz for a couple of days of trek prep before heading out on trek on Wednesday. Wish us safe travels!!

All the best,

Raquel y los instructores

Following is a picture of the group after our visit to La Casa de la Moneda or the Mint. It was the third Mint in the world that was constructed in 1572 and then moved a couple blocks away to its current location in 1773 where it still stands. Since 1952 it has stopped producing coins because it now costs more money to produce them here then to have Bolivian currency be shipped in from Canada, Chile, and France. A very harsh irony of the reality that the birthplace of silver faces.