Calle de las Brujas (the Witches’ Street) is one of the most emblematic corners of La Paz, a place where a multitude of small shops and street stalls sell crafts and local products. It is not uncommon to catch street vendors dressed in their traditional cholita dresses sitting and chatting with each other next to the counters, waiting for customers to arrive. Sometimes, you can even spot a small child playing by their side, or a sleeping baby tucked in an improvised crib built using cardboard boxes.
In Bolivia, reconciling work and family life has become a significant problem for many families. Women’s rapid integration into the labour market has come about without complementary measures that contribute in assisting with childcare during working hours. Merely a few years ago, in large cities such as La Paz, day care facilities were scarce and, for the most part, private centres. As such, many families were unable to bear the cost of sending their children there. As a result, they were faced with two alternatives: resort to relatives or neighbours to help take care of their children or if and when possible, they were forced to take them to work with them. In the cases of single mothers or families with disabled children, the situation became almost unbearable.
More than ten years ago, when we opened the Mario Losantos del Campo Preschool Centre in El Tejar (one of the most humble neighbourhoods of La Paz), our intention was to respond to that silent necessity and offer families with low-incomes comprehensive care for their children between the ages of 0 and 5. The number of requests soon overwhelmed us, to the point that at present we have capacity for 90 children. In addition, our facility offers a broad schedule that greatly aids in reconciling work and family life.
A transformative catalyst
However, over the years, we have established that MLC’s Preschool Centre has had a more meaningful impact on the life of the neighbourhood’s community. We have not only helped families by securing a safe and affordable place for their children, we have also endorsed female employment by providing formal work to more than twenty women (ranging from cooks to office administrators and educators). Moreover, we have also boosted the economic growth of this small community, and provided support to families encountering vulnerable situations.
Currently, due to the significant economic effects arising from the Covid-19 pandemic in Bolivia, many families face a precarious situation. Consequently, more women have been forced to seek work outside their homes. And once again, our centre has proved vital in restoring normalcy in the neighbourhood.