The Power of Identification – Transforming Communities

In 2007 Lutheran World Relief partnered  with Fundación Tierra (The Land Foundation) to help nearly 30,000 rural Bolivians officially register with the state, allowing them to gain access to better health services, obtain jobs and secure land to farm. Here’s the story of some of the people affected:

Manuel Flores, a Quechua-speaking farmer has just enough land to grow food for his family to eat, but not sell. Like nearly 20% of Bolivia’s rural population, Manuel has no legal identification, making it nearly impossible to conduct official business, secure loans or land, or access government services. “It was hard to save enough money for my I.D.,” he explained. “We literally had to take the bread away from our children and save that money to pay for the document.”

LWR worked with Fundación Tierra to tear down the immediate cost barrier to documentation by covering much of the payment for new documents. But LWR and Fundación Tierra also advocated for decentralized services — reducing the cost and time of travel for rural citizens seeking documents.  We also began an educational campaign of radio ads, fliers and training of local leaders to encourage people to apply for documents.

The documentation project has brought almost 30,000 rural Bolivians into legal standing.

Community leader Pablo Soles reports that 50% of his community applied for documentation as a result of the campaign. Elida Gutierrez, who works for the Civil Registry, said, “I agreed to help with this, even got on the radio encouraging people to participate. So many people signed up. I was surprised and then thought, oh no! I’m going to be working night and day!” People did not need to be convinced to get documentation; they knew there were important benefits to having I.D.

The efforts paid off. According to Pablo, “Documents have improved people’s lives. The elderly can now get support from the government and I hear some people talking about taking out loans [to improve farming ventures].” He explains that people are less afraid to travel now, and he notes another benefit of the project, “People at the Registry are respectful now. They attend to us and even take time to talk with us.”

Daisy Flores and her mother, Feliza Garcia de Tomina

For 12-year-old Daisy, the project means her family eats better. It also means that she will be able to finish high school. Her father had been trying for years to get a better job, but due to spelling errors in his last name on the card, it was impossible. He received a corrected version during the documentation campaign and soon was able to get a job at a local factory. He now earns more than double what he did before, has health benefits and can afford Daisy’s school fees. “He is also able to purchase more meat for us,” says Daisy. “And he’s saving money to invest in a lot to build a house.”

Felix Santillan, whose wife received her I.D. through the project, sums up the importance of LWR’s efforts like this: “Well yes, this is a big deal! My wife can now participate in civic life for the first time. She can vote, she can be more involved in development projects, she could even own land, maybe more than I will!”

In Bolivia, with your support, and the work of strong partners like Fundación Tierra thousands of small-scale farmers now have I.D. in hand, and a better chance to make critical investments in their wellbeing and economic futures.