Voces Bolivianas at BarCamp Santa Cruz

Voces Bolivianas supported and took part in BarCamp Santa Cruz, which took place on Saturday, January 16. Over 100 people from across the country attended in person and partiicpated in the event. In addition, approximately 60 more followed along via the live streaming video.

BarCamps have been taking place all across the world, and this was Bolivia's 3rd such event. The first was organized by Voces Bolivianas in the city of El Alto in August 2008.

In this spirit, several members of the Voces Bolivianas community across the country played key roles in the event, including the two principle organizers, Anne Arrázola and Jessica Olivares, both of whom have coordinated workshops in Santa Cruz.

Hugo Miranda, VB's technical coordinator, gave one of the keynote addresses where he shared his life experiences in the world of web 2.0. He shared the history of Voces Bolivianas with the audience from its early beginnings in 2007.

Mario Durán also gave a presentation via Skype from his home in El Alto about the project WiFi El Alto.

A new sister project called Jaqi Aru was formally launched at BarCamp and was represented by Ruben Hilari, one of the first VB participants in El Alto, joined by Edwin Quispe.

The Launch of Voces Bolivianas USA

One of the biggest Bolivian diaspora communities is located in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. There is no concrete data to adequately count the number of Bolivian immigrants in this region. However, the presence of Bolivian newspapers like Los Tiempos USA, a version of the Cochabamba daily, numerous restaurants like Luzmila's, bakeries that make the famous Salteñas, and folkloric dance troupes, proves that there is an active and vibrant diaspora.

Despite these large numbers of immigrants, and their families, many of whom are born in the U.S., there is not much information about the realities of life as an immigrant, struggles of identity for those living in a bi-cultural world, or simply about the day-to-day activities of Bolivians living far from home.

In keeping with the mission of Voces Bolivianas, which is to work with underrepresented communities, we have decided to begin the first series of workshops outside of the Bolivian borders. On July 12, six participants took part in the first workshop to learn about blogs and each created his or her own blog. Subsequent classes will focus on content creation, including the posting of photos and videos and how to incorporate themselves into the greater Voces Bolivianas community.

Through a partnership with the Santa Maria Episcopal Church in Falls Church, Virginia, we were able to promote these workshops to take place in their computer classroom with highspeed internet, which they graciously provided for the classes. After the 9 a.m. mass, those interested were invited to register for the courses, and there is hope that the rest of the participants who signed up will be able to attend the 2nd workshops scheduled for July 26.

It was decided that Sundays would be the best day for the classes since many already were attending mass that day. However, life in the U.S. is often busy for all with other commitments, football matches, and other family functions.

Voces Bolivianas Summit

This weekend, the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia will play host to the first annual Voces Bolivianas Summit. The three-day event is being called “Web 2.0 Para Todos” (Web 2.0 for Everyone) and is attracting 25 members of the Voces Bolivianas community, including participants and trainers. The festivities will include a public conference, mini-workshops, group discussions and a chance for everyone to get to know one another.

Here is the poster for the January 30 event:

Helping Bolivians in Argentina Find Their Voice

Estimates place the number of Bolivian immigrants living in neighboring Argentina anywhere from 250,000 to 1,000,000. Many crossed the border to find greener pastures, and its close proximity made it easier for many families to make the leap in comparison to other destinations such as the United States and Spain.

News from Argentina regarding the Bolivian population rarely make it to Bolivia unless it is about mistreatment, discrimination or other tragedies. However, we know that there is a rich tradition of Bolivians adapting to new surroundings, maintaining their customs, and participating in many positive activities.

Voces Bolivianas is pleased to announce its first step towards expanding our activities to work with the Bolivian population in Argentina. Earlier this year, we received an email from Juan Vasquez a member of the youth group Juventud Boliviana (Bolivian Youth). They already had a website, but wanted to find out more information about the use of blogs.

During a visit to Buenos Aires, I was able to meet Juan and show him firsthand examples of blogs and indicated that we would be very interested in helping him set up and maintain his own blog. When I returned to Bolivia, I received an email with the address to his blog that he created called Un Boliviano en la Argentina [es] (A Bolivian in Argentina).

Through email and instant messaging, I have been able to answer his questions, provide tips and support his blog. He also indicated that he would like to be a part of the Voces Bolivianas community and placed the badge “I Belong to Voces Bolivianas” on his site.

Even though he wants to use the site to tell others about the realities of Bolivians living in Argentina, which includes abuse from the police and other problems, he also writes about the positive activities in the community. His recent post is about a solidarity event for children called “Jovenes Unidos Por Los Niños” (United Youth for the Children), where different groups will help provide toys and provide games for Bolivian and other children in the neighborhood. See here for the flyer. The groups in the neighborhood..

se reunen para darles a los niños ya sean bolivianos o nó, una grata tarde en la cual como primer objetivo ellos puedan recordar los juegos q al dejar nuestro país dejaron de jugar, esos con los q crecieron y aprendieron las lecciones q solo la vida te la da a tan corta edad.

get together to give children, Bolivian or not, an enjoyable afternoon where the primary objective will be to show them the games that they left behind when they came to this country and which they grew up with, as well as learn lessons that are given at that age.

His group will participate once again this year on January 10th, and he summarizes last year's event, which only expected 300 children and in the end attracted more than 700 children.

La tarde fué emocionante desde un principio, ya q a la convocatoria no solamente se aproximaron mas jovenes sino tambien personas con alegria y con ganas de donar un poquito de lo q tenia para q alcanse para todos los chicos.

Tambien se acercaron personas con regalos, ropas, gaseosas, o con un simple pero importantisimo “puedo ayudar en algo?”

The afternoon was exciting from the very start, because not only more young people attended, but also other joyful people, who had the desire to donate a little of what they had so that it was enough for all of the children.

Other people came by with presents, clothes, soft drinks or with the simple, but important question, “can I help with something?”

We are looking forward to working more with Juan and his group and be able to expand our support for Bolivians living in Argentina.

Connectivity and Posting Frequency

Since the beginning of the Voces Bolivianas projects, it can be roughly estimated that 20% of the trained participants continue to write in their blogs after the classes end. Some might argue that this number is way too low for the resources invested into the project, while most would probably agree that the number is higher than the average for the general public, for those who open blogs and continue to write. It is, however, something that we are continuing to address.

Without a doubt, one of the main reasons for the decline in activity is connectivity issues. Based on demographic polling, only 1-2% of participants have internet at home. For regular bloggers, they can attest that this steady access really encourages regular posting. Recently, we have seen how this has helped with the production of content with the blog of Ruben Hilari.

Ruben, originally form El Alto, is a languages study at the public university, and he also ran a language school for students wanting to learn English and Aymara. Recently, Ruben received the opportunity to study and teach at a school in upstate New York, where he has been for the past few months. We have also seen the frequency of his updates increased as a direct result of having internet access at school and in his room.

For example, he has written about the holiday of Halloween [es], other special days at the school and about his first two weeks in the United States (translation):

-Of course, before starting the trip I was nervous and stressed.
-I was excited for my first flight and I could see the “Illimani” (mountain overlooking La Paz) up close.
-For the first time, I saw a giant airport where the planes were side by side like taxis
-Another things that impressed me was in Miami, the majority of people spoke English or Spanish.
-The first thing that Anne (host) told me was to put on my seatbelt or she would be fined. It appears that there is no cars without seatbelts.
-That night I rested in an American house, where I felt that everything was automated.
-Another thing that impressed me was that I didn't understand many of the things that they said to me in English, even though I had studied and I had taught English. It is nice for one's head to hurt trying to understand the English that they speak after having studied and taught English in Bolivia.
-It is very common to see supermarkets and nothing in streets like in La Paz.
-Peter, the school's principal, told me that they don't want to the school to be homogeneous, rather heterogenous.

The blog has helped him communicate to his friends and family back in El Alto about his new experiences in the new land.

One Year Anniversary

Last month, Voces Bolivianas published their annual evaluation in which the challenges and successes . Now, one of our most celebrated blogger, Cristina Quisbert of Bolivia Indigena [es] commemorates this anniversary:

It is well known that there are not as many bloggers than there are in other countries. The majority of bloggers are concentrated in La Paz and Santa Cruz and these are primarily in the capital cities. However, when Voces Bolivianas arrived to El Alto, I consider that they planted an important seed so that young people and adults can begin to use the blog as an instrument to communicate realities, knowledge and feelings.

A Look Back at the Past 11 Months

Blogger Virginio Sandy arrived in La Paz for the 2nd annual national Bolivian bloggers conference. Mr. Sandy is an indigenous “authority” of his ayllu, who is selected on a rotating basis to be a leader of his community. During his presentation on the panel of Digital Literacy, he explained how his community lacks electricity, much less internet. However, he conveyed the importance of maintaining his blog, as it has become a two-way window to the rest of the world. At the conference, he joined 10 of his fellow Voces Bolivianas participants, who came from El Alto, rural communities on the Altiplano, and Santa Cruz. These participants made up a large percentage of those in attendance, and achieved that the gathering was much more representative in nature.

The new bloggers, members of the Voces Bolivianas team, and bloggers at large all interacted in person, and regardless of ethnicity, geography or social class and in essence, what the project is all about. Success can be measured in the number of blogs created, as well as the number of posts written, but narratives such as seeing real relationships built has shown that Voces Bolivianas has accomplished some of its mission.

With the Public Conference held on August 29, which drew 83 attendees and the Barcamp, where 16 bloggers showcased their projects and ideas, Voces Bolivianas completed its first year. What had started in September 2007 as a one-time workshop for 23 residents of El Alto expanded due to necessity, interest, and the commitment of all those who have taken part. Even though there is much to improve upon, there is definite interest in continuing through 2009. Some of the highlights of 2007-2008 include:


* The completion of three multi-month projects – El Alto I, El Alto II, and Santa Cruz I
* Bolivian Voices Day on April 19 with the help of many national bloggers in 9 sites in 6 cities.
* Travel scholarships offered to attend the 1st and 2nd Bloggers Conferences
* Additional workshops in Achacahi, Trinidad and Sucre (workshops have reached 6 of the 9 country's department)
* Translation of content to English and the indigenous language of Aymara
* Presentations at We Media in Miami and the Global Voices Summit in Budapest
* Participants acted as guide for foreign journalists
Laptop Cover Fundraiser
* Public Conference and Barcamp/Fair in El Alto
* Media Coverage in national newspapers, La Nación of Argentina, BBC World, and the Organization for American States Magazine

Even though there is much to celebrate, the team knows that there is much to improve upon and much yet to be accomplished. Over an organizational team luncheon, there were discussions about the direction, especially for the rest of the calendar year. Much of this will be a prelude to the Voces Bolivianas summit, which will be held in December in the city of Cochabamba, where much of the future of Voces Bolivianas will be decided involving many of the stakeholders that have participated in this process.


Much of the success of the project is due to the commitment and passion of team members who believe in the mission of spreading the use of citizen media to underrepresented groups. Even though the initial grant money from Rising Voices completed in March, team members continued with tasks and iniatives in their free time. In addition, many more bloggers and supporters of the project have joined the cause and have volunteered their time, for example, on Bolivian Voices Day, where 19 bloggers took part in the implementing the training sessions. This support nationally from bloggers is essential, and includes many reading the new blogs. Interest from potential students, organizations and institutions is high and there is a waiting list to take part in future actitvities.


The Bolivian blog community Blogs Bolivia [es] noted that a small number of original workshop attendees have continued writing in their blogs. One can point to the lack of access, lack of time, and lack of habit of writing. This carries over to the workshops,where Voces Bolivianas must rely on public, costly and unreliable internet cafes for workshops. Another weakness is an informing, yet evolving teaching curriculum, which is not consistent. Students have asked for manuals, yet a definitive and all-encompassing manual has yet to be developed. Finally, even though there is a lot of commitment by the team, each has their own jobs, other projects and other responsabilities that often have to come before the tasks of Voces Bolivianas. A lack of legal standing is an obstacle to receiving larger amounts of funding.


Due to the high interest, the organization can be choose more carefully with which groups and organizations to work. High visibility nationally also attracts potential trainers and the ability to expand to new regions of the country. Due to the multi-talented potential of the team, there is an opportunity to branch out to other areas, such as citizen journalism, web entrepreneurship, and other media projects. The interest and support internationally has yet to be tapped to its full potential.


An informal adminstrative structure can leave the organization open to skepticism by outside observers, which would overshadow the work of Voces Bolivianas. In addition, there is also the possibility of trying to expand for the sake of expanding and spreading the team too thin. Having a part-time coordinating team can often leave tasks unfinished due to lack of time.

Ready for Busy Week in El Alto, Bolivia: Conference and Barcamp

The 2nd annual bloggers conference called Bloguivianos [es] will take place in El Alto and La Paz on August 29 and 30. The organizing committee had asked Voces Bolivianas to be in charge of the festivities in the city of El Alto. After discussion, Voces Bolivianas will put on a public conference for members of the general public in El Alto, featuring talks by prominent national bloggers regarding blogs, fotos, videos, podcasts and social networking sites.

Following the public conference, the first ever Barcamp and Fair will take place in the afternoon of the 29th. An open call for bloggers [es] to come and present their blogs and web projects was announced on the Voces Bolivianas and Bloguivianos websites.

barcamp bolivai

Once again, Voces Bolivianas is offering travel scholarships [es] to bloggers from underrepresented groups and regions. It will be a busy week in El Alto, but many of the participants from the first two El Alto projects have offered to help with the day's activities.

Scholarships for National Bloggers Conference

For the 2nd year, Voces Bolivianas is offering travel scholarships to blogges from underrepresented groups to attend the annual bloggers conference. This year, the event will take place in the cities of El Alto and La Paz on August 29-30. Last year, one of the scholarship winners was Cristina Quisbert, who had just started out with her blog. This year, Voces Bolivianas hopes to award at least 4 scholarships.

From the Voces Bolivianas in English site:

Voces Bolivianas is an organization that seeks to create spaces where Bolivian voices from underrepresented groups or regions can be heard. Using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), such as blogs, digital photography, video and audio, Voces Bolivianas continuall looks for ways to promote this mission.

Through the use of workshops, Voces Bolivianas teaches the use of participatory and citizen’s media to underrepresented groups. In order to support and promote greater representation from other regions, cities and other sectors of societies, Voces Bolivainas is offering travel scholarships for bloggers from these groups to attend the national bloggers conference on August 29-30.

Travel Grants

In the spirt of supporting persons from these underrepresented groups, so that there is constant participation and dialogue, Voces Bolivianas will offer travel grants to bloggers or others who are using these participatory media tools (photos, videos, audio) in Bolivia so that they can attend and participate in Bloguivianos 2008 in the city of El Alto and La Paz on August 29 and 30.

The number and amount of each scholarship will depend on the amount of requests received and amount requested.

In order to be considered:

Write in your blog an entry responding to the following question (300-400 words)

How can blogs help create bridges between regions, social classes, ethnicities or cultures in Bolivia? Do you have an example from your personal experience?

Once you have completed the essay, please send the link to: becas (at) vocesbolivianas (dot) org with the following information:

1. City where you will be traveling from/where you live
2. Full name / e-mail / telephone / cell phone
3. Blog address or of the site where you use citizen’s media (videos, photos, podcasts, etc.)
4. How much funds will you need? (please only ask for the amount that you really need so that more people can receive assistance – we cannot cover plane tickets).
5. Deadline: August 10 at 17:00

Scholarship winners must be able to commit to attending both days of the gathering (August 29 and 30).

We will contact winners by August 15 via email and we will announce winners on the websites: vocesbolivianas.org and 2008.bloguivianos.org

The scholarship will be reimbursed upon presentation of a receipt of the transport or housing company. The scholarship can also be used for accommodations.

For more information, please write to Eduardo [at] vocesbolivianas [dot] org.

Voces Bolivianas Begins in Trinidad

Many Bolivians, when asked whether they have traveled throughout Bolivia, they often answer, “Everywhere, but Pando and Beni.” These two departments are situated in the Bolivian Amazon region and rarely make the headline of the national press, except when they experience devastating natural disasters. Very few bloggers come from these regions and thanks to the efforts on of the few local bloggers, Ericka Pinto, all of that might change providing knowledge about these participatory tools so that residents of Trinidad in the department of Beni can begin to write about their communities.

On Saturday, July 5, Ericka held a workshop with 19 participants, who learned the basics of blogs and created their own. Thanks to a partnership with a local university, Univalle, which provided their computer lab free of charge, the latest Voces Bolivianas took place in our 8th city across the country. This is only the beginning of this expansion, as Ericka indicated that support to these new bloggers will continue.

We are very pleased to welcome Ericka and salute her commitment to help provide these tools to the Voices in Trinidad.

Picture from the workshop taken by Ericka Pinto. See the rest of the photos on her blog.


More information to come.