This Indigenous Teenager Dreams Of A Better World In Bolivia

Tik Tok, poetry and playing football in the Bolivian Altiplano: The life and dreams of an Indigenous teenager in a time of climate extremes
UN World Food Programme in Climate Action
Wednesday, 9 August 2023

Meet Cilda Mamani. Equally at ease in the traditional dress of her native Indigenous community as she is in the emerald green jersey of her local indoors football team, Cilda is an 18-year-old student at Urus Andino school in the Bolivian Andes. Her town sits 3,600 mt above sea level and is home to one of the oldest civilizations on the American continent.

Like all teenagers around the world, Cilda loves Tik Tok and sports. But when asked what inspires her, she is quick to respond: “my people”.

Her people are the Uru Chipaya, or ‘people of the water’, an ancient community with over 2,000 members. For centuries, the Uru Chipaya built their livelihoods around Lake Poopó, the second largest lake in Bolivia after Titicaca. But extreme climate conditions are changing the landscape.

Today, the lake is all but dried up. The fish, birds and plants are gone and, as a consequence, so are many community members. Cilda has seen friends and family pack their bags and migrate in search of better futures – mostly to work in farming in neighboring Chile. “It is very sad,” she says.

Cilda wants this to change. “Our youth must think big,” she says. “We must try and create economic opportunities here, in the land of our forefathers.”

One of her dreams is to set up the community’s first bakery using skills she has acquired through a gastronomy course at school. At the moment, all the bread and sweets available in Chipaya come in from the nearest city, Oruro, but that is very expensive. Cilda’s idea would help stimulate the local economy while also providing a service to the community. “We could bake cakes using local ingredients, like quinoa,” says Cilda. Quinoa, one of South America's superfoods is packed with nutrients; it is also a great source of protein and fiber.

Having grown up listening to stories told by her grandmother – a traditional medicine woman, or curandera – Cilda is very keen to preserve her people’s heritage. Language is key. From a young age, she has been writing poems in Uru, which she describes as “the best way for me to express myself.” 

However, new generations are losing the ability to speak it. “Many of our teachers come from other areas and do not speak Uru. As the children spend more time at school than they do at home, it is difficult to keep the language alive,” she says. She hopes she will be able to follow in the footsteps of her father, who is an Uru teacher. 

To mitigate the effects of weather extremes in Cilda’s community and maintain cultural cohesion, the World Food Programme (WFP) is implementing a project to increase the availability of water in support of fresh vegetables farming and the rearing of farm animals.

Community members themselves can chose what project to participate in, whether its building systems to harness rainwater to service their homes and schools or digging canals, building irrigation systems and developing fishing ponds, water troughs and greenhouses. As local women have increasingly taken up handicrafts to help bring food to the table, WFP will support them in setting up workshops and connecting them to markets.

“Indigenous Peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment,” asdefined by the UN. Supporting their self-determination is not just a basic human right, but helps maintain their cultural knowledge for future generations. Although indigenous people only make up 5% of the global population, studies show that they safeguard 80% of the world’s biodiversity. This day, and every day, let's celebrate #IndigenousPeoplesDay.