Tucked between five countries in South America, Bolivia is one of the most impoverished Latin American nations. With poverty rates just under 40 percent between 2013 and 2017, Bolivian citizens often lack basic access to health care and proper nutrition. However, Mano a Mano International (MMI), a non-profit organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota, works to improve health care in Bolivia by collecting and distributing medical supplies to underserved communities.
Rural Health Care in Bolivia
According to UNICEF, indigenous and rural citizens are at the highest risk for poverty in Bolivia, especially women and children. Similar inequalities exist between urban and rural areas: nearly 82 percent of rural Bolivians live below the poverty line, as opposed to 54 percent of Bolivians in urban areas.
This disparity between urban and rural populations also extends to health care access. Lack of infrastructure in rural areas leaves many Bolivians without the ability to receive proper medical treatment. Mano a Mano International helps make medical care accessible for rural communities across Bolivia by providing desperately needed medical supplies.
Mano a Mano International: Origin and Mission
Mano a Mano International grew out of the suitcase of one of its co-founders, Segundo Velasquez. Born into a working-class family in rural Bolivia, Velasquez witnessed the poor access to medical care in the country during his childhood. Years later, Velasquez married Joan Swanson (now Joan Velasquez), a Peace Corps volunteer, and they moved to the United States.
However, the couple never stopped thinking about how they might be able to help Bolivians. On trips back to Bolivia, Segundo Velasquez would bring medical supplies to his brother, who worked in a small hospital there. With the help of friends and family, Velasquez began collecting more and more medical supplies to take to the hospital.
Inspired by the impact of the donated medical supplies, Segundo and Joan Velasquez began looking for ways to provide life-saving medical equipment and supplies to other rural communities in Bolivia. In 1994, the non-profit organization, Mano a Mano International, was officially incorporated and it has been making significant strides to improve health care in Bolivia ever since.
Mano a Mano International’s Work
The donation efforts begin in Minnesota, where Mano a Mano volunteers and partners collect medical supplies. These efforts also reduce medical waste in the U.S., since the majority of materials that are donated would have otherwise ended up in landfills. In Mano a Mano’s U.S. warehouse, volunteers examine, sort and pack supplies for shipment.
Once they arrive at Mano a Mano International’s warehouse in Cochabamba, Bolivia, volunteers re-pack and distribute supplies to communities across Bolivia. These supplies, which include everything from wheelchairs and crutches to gauze, make real change for health centers, hospitals and clinics in Bolivia. So far this year, Mano a Mano International has received over 110,000 pounds of donated medical supplies in St. Paul and this figures are constantly increasing.
Decades after its founding, Mano a Mano International continues to grow. Its donations program alone has grown to include school and construction supplies, in addition to medical devices. Since their incorporation, Mano a Mano International has shipped a total of 3.5 million pounds of supplies for distribution. Every day, this organization takes supplies, which would almost certainly go to waste in the U.S., directly to people who need them the most.
Beyond this, Mano a Mano works for sustainable growth, economic development and health care in Bolivia. Through its counterpart organizations, Mano a Mano undertakes various projects, such as the construction of clinics and wells, to improve the quality of life in Bolivia overall. With these and many other projects, Mano a Mano improves lives across Bolivia, by making basic needs, such as water, health and education, more accessible.
– Morgan Harden
Photo: Mano a Mano