Trickle-Up Economics and a Dam Good Story

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

The terrain of Cochabamba, Bolivia is both breathtakingly beautiful and violently rugged.  In the shadow of its snow-covered mountains are hundreds of arid rocky hills, where horses and cows perch as skillfully as mountain goats upon the steep slopes where people too make their homes.  The high altitude (over 12,000 feet in some places!) leaves even the most skilled climbers breathless.

It takes most children over an hour to walk the winding gravel roads to school. Women who want or need to deliver their babies in a hospital typically face a three mile walk…while in labor…to the nearest health facility. The average income is just $450 a year. 

This is obviously tough land to farm, so many men leave their families behind to migrate to Santa Cruz, Argentina, or even Spain in hopes of harvesting better crops and sending some money home. This leaves women and children vulnerable to poverty, malnutrition, dangerous living conditions, and even sexual exploitation.  Some of these men return or send money; others never do. 

Cinda, a soft-spoken woman with earnest eyes, who like most women in the country wears her long black hair in two braids down her back, had three little girls and several acres of land to tend when her husband abandoned the family.  Although she had the skills she needed to harvest potatoes and beans, her planting time, yield, and variety were severely limited due to a lack of irrigation to her property. It would be difficult for her family to survive with only one adult tending the fields. 


Cinda wasn’t the only one facing a water problem.  She and her neighbors lived beneath the snow-capped mountain called Hunu. To catch the runoff from the melted snow, residents had wisely built a damn, but it was inefficient, providing water for only a few dozen families, and stirring up strife between neighbors desperate for its live-saving waters. 

Fortunately, Cinda and her family are part of a World Vision ADP (area development program).Her three girls have sponsors whose contributions are not only used to purchase school supplies and meals, but are also pooled together with other contributions to help solve community problems. Partnering with local leaders, World Vision helped the community build and maintain a better dam—a beautiful reservoir of deep blue beneath Hunu, capable of providing irrigation to ver 170 families and even stocked with fish for extra protein! The dam and irrigation system were designed by locals, built by locals, and are so well-maintained by locals that they have become completely self-sustaining with no funding from World Vision necessary. 


Now water runs swiftly through Cinda’s property, which not only yields several varieties of potatoes and beans, but also sustains a couple of llamas, a herd of sheep, and a noisy pig. In fact, Cinda produces enough crops to not only feed her own family but also to sell the excess at the market.  Against all odds, she has become a successful farmer and businesswoman.  It was all I could do to keep myself from throwing my arms around her and shouting “Woman of valor!


What I love about World Vision’s community development model is that it represents what you might call trickle-up economics. The individual needs of children reveal the needs of an entire community and so problems are solved from the ground up.  What’s even more impressive is how diligently the folks at World Vision work to get out of their own way and make projects self-sustaining. 

Just down the road from Cinda lives a mother of eight who turned ten guinea pigs into nearly 70 with some basic training from World Vision and a determination to provide enough food for her family. (Yes, they eat them here...) 


In a lot of ways, child sponsorship is like the Hunu dam.  The people of the community provide the initial resources that with the help of World Vision and its child sponsors are efficiently pooled together to overflow like streams of living water to individual families in need. 

If you’re interested in being a part of this trickle-up system, please consider sponsoring a child by clicking on this link or on the banner below. 

Just know that if you do, you may be sponsoring a dam as well! 

[To read posts from my  team members, check out World Vision's Bolivia blog.]

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