Aktion Sodis – Supporting Bolivia's Rural Population
Together with 40 other activists, Christoph Netsch of Aktion Sodis is seeking to improve living conditions for inhabitants of the Micani region of Bolivia. The registered association under the patronage of RWTH’s vice-rector for International Affairs, Professor Ute Habel, was founded as a student initiative and is now open to all interested parties.
Christoph Netsch, who studies mechanical engineering in RWTH’s Master’s program, has done voluntary work for around 400 families in Bolivia for seven years now. These families live in the Andean highlands in small, mostly very remote villages in mud huts or isolated on mountain slopes.
Contaminated drinking water, malnutrition, low educational level, poverty and a minimal infrastructure characterize their everyday lives. Action Sodis has already achieved success with several projects, following educationalist Maria Montessori’s motto, "Help me do it by myself." In a recent project evaluation phase, Netsch visited the project site: "Communication is usually possible in Spanish. We are impressed with these people, who are motivated to change something – we want to support this 'can-do' mentality".Copyright: Aktion Sodis
Full-Time Staff on Site
A strong network supports the implementation of the projects in Bolivia: Around 20 Yachaqkuna – translated from the local Quechua language, this means "those who know" – come from the villages and were trained by Aktion Sodis. Not only are they taught knowledge and implementation skills, but also self-confidence in being able to cope with new responsibilities and the conviction that they can bring about change through their own work.
Five full-time employees, including a technical trainer, an agronomist, a social worker, an accountant, and a project coordinator are responsible for coordinating tasks and for the training of Yachaqkuna. These employees – four of them grew up in the same cultural environment and two come directly from the region – are financed by donations from foundations and companies as well as public sector project funds. Netsch also holds the office of treasurer and manages the annual budget of around 100,000 euros. "We would like to enable the Bolivian employees to visit Aachen. However, the travel costs cannot be funded at present," says Netsch.Copyright: Aktion Sodis
The Importance of Schools
The 14 small village schools in the region play an important role in the project work: the children learn how to use sanitary facilities, how to filter drinking water, and learn about the importance of hand hygiene. In school gardens, they help with plant selection and irrigation. Not only do the self-grown fruit and vegetables improve school meals, but the children also pass on their newly acquired knowledge on to their parents and siblings.
The mothers, who take turns preparing food in the village schools, are a main target group of Aktion Sodis. Traditionally, the food is prepared at open fireplaces in the huts; the smoke pollution is very high and causes life-threatening respiratory diseases. The association has therefore provided smoke-free cooking facilities in the village schools that require little wood. The women get to know them in school and, with the support of the Yachaqkuna, can then set up such cooking stoves in their huts.
Over the next three years, the association will actively promote entrepreneurship: The focus will be on the Tara tree, an indigenous, prickly and climate-friendly plant used in leather processing and as a food supplement. "After only four years, the first fruits can be harvested and sold. Together with our strategic partner SOCODEVI, we take a holistic view of the project: the Tara tree enriches the soil with nitrogen, fertilizers become superfluous, and sustainable agriculture becomes possible. Importantly, men and women work together in this project. In the strongly patriarchal Mincai, the empowerment of women justice is very important to improve gender equality. Only a few women have so far succeeded in being actively involved in decision-making processes in the community," explains Netsch.
Any Support Is Welcome
The association provides information about its activities at various events in the University and in Aachen, for example at the CHIO, at the blood drives of Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, or at the "Ehrenwert" day on Aachen’s Katschhof. "We want to become a well-known association with a strong network in Aachen. We are happy about donations as well as about people who join us, whether students, professionals, or others. Members from all academic and professional backgroundsare welcome," says board member Marie-Sophie Braun.
Stephanie Mäurer, deputy head of RWTH’s Construction Management division, became aware of Aktion Sodis in January 2019 during the annual "RWTH transparent" event. The engineer now creates technical drawings, writes and takes photographs for the association. In September she travelled to Bolivia. "I used my annual vacation to support current projects, in particular the evaluation of the nutrition project. I traveled with with Maria Lütticke, a student of environmental engineering, equipped with sleeping bags and mats, and typically we slept on the floors of schools or huts. The routes between the villages were really adventurous. I am very impressed how the various projects improve people's lives," says Mäurer.
Aktion Sodis e.V.