During my time so far in Bolivia, I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about the culture. One of the most influential learning expereinces I have had so far was from our visit to Potosi. Potosi used to be the richest and largest city in the world due to all of the silver in Cerra Rico. All of the silver that was mined in Potosi was used to fund the New World Spanish Empire but by the 1800´s most of the silver ran out causing a slow economic decline. Now the city is so poor that a lot of the children have to work to help support their families.
For a while child labor was illegal in Potosi but regardless, children were still working out of necessity. Eventually a union of child workers got together to legalize child labor so that they could be treated fairly no matter what their age. Now, child labor is legal in Potosi and these kids are able to work with proper protection from local child labor organizations. One of the leaders of this child labor organizations came to speak with us in Potosi. We were able to ask questions about the kids and understand how their program works. After that we were taken into groups to witness these children at work.
I was put into the shoe shining group. My friend Adam and I were partnered up together with two kids, one 10 years old and the other 11. Both of these kids shine shoes three hours a day, three days a week, in the mornings. Right when we sat down a swarm of Bolivians came to observe what we were doing and most of them were getting a good laugh out of it wondering what two gringos were doing shining shoes.
Now, I´m not going to act like I know what these kids have to do to support their families but I did get a small taste of what their lives can be like. I didn´t only learn about why these kids had to work but I also got the chance to experience them working, making it one of the most impactful learning experiences I have ever had.