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DW AKADEMIE

kulturweit: Salteñas, sorojchi and cablecars

Maria Claudia Hacker, a volunteer with the German kulturweit program, experiences everyday life in the metropolis La Paz and finds out what makes the Bolivian people and politics tick.

kulturweit Bolivien Freiwilligendienst

Maria Hacker (5th fr.l.) feels at home with her colleagues at the Fundacíon para el Periodismo (FPP)

It's eight in the morning on a Saturday and I find myself in a cemetery in La Paz. Next to me, a man's having his makeup applied in preparation for his role in a short film being shot here about machismo. This is the prevailing macho mentality here - a scourge that continues to afflict Bolivian society. As I'm also one of the actors, I'm right in the middle of the action.

That's right, even acting - which happens to be a passion of mine - is among the diverse activities I've been able to enjoy thanks to DW Akademie's partnership in this volunteer project in Bolivia. It allows me to discover a foreign culture from the inside out in a way that would have been impossible if I had just been travelling around.

That's mainly what motivated me to apply to kulturweit, a cultural volunteer service jointly supported by Germany's Federal Foreign Office and the German Commission for UNESCO. What I wanted from the project was the chance to broaden my perspective by getting some life experience beyond the lecture hall, both on a personal and journalistic level.

kulturweit Bolivien Freiwilligendienst

With DW Akademie colleague Camilla Hildebrand (right) Maria visited a Community Radio in El Alto

I was deployed to work for the Fundacíon para el Periodismo (Foundation for Journalism, FPP) and was pleasantly surprised to find that all of my colleagues were native Bolivians. "Super!" I enthused. "It'll make it that much easier for me to tap into the Bolivian spirit." When I'm not busy hanging out and making films in graveyards, I write press releases and stories about the current challenges the city of La Paz is facing and about my own personal experiences. My articles are then published on the FPP homepage and in the FPP magazine, La Paz Cómo Vamos.

Potpourri of impressions

Another thing I love is pitching in to help the FPP team organize and conduct the countless events and activities they put on here, such as further education courses and journalism workshops. In the midst of all the activities it's quite possible that I suddenly find myself shaking hands with the city mayor, Luis Revilla, for example. I'm also connecting with many of the journalists who come to the Foundation to hone their professional skills, an area where the FPP collaborates very closely with DW Akademie.

Now and then during the workshops, I'm even able to meet some of Latin America's media luminaries; journalists like Olga Lucía Lozano, founder of the Colombian online news platform La Silla Vacía (The Empty Chair), which combines political analysis, blogging, and community journalism; or Santiago Radice, social media editor for the leading Argentine newspaper, Clarín.

kulturweit Bolivien Freiwilligendienst

Editorial conference, team planning and organization

When my DW Akademie colleague, Camilla Hildebrandt, came here to teach a radio workshop in El Alto, I was also allowed to accompany her. That introduced me to local radio stations, and before I knew it I was on-air as "guest of the day" at Radio Atipiri.

Everyday life in colorful La Paz

Bolivia itself is as multifaceted as my daily life in La Paz: a land of contrasts, with vastly diverse landscapes and big cities, where tradition and modernity appear to overlap seamlessly. For four months now I've been living in La Paz, which, at 3,600 meters above sea level, is the world's highest major metropolis and seat of government. Although I suffered from altitude sickness or "sorojchi" in the first few weeks, I can now conquer the steepest streets with ease, just like a real "paceña."

But no, I can't kid myself. I'm not able to claim native status just yet. I'm reminded of that whenever I take the bus, whenever I go shopping and especially whenever I try to eat "salteñas." These doughy pasties filled with meat and soup make it almost impossible for rookies to tackle them without making an embarrassing mess.

kulturweit Bolivien Freiwilligendienst

Film shoot for report about "Machismo." Mari Hacker is one of the actors

Bolivia is currently at an important stage in its development. Bolivia's embroiled in a land dispute with Chile about Bolivia's claim of access rights to the ocean, and in September 2015, the International Court of Justice dismissed attempts by Chile to block the proceedings and will now hear the case in the Hague. Bolivians hailed it as a victory, and many of them communicated their jubilation via the hashtag #MarParaBolivia.

But not everything is rosy when it comes to daily life in Bolivia. In La Paz, minibus drivers are ramping up their walkouts in a battle for higher wages - fares have been practically frozen for years now. Whenever they go on strike, the normally chaotic streets of La Paz are virtually swept clean of traffic.


Citizens who are surveyed about quality of life in La Paz name traffic problems and a lack of security as the city's two biggest challenges. But there have been positive developments on both fronts. The city's cable car transit system, the Teleférico, has just celebrated its first birthday. It's so popular that its three lines will soon be increased to six. As far as security is concerned, pedestrians are benefitting from a friendly cadre of people dressed as zebras, who help them safely on their way, and from police officers who help them cross the busiest streets. A tourist-police hotline has also been set up.

Thus far, I've rarely had any free time here in La Paz. But happily that's because, in my second week here, I was given the honor of participating in the FPP's third Journalism Masters module, which offers a qualification in online journalism. So for my first three months here, I diligently attended university every day after work, from Monday to Friday. The university was luckily just two apartment blocks away from FPP headquarters, and I learned a lot there about the origins of the internet, Web security, systems development, and how to effectively use social networks.

Thanks to the course, my work and my acting stint in the cemetery, I've met friendly and fascinating people and am starting to feel increasingly at home in this exciting city. And I feel in my bones that soon the day will come when I'll be able to eat my first salteña without spilling a drop...

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