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December 2020 newsletter


John O’Donoghue, Bolivia


Supervising Walter’s physical therapy exercises at the parallel bars

Dear friends, greetings from Cochabamba, Bolivia!

It’s spring time in our part of the world, and for the past few weeks we have been averaging around 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoons. Spring is the hottest season here. Although summer is hot too, it is also the rainy season, and this helps to keep the temperature down.

Emergency food distribution by the Missionaries of Charity

On Nov. 8, 2020, the new president, Luis Arce, was inaugurated into office. For the next five years, he and his political party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement toward Socialism), known as MAS for short, will rule Bolivia. Luis Arce is an economist by training with many years of experience, and he will need this to turn the economy around. Unemployment is high, and like in so many countries around the world, the coronavirus has taken its toll on the economy.

The election this year was peaceful and fair — a relief for so many people who were expecting more violence after what happened last year when the country was plunged into chaos and political gridlock. However, the day after the new government was sworn in, the ex-president, Evo Morales, returned from Argentina, where he was given political asylum. Many Bolivians feel this is a very bad idea and are suspicious about his intentions. Evo Morales still has a lot of political support in Bolivia and within the MAS party. There is a feeling that from behind the scenes he will unduly influence the new president, but at the moment there is a wait-and-see attitude.

People are hoping the new president can stand on his own two feet and distance himself from Evo. The last thing Bolivia needs is a return to more violence.

As of Dec. 12, Bolivia has had more than 147,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 9,000 people have died. The population of the country is over 11 million. The government has done reasonably well in combating the virus and “flattening the curve.” The majority of the population have followed the government health protocols and have worn face masks, tried to social-distance, and observed safe hygiene practices. However, during the pandemic, poverty has increased substantially, and there are tough times ahead, and there is a growing fear that when the weather gets colder, Bolivia will experience a “second wave” of the virus like Europe and the U.S.

Returning with my Bolivian colleague, Denis, after food distribution

As a result of the effects of the coronavirus, we are now doing daily food distributions at the Missionaries of Charity, where I work. Everyday there are people showing up at our back gate looking for food. We try to get them to break up into small groups of five at a time and to social-distance. The majority of them are wearing face masks but not all.

In our part of Cochabamba, the Zona Sud, there is a feeling among some that the virus has passed, and this is a bad sign. We mostly hand out 2-kilo plastic bags of rice, flour, sugar and some cooking oil to each person. The sisters know just about everyone in the community and are able to tell those who have the greatest need, and they keep a list of the names of everyone that has received food. However, there is a limit to what they can do, and they have to monitor the situation very carefully.

I still do daily physical therapy exercises with a number of our disabled patients. This involves simple hand and leg exercises, and also using very light-weight lifting tools (1.5kg and 2kg dumb bells) to strengthen arm muscles. For those who are trying to regain strength in their leg muscles to hopefully walk again, I monitor their progress as they use our parallel bars in our small outside rehab center. All of this is done while attempting to keep at a safe social distance, but I must say that is not easy.

Best regards to everyone, and thank you for your support. It is most appreciated. Be safe during this difficult time of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cochabamba, Bolivia


John O'Donoghue
John serves in a men’s HIV/AIDS Shelter with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Cochabamba, Bolivia.