A letter from Cochabamba - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Summer 2021 newsletter


John O’Donoghue, Bolivia


Women waiting for food by the back gate of the Missionaries of Charity

Dear friends, greetings from Cochabamba, Bolivia!

Winter has begun here on June 21. The coronavirus crisis still dominates the daily news, as it does in the rest of the world. Although we have fewer cases here than our neighbors in Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil, the situation here is still bad. The local hospitals and their intensive care units are filled to capacity with COVID cases, and there is a critical shortage of medical oxygen. To date, Bolivia has recorded over 400,000 cases of the virus and over 15,000 deaths. The P1 variant of the virus that is very severe and transmissible in Brazil has arrived in Bolivia. The number of people vaccinated in Bolivia is just over 3%.

Preparing for food distribution. Each bag contains 20 pounds of food.

President Luis Arce has just completed seven months in office, and so far he is receiving mixed reviews. The arrest of the previous interim president Jeanine Anez on charges of sedition has shocked Bolivia, and she is now in prison awaiting trial. President Arce is under a lot of pressure to deal with the twin problems of the pandemic and a poor economy with a growing number of unemployed.

The pandemic has been a major setback to the economy. At this time there is still a critical shortage of vaccines in the country, and Bolivia is hoping that Russia and China will come to their aid. Both of these countries previously delivered vaccines to Bolivia.

As I write this, we have undergone another limited lockdown here in Cochabamba. From Monday to Friday, people can move about between the hours of 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., and after that the city closes down. On Sundays, Saturdays and holidays, there is a total lockdown. The police and the military are charged with making sure that people follow all the health protocols, such as wearing masks and staying off the streets during lockdown.

At the Missionaries of Charity, where I work, we continue to deliver services during this difficult time of the pandemic. There is a lot of unemployment and hunger in our area, and recently a lot of crime, especially robberies. The police are trying their best to get a handle on the situation. I heard one policeman remark that “this pandemic has made so many people desperate.”

We recently distributed food to 300 people. Everyone had to wear face masks for this distribution and break up into very small groups and maintain a safe social distance. On a daily basis, we still have numerous people come to our back gate looking for food.

Carlos, recovering from a lung infection, working out on our new exercise bicycle

Our patients living with disabilities are doing fine and continue with their daily routines of exercise and assigned work tasks. They like to congregate in our small rehab area in the garden and exercise and talk with their friends. We are trying to develop more our rehab area, and recently we bought some new exercise equipment. We have a small group of 15 patients at the moment, and they like to play games and exercise as best they can to try and keep themselves busy.

All of the elderly patients have been vaccinated by now, and the younger ones will soon be vaccinated. The sisters told me that in all their time in Bolivia, never have times been as difficult as they are now, but they know that through prayer, hard work and the grace of God, they will get through it.

Here in Bolivia and Latin America in general, people are so aware of the improvements being made in the United States and Europe against the coronavirus that there is a fear that the developing nations will be forgotten. It is very encouraging that President Biden has promised a major donation of 500 million doses of the vaccine to developing nations.

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.