Monday, March 17, 2014

Say Ireland ... Think Bolivia

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

May green beer and corned beef brighten your day.

May our Irish heritage and jilty tunes filled with bodhran and flutes warm your heart.

May happy tales and words of affection for all you love fill the air on this day we celebrate that snake-banishing, Welsh-born saint we call Patrick!

On this special Irish day, however, I have one request:

When you say, "Ireland," just think, "Bolivia."

This, of course, is a play on a scene in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid where Butch, the man with ideas, explains why he and the Kid should go to Bolivia. He describes the rich mines and all the wealth they could collect with their bank robbing skills. Comparing Bolivia to the old Gold Rush in California, Butch ultimately says:

So when I say, "Bolivia," you just think, "California."

I trade California and Ireland for one simple reason. Bolivia and Ireland share histories with similar struggles, influences, and high points.

  • Both are physically isolated geographically. Bolivia by mountains and its landlocked modern borders. Ireland by the sea.
  • Both influenced the world during Europe's Dark Ages. Bolivia with the Tiwanaku culture. Ireland with its monasteries, monks and scribes who kept copies of the great books of antiquity and later re-spread Christianity through Europe.
  • Both have often been invaded by foreign powers. Bolivia with the Huari, the Inca, and later the Spanish. Ireland with the Romans, the Vikings, and later the English.
  • Both suffered through centuries of poverty while a small number of people, often foreigners, gained wealth from control of the land and resources.
  • Both were affected by periods of massive death bordering on genocide. Bolivian natives dying of smallpox, cholera and other Old World diseases, and later working in the silver mines, after the Spanish arrived. The Irish through the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century.
  • Both have seen a significant emigration of its young and talented looking for opportunities abroad over the years.
  • Both cling to their traditional languages while trying to forge ahead in the modern world. Bolivia with Aymara and Quechua. Ireland with Gaelic. 

Yet their histories do differ in many ways today. Ireland has done well this past century -- its economy is secure, children are educated, health care excellent. Bolivia on the other hand still struggles --  its economy is weak, it struggles with narco-traffickers, its children often work rather than attend school, and the medical system is impoverished (only $235 per person per year on health care).

So today, while celebrating St. Patrick's Day, you may raise a glass in cheer for Ireland, or shed a tear when hearing Danny Boy, or share special moments with family and friends, but please also pause and remember Bolivia, the kindred spirit of Ireland!

We are working to make a better future for Bolivian children. Support our efforts with a donation to the AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children. Then pass the word so others can understand the history and the need.

We are getting started and your help so far has given us the footing we need. Word is coming soon for projects on the ground in Bolivia -- and you'll be to thank for them.


Timothy Malia, MD
Co-Founder & Vice President
AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children
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