68-year-old María Paz and her 20-year-old granddaughter Noemi Geovanna Mamani Quispe both live in the small Bolivian town of Achocalla, near La Paz.

68-year-old María Paz and her 20-year-old granddaughter Noemi Geovanna Mamani Quispe both live in the small Bolivian town of Achocalla, near La Paz.

Geovanna wants to study after completing her secretarial course. Her parents have little time for this idea. Grandmother María could only go to school for three years, but she supports her granddaughter’s plans. Young people should make the most of their opportunities!

It wasn’t better back then. 68-year-old María Paz shows no sign of nostalgia for the old days. When she talks about her childhood, she mainly mentions shortages and restrictions. “We lived in a house made of mud bricks and straw (…) We ate maize, quinoa, potatoes and pulses (…) From time to time there was some milk, but only for the children (…) We had no electricity (…) We had to walk for an hour to fetch water (…) There was no transport to get to the city.” The 68 year old doesn’t complain, and she doesn’t blame anyone either. She tells her story, recounting her observations, and it is only when she says that she never received any proper schooling that you hear a hint of reproach in her voice. As a girl María only went to school for three years. Nowadays, she can read a little, write a little and do some basic maths.

“My parents didn’t want us girls to go to school. They wanted us to learn to cook.”

And so she learned to cook. She helped out in the field, looked after her family’s animals, married young and gave birth to eight children. She is happy that her granddaughter has an easier life than she did. “We’ve been able to see her make progress and graduate from middle school, and now she wants to study.”

20-year-old Noemi Geovanna Mamani Quispe completed a secretarial training course after secondary school, but she wants more. “I want to work for an important institution or a large company, and to do that I need to study.” She is currently doing the preparatory course to study Economics. She lives in her parents’ small house and shares a room with her youngest brother. Her father works as a mechanic, and her mother looks after the small farm. Her elder brothers have either emigrated to Argentina or joined the army. Her sisters live in unhappy marriages, and they warn Noemi not to tie herself down too early and too easily. Noemi takes their warnings seriously. “Of course, I want to have children too some day. Two: a girl and a boy. But first I want to finish my studies. I will choose my husband carefully myself.”

Two things strike Geovanna as she listens to her grandmother. “Life was less complicated in her day: the air was better, and there was less violence in the streets. But we have greater opportunities today, both at school and at work.” She sums up her attitude to life in one sentence:

“I think life is very hard, but if you work hard you can achieve whatever you want.”

She has to fight for it, though. Her parents won’t accept that she doesn’t want to work as a secretary but do further studies instead. “I don’t have any support,” she says, her eyes filling with tears.

Her grandmother, however, is positive about her wish to study. “Young people have more opportunities to study and learn a profession,” she says, “but not all of them seize that opportunity. They choose the easier path. They fall to drinking, and the girls get pregnant early.” She has a high opinion of Geovanna, though. “She knows that life is tough nowadays too, but she works hard. What’s more, she helps her parents and she respects me.”