The ‘journey’ of the FCJ house in Barrio Libertad, —Tarija, Bolivia, April 2010
The FCJ Sisters' presence in the city of Tarija began in 1989 when Anne Morrison fcJ and Paula Mullen fcJ paid deposits for a lot of land in Barrio Libertad, a new development. At the same time, sixty families who had squatted to claim land rights, also paid deposits. It is interesting that in 1989 a lot cost U$ 275.00 whereas now it is in excess of U$2,000.00. The new inhabitants of Barrio Libertad came from rural areas of Tarija Province as well as from other departments in Bolivia, mainly from Potosí, Chuquisaca and La Paz. The people of the barrio were pleased to have the sisters amongst them. When the lots were divided up the sisters asked for one that would allow jeep access and were assigned what was then the last lot on the main street, though there were in fact no streets at the time. It was a piece of sloping, stony land. In January 1990, the land was cleared of several churquis (a tree native to Tarija) and a short time later, work began on the foundations. The house design made best use of the position and consequently had a lot of steps!
During all this time Paula and Anne assisted at the barrio meetings and between other activities gradually got to know their new neighbors who would soon become friends. Building in Bolivia is a slow process and was especially so twenty years ago, but by the end of October 1990 two small rooms, the bathroom and kitchen-dining area were ready. It was just possible for Paula and Anne to move into the newly house and even this limited space was shared with visitors. Little by little the rest of the house became available.
Left to Right: Christmas 1990, the house takes shape 1991, women from the barrio 1990
For the first three years or so the water supply ran for two hours in the morning and from a general tap in the barrio. So Anne and Paula along with the other families, had to collect enough water for the day. This morning ritual was a wonderful moment to chat with the neighbours. At the beginning there was no electricity and obviously no sewerage. But by the end of 1991, and after many battles with the supply company the barrio was connected with electricity. Then in 1993, thanks in great part to Plan Internacional, running water was connected to all the houses in the barrio. This did not mean that there was always water but it was certainly an enormous help.
Shortly after moving into the house the sisters planted a garden, at first with fruit trees, vegetables and a few flowers. Watering the garden was always a problem from April to the end of October when there was no rain at all. However the garden was successful, especially during the rainy seasons.
The house was made of mud bricks and after a year or two it was decided to plaster the building. This helps preserve the bricks and stops them disappearing when it rains! About the same time, a meeting room was built beside the house. It has had a variety of uses, - meetings, catechetics and sometimes little parties. Almost from the beginning, there were problems with the roof. The roof slope was inadequate so that in the rainy season, water collected between the tiles and it rained in some of the upstairs rooms! Attempts were made to rectify the problem but sadly, the attempts were only partially successful.
Many visitors were welcomed across the years - volunteers, FCJ Sisters, friends from Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Often, people from the rural area, who had no place to stay were welcomed to the little house.
The house has had various repair jobs and regular maintenance, but it seems that these were not sufficient, and on 29 December 2009, when there was a massive storm, rain entered several parts of the house apart from the usual places. Mud and water penetrated the walls, got into some bedrooms, the dining area and the bathroom. The community battled with it all but when the storm subsided, an external inspection of the house revealed that the large tree outside the property had been partially blown down and the broken branches had completely blocked the gate. Several of neighbors came to the rescue and cleared the gate but it was only in the full light of the next day that the extent of the structural damage to the house was apparent. The electricity went off during the storm and was off for several days. Subsequently, experts assessed the damage and discovered that the house was structurally unsound and that repairing it was probably not the best answer.
Our kind neighbours help us, - one of many cracks, - a flowering tree at our new house
The FCJ sisters write, ‘Sadly we came to the decision that we would have to move out, so we spent several weeks looking for suitable accommodation which thank God we have found. We told the people of the barrio in a general meeting and the Sunday before our departure they prepared a supper for us during which many expressed their sadness at our departure and their willingness to help pull down the house and rebuild it for us if that was necessary. The next chapter in our journey is yet to be discerned but for the moment we are living in a house in the city of Tarija.'
We pray with gratitude for the people of Barrio Libertad, Tarija, Bolivia!