During the Pandemic, IVLP Alumna Supports Her Community in Bolivia

When María Alejandra Serrate saw her community in need during the pandemic, she rose to the occasion.

We met María when she visited the United States from Bolivia through an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project. In May 2019, María was one of fifteen international visitors from Latin America that traveled around the United States. During their professional tour, these women discussed how to be drivers of social and economic change in their own communities.

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic started, we reached out to María. Her organization has been providing humanitarian relief in Bolivia. In this Q&A, María shared how her IVLP experience helped her face this unprecedented crisis.

Tell us about yourself and your organization.

I am a lawyer and civil activist. Previously, I was a Legal Assistant at the Camara de Industria y Comercio Paraguayo-Boliviana. In 2017, I co-founded Resistencia Femenina, a civil organization made up solely of women in my country. The organization’s main goals are to promote democratic values and citizen oversight and to involve more women in politics.

cultural vistas map
During her IVLP, Maria poses to point out her home country, Bolivia, while at the Cultural Vistas’ offices in Washington, DC.

What have you been doing since your program? How did your experience help you face the current pandemic?

Since my participation in IVLP, I learned the value of having a stronger community and the importance of women’s participation in both political and business spaces.

IVLP alumni white house
Maria and her fellow exchange participants of the 2019 IVLP project focused on “Women as Drivers of Economic and Social Change” pose for a photo in front of the White House.

When the pandemic hit, I knew it was up to me and my organization to help our community. I gathered everyone to help deliver supplies to our health centers and provide food for the affected families.

hunger relief pandemic bolivia
Together with her organization, Maria helps distribute food to communities that have limited access to goods and supplies.

How have you been helping your community during the pandemic?

With the help of Resistencia Femenina, I am currently leading a fundraising initiative to help deliver biosafety materials to healthcare workers around my country. So far, we have 130 people, mostly women, working to help fundraise money to purchase biosafety equipment and provide psychological support. We have made shipments to Beni, the second largest region in Bolivia, and we want to do it to the rest of the country. Since we started, more than 1,000 doctors, 650 families, 33 health centers, and 12 communities received aid through our project.

pandemic supplies hospital bolivia
Resistencia Femenina, led by Maria, delivers bio safety equipment to health centers.

What other kinds of support have you been providing?

In Bolivia, we are not only fighting the coronavirus but also hunger and a poor healthcare system inherited from the previous government. In addition to biosafety equipment, we decided to deliver food and groceries. At first, we were only going to make donations to the health center, but when we saw the lack of food, we addressed it right away.

pandemic relief centro de salud hamacas
Because of Resistencia Femenina, over 33 health centers in Bolivia have received bio safety equipment to help fight COVID-19.