Warmi Ambassadors: Breaking Barriers for Sexual and Reproductive Education in Bolivia’s Rural Communities

by | Sep 29, 2023 | Heartivist Of The Week

In Bolivia, in 2023, 71 out of every 1,000 births are from girls 15 to 19 years old, World Population Review.

“I have a purpose for my life, and that is to leave a positive footprint on humanity,” Valentina Wiñay Quispe, Founder of the organization, Soy Warmi.

Being able to harbor life and open our hearts to guide the steps of a child in the world is one of the most amazing things anyone can experience. Treasuring moments and surpassing obstacles in raising a child is beautiful and overjoying, although it is not an easy task at all. Becoming a mother should always be a loving decision and not the consequence of the lack of information or health services. Unfortunately, the existing barriers to obtaining sexual and reproductive education as well as health services especially in rural communities is a key factor for millions of teenage pregnancies every year and often what should be a wonderful experience becomes the end of the road for millions of girls’ dreams. This is a reality that Valentina has decided to change through her project Warmi Ambassadors. 

Valentina Wiñay Quispe is an enthusiastic young leader. Born in La Paz, Bolivia, she is 18 years old and has just finished high school, but she is already the founder of Soy Warmi, a non-profit organization that promotes sexual education and gender equality. 

She has an indigenous background that is a crucial part of her life. In fact both of her last names have a special meaning in Aymara. Wiñay means eternal and Wara means Star, while Valentina comes from the word ‘brave’ in Spanish. 

“My name means: brave eternal star and I am really fond of the meaning of my name,” explains Valentina. “I consider myself indigenous. I am proud of my indigenous roots and I am very proud of who I am. It was a very long process to recognize myself. My parents migrated from a rural area. My father is from Puerto Pérez, province of Los Andes and he comes from the Aymara culture. My mother is from Tatasi Potosi, a mining Quechua community. Although we live in the capital, we constantly travel to the rural areas and I have a deep connection with my culture and my community which is Aymara and Quechua.”

It was her father who taught her to be proud of her culture, to embrace and share who she is with the world.

“I remember that when I was in elementary school my father would dress me in typical Aymara clothes,” recalls Valentina. “It was a very difficult process because discrimination and racism were very strong in my country back then. I used to hide my roots to avoid discrimination and racism, I even thought about changing my appearance to fit the common European standards of beauty, but I confronted that notion and realized that I am beautiful the way that I am, that my features identify me with my ancestors and that made me feel closer to them. Also, in 2019 Bolivia’s indigenous communities fought to vindicate their human rights and their tradition’s relevance. I was very young back then, I was only 14 years old; since then I understood that this is a fight we all have to be a part of. And it is in the little details that you come to recognize yourself and value your culture, your family, your ancestors; until you come to a point where you acknowledge who you are and decide to show it to the world proudly.”

Soy Warmi

Warmi means woman in Aymara. And Soy Warmi means “I am a Woman” in a mixture of Spanish and Aymara languages. Valentina founded this organization, inspired after a trip to a rural area of Bolivia where she visited her father’s distant relative. 

“When I was about 14 years old, we traveled to visit a distant aunt in the countryside. Her daughter was only a year older than me and she was pregnant. It was shocking for me to see that someone almost my age was living something like this and that she would have to quit school. She was forced to marry her boyfriend who was only 16 and neither could continue studying because they had a baby to take care of,” remembers Valentina. “In the rural area, sexual and reproductive education are very limited, they are still taboo. So I decided to create a project, with some friends from different countries, to make this information available for the youth in those communities.” 

Valentina had been involved in volunteer work since she was very young. In 2021 she was selected to be part of the national initiative “Young Ambassadors” from Bolivia; and she was able to travel to the United States in order to learn about leadership as well as development of social projects. There, Valentina met several youth from other countries who were eager to make a positive change in the world.

Soy Warmi became a reality. Valentina founded the organization at 15 years of age. She was able to form a board of 11 members and 60 volunteers from countries like: Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Nicaragua. With the dedicated support of her team and programs such as Youth Ambassadors, Soy Warmi grew from strength to strength. Valentina and her team, started to work promoting sexual and reproductive health and education through social media and online to the outskirts of La Paz, but they wanted to do something more meaningful, to reach out to the rural communities of Bolivia where there is little access to the internet, so that no other young people would have to leave her education and her dreams behind due to lack of information and health services.

Teenage Pregnancy Statistics

According to the World Health Organization, in 2019, 21 million teenage girls 15 to 19 years old got pregnant. In Latin America and the Caribbean there was an incidence of 2.4 births per every 1,000, in girls 10 to 14 years old. The organization notes that this poses a variety of health risks for women such as eclampsia, infections and others. Also, babies from teen mothers face severe neonatal conditions as well as low birth weight and premature birth. Unfortunately, teens face many barriers to obtain contraceptives such as lack of money, and not knowing their proper use or where to obtain them.

Furthermore, in Bolivia teenage births have increased considerably in the last 2 years, according to World Population Review. In 2021, 64 out of every 1,000 births are from girls 15 to 19 years old while in 2023 the number rose to 71 out of every 1,000 births.

Sexual and Reproductive Education Reaching Bolivias Rural Communities

Being such a young leader hasn’t always been easy on Valentina. Her biggest challenge was her age because at 15 she was already working with much older volunteers. At first, she thought people wouldn’t believe in her because of her youth, but she managed to keep her team motivated and united throughout her projects. 

With a consolidated team, she knew it was time to actually reach out to the most vulnerable communities in Bolivia: the rural areas. That is when she envisioned providing a series of workshops to promote sexual and reproductive education and consults given by health professionals to teenagers at their schools in the countryside. 

“I am worried that there are still girls that have unplanned pregnancies and they cannot follow their dreams, they cannot pursue an education,” says Valentina. “But I think hope is the key, if you have hope that means you are fighting and you can work things out.”

Valentina started to look for funds to be able to buy material, technology supplies and transportation fees for her new project. After a while, she found The Pollination Project and noted that the organization was aligned with her cause and her beliefs, so she applied for a seed grant. 

“When I got the TPP news about obtaining the grant I shared it with my team and we all celebrated. It was really exciting and overjoying,” remembers Valentina. “Without the fund it would have been really hard to do this project.”

Warmi Ambassadors

In order to reach the rural communities of Bolivia, Valentina created Warmi Ambassadors, a project which seeks to empower 12 young women and give them the necessary resources so they can expand the goal of Soy Warmi to the most remote areas of Bolivia, and teach sex education to the youth in their communities. 

“We hope to have a country with young people who have comprehensive sexual education so that they can enjoy their sexuality responsibly, thus avoiding unwanted pregnancies at an early age and sexually transmitted diseases,” says Valentina. “Our goal is to reach the indigenous communities through their schools, give workshops with the help of professionals and in their native languages.” 

The Ambassadors’ team will be diverse, aiming to include representatives from all departments of Bolivia and different cities, especially smaller and sparsely populated cities, such as Tupiza in Potosi, El Alto in La Paz, and Warnes in Santa Cruz, among others. 

To ensure the Ambassadors’ preparedness, they will be trained through online platforms. The Warmi Ambassadors will work hand in hand with health specialists such as Gynecologists, Urologists, and Psychologists; each Warmi Ambassador will go to a specific community, accompanied by health specialists, and they will offer free workshops and consultations.  This project will benefit thousands of adolescents in rural communities in Bolivia.

“We also want to partner with the organization Marie Stopes to have free contraceptives available at health centers in the communities,” explains Valentina. “With this, I hope that the youth of the world can learn about comprehensive sex education. We want to create a network of global leaders for sex education, where men and women can be part of the solution, a network of young people for young people. I want this project to be available to everyone, not only Spanish speaking countries but to the entire world. Everyone needs to learn about this.”

Valentina is a young girl with many dreams, one of which is to expand the Warmi Ambassador program to Peru and to other Latin American countries. In addition, she received a scholarship to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies, Anthropology or Sociology in the United States as she wants to become the first Bolivian woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and to bring down any barriers that might detain the development of the youth. In the end, Valentina’s work remains focused on  motivating her generation to find their own path to success.

“I know how hard it is to take the first step to achieve something, because it is an uncertainty and sometimes even a leader can feel uncertain but if you take that first step, even if you fail, you will eventually move forward and help others,” says Valentina. “There will always be someone who believes in you and your ideals.”

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If you are inspired by this work and have an idea for a project that addresses an issue that you are passionate about, we’d like to invite you to submit an application and together we will build a better, more compassionate future! 

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