During my Nieman Fellowship, I read a story in the marvelous book “Telling True Stories,” produced by the Nieman Foundation in 2007. Starting on September 12, 2001, The Seattle Times sent a photographer and a writer on a three-week road trip to New York City to see how small towns across the country were reacting after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. I thought it was an extraordinary way of discovering “another country,” one that the big media often ignore. It stayed in my mind as something that I wanted to put into practice in Bolivia, my home country.
As editor in chief of the daily newspaper Pagina Siete, and with the financing of the United Nations Development Programme, I was finally able to make that idea a reality. In a project that we called “Viaje al Corazón de Bolivia” (“Journey to the Heart of Bolivia”), we sent three teams of journalists and photographers to different parts of Bolivia so they could spend five months traveling around the country. It was the most ambitious journalistic project conducted by the Bolivian media in many years. These “explorers” had to visit one small town per week, traveling mostly by bus but also by canoe, or even by foot, and submitting weekly reports. Every Sunday, we ran a long-form narrative story in the newspaper.
The end result was a complex, rich and human portrait of Bolivia. By visiting small communities, some of which were not even on maps, we got a different, and in many ways unexpected, depiction of the country. Besides the many exciting and original stories we found, our biggest discovery was the sense of harmony and coexistence in the 21 places we visited. Far removed from the polarization and occasional violence of the big cities, Bolivians in these small communities live and work in peace, without major signs of racism or regional tension. Even with ethnic diversity and internal migration, there is no tension. Tolerance and agreement, apparently, are the hidden trademarks of Bolivia.
Photos from “Viaje al Corazón de Bolivia”:
Raul Peñaranda, NF ’08, is the editor in chief of Pagina Siete. In December, he received the United Nations Correspondents Association’s Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize for conceiving and supervising “Viaje al Corazón de Bolivia.”