For almost a decade, Amizade has partnered with CEOLI, a center that provides services to over 200 disabled youngsters in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Since 2003, a small group of CEOLI artists have sustained themselves by painting and selling over 30,000 cards. This is their story.

What is CEOLI?

CEOLI, the Center for Educational and Vocational Preparation for the Disabled, is located in the heart of Cochabamba city, in the altiplano area of the Bolivian Andes.  Bolivia is the poorest of the South American countries, with widespread poverty and unemployment, and lack of access to good education and medical services.

In Cochabamba, CEOLI struggles to provide services to over 200 disabled youngsters.  For babies, there are early intervention programs, teaching cognitive skills, psychomotor skills and language development.  School-age children too severely disabled to attend public schools receive their classroom education at CEOLI, while those who attend public schools receive services after school.  For youngsters of all ages, CEOLI provides medical evaluations, dental services, speech therapy, physical therapy, prosthetic evaluations and assistance, training in social and occupational skills, activities of daily living, and much, much more.

How did the CEOLI card project begin?

The story of CEOLI greeting cards starts in the 1990’s, when CEOLI started an occupational therapy program, teaching young adults to paint greeting cards.  (CEOLI also provides other occupational programs such as jewelry making, baking and sewing.)  The long-term goal was to sell the greeting cards, thus creating earnings opportunities for the artists.

Amizade, a worldwide service-learning organization, based in Pittsburg, PA, has sponsored affordable service programs in Bolivia (as well as other volunteer abroad programs in a number of other countries) for many years, and has placed a number of volunteers at CEOLI.  Volunteers help the children with their educational work, physical and occupational therapy, or just playing and working side by side.  Volunteers can take Spanish lessons with local private Spanish tutors, to help them communicate with the CEOLI students, but a lot of communication can be done just with the volunteers’ hearts and hands.  In 2003, Amizade volunteers Marvin and Martie Wachs were in Cochabamba for six months.  Working with CEOLI staff, they developed initial plans to ship CEOLI cards to the United States and begin selling them.  That year Marvin and Martie sold only 1300 cards, but the project was off and running.

Since 2003, CEOLI artists have painted and sold over 30,000 cards to Marvin and Martie Wachs, who then market them in the U.S.  In addition, CEOLI sells several thousand cards per year locally in Cochabamba.  The original 6 artists have now grown to 8 – all making a living, or partial living from the sale of these cards.    More potential artists are on the waiting list.  Some of the artists are quadriplegics, while others have various developmental disabilities.  CEOLI staff members report that the CEOLI card project is changing the artists’ lives.  Their income now enables them to contribute economically to their families’ needs.  They are thinking and planning more positively about their futures.  Some plan to continue their education, while others want to expand their artistic skills.

About CEOLI cards

CEOLI Greeting Card

Each purchase of a CEOLI card makes a difference to the lives of these disabled Bolivia artists.  The cards are colorfulscenes of Bolivian people in native costumes, or the vivid Bolivian landscape.  Most cards are all-purpose note cards, although a few designs are appropriate for Christmas.  The cards measure 4 ¼ by 6 ½ inches, and the inside is blank.  Each individually packaged card and envelope contains a picture and biography of one of the artists.

To learn more about the CEOLI card project, go to the Wachs’ website www.worldwidewachs.com.