Our Story Begins
The Viva Bolivia story begins in the summer of 2000. Jonathan and Karin Schoenhals made a trip to Bolivia to visit their friends, Vegar and Aija Tørre. Vegar, the son of Norwegian missionaries, had grown up in Bolivia and was working as a missionary pilot. Jonathan and Vegar had become friends at Moody Aviation in Elizabethton, Tennessee in 1996.
During their visit to Bolivia in 2000, the Schoenhals saw firsthand the need for leadership and economic development. Many well intentioned people and projects were facing difficulties and, to be frank, were not standing the test of time. Usually these failings could be traced back to leadership failures and/or a lack of local economic support.
After returning to the United States Jonathan and Karin approached their church with a simple two-year plan to see if they could personally make a difference. Thanks to their pastor, Mark Abbott, and the support of the First Free Methodist Church of Seattle (FFMC), Viva Bolivia was born.
Lock, Stock and Barrel
In 2002, the Schoenhals sold their home, cars and motorcycle and put the rest in storage. With support from FFMC, friends and family and their own savings, they made the move to Cochabamba, Bolivia. There they began to learn the language and culture, found a place to rent and began to assist with the Swedish Free Mission's aviation program and the Valle Hermoso Children's home, where Aija was the director. They also began to attend and assist in the leadership and development of the Cochabamba International Church.
By June 4, 2003, Viva Bolivia was established as a nonprofit corporation in Washington State and by February 10, 2004 VB was recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a Public Charity. Support continued to grow in the United States and it became clear that the initial two-year plan was going to be extended.
The Formula for Success
In time we noticed that key issues facing small and medium projects tended to focus around: leadership development, legal registration, employment policies and accounting practices. Some groups who were working to be more sustainable were also facing difficulty exporting products. In order to more effectively meet these needs and to "walk the talk" of transferability, a local company was formed: Viva Bolivia Productos y Servicios SRL (VBPS).
Initially, Jonathan and Karin founded and funded this company out of their personal savings. Eventually, Viva Bolivia made grants to VBPS to help in the development of the company and passed ownership to Juan Jose (the current owner). In early 2012, Juan purchased the remaining 30% of the company and became the sole owner of VBPS! The proceeds from this sale were donated to Viva Bolivia and used to support targeted grants.
Cafe Yungas Helps Fuel the Fire
Early during their time in Bolivia, Karin and Jonathan became affiliates with Serving In Mission. SIM was one of the larger missions organizations working in Bolivia and had a number of projects where Jonathan was helping by providing consulting and leadership development. SIM missionary, Greg Hurst, approached Jonathan for help in developing an income stream to partially fund church youth leaders as they began their careers in ministry. Together they started Cafe Yungas and later this project was handed over to Viva Bolivia for local management.
Both Greg and Jonathan liked the "triple-win" of Cafe Yungas where local farmers, Bolivian leaders and coffee drinkers all benefited from this exceptional coffee. Today you can order Cafe Yungas from our online store (roasted in and shipped from Bolivia) or you can buy it in grocery stores throughout Bolivia. Cafe Yungas (Bolivia) is now owned by VBPS and continues to generate revenue and provide work for the staff in Bolivia. Over the years, thousands of dollars in grants have been generated by and through this project.
Passing the Torch
In 2008, Jonathan and Karin felt it was time to hand over the day-to-day management of Viva Bolivia's work to the team they had been mentoring. At first there were just two full-time employees who were providing project consulting, legal, accounting and export services. In time, the team grew and today Viva Bolivia (the USA based charity) hires Viva Bolivia Productos y Services SRL to distribute grants on our behalf. When a grant is given it is done in a responsible manner and distributed by Bolivians who themselves benefited from targeted grants in the past. This model inspires the recipients, builds accountability, encourages positive leadership and rewards good decisions (see How We Work).
By the Numbers
Today Viva Bolivia provides primarily two types of assistance. The first is consulting services largely provided by Jonathan both to VBPS and to other projects working in Bolivia. We measure this by the number of hours and an estimate of how many organizations are assisted. The second form of assistance we provide is small targeted grants. Viva Bolivia measures this by the number of grants and the total dollar amount given each year. If you are looking to support a charity that gets results with small dollars, welcome aboard! Our all volunteer Board can be reached via email or phone.
Thanks and Giving
Viva Bolivia exists today because of the generous support and encouragement of many people. We mentioned a few key people in the history above, but there are many more. Some that come to mind include:
• Bolivian friends who welcomed us with open arms and guided our approach;
• Churches in the United States who donated and prayed;
• Board members who have served without compensation;
• Businesses who purchased our handicrafts and coffee;
• Missionaries from all around the world who partnered with us;
• Aid and government workers who allowed us to be part of their lives.
We are so thankful! When we first started this journey our first supporting church asked how they could pray for us and we answered, "Relationships". These prayers have been answered. Thank you to everyone who has helped to make VB a reality! Together, we are making a lasting difference.