Our Story Begins
The Viva Bolivia story begins in the summer of 2000. Jonathan and Karin Schoenhals made a
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
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
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 José (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.
Café 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 Café Yungas and
later this project was handed over to Viva Bolivia for local management.
Greg and Jonathan liked the "triple-win" of Café Yungas where local
farmers, Bolivian leaders and coffee drinkers all benefited from this
exceptional coffee. Today you can order Café Yungas from our
online store (roasted in and shipped from
Bolivia) or you can buy it in grocery stores throughout Bolivia. Café
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.