COCHABAMBA -- The vicissitudes of life and the conflicts in the country are not stopping Armando, a young Bolivian with a certain level of mental disability, from dressing up as Mickey Mouse to share hugs and earn a bit of money to rent a room.
Until he hit on the idea, he was sleeping in automatic teller machine booths or in the homes of people who were touched by his story.
The 19-year-old grew up in different orphanages in Cochabamba, but various adoptions didn't work out and when he turned 18 it was no longer possible for Armando to remain at the shelters and so he had to figure out a way to earn a living.
His biggest dream was to have his own Mickey Mouse costume to go out onto the city's main square and make money dancing and distributing hugs to children.
He told EFE that when he was a boy one of his teachers organized a dance and he was tapped to play the iconic Disney character - and since then he has really liked the famous wide-eyed, big-eared smiling mouse.
"I'm happy when I'm Mickey Mouse. I've liked to see him since I was a kid, it was my dream to be like him," Armando said.
Each week, Armando managed to save about 30 bolivianos, the equivalent of about $4, to rent the mouse suit for a day and bring happiness to people on the streets.
Little by little, he began to work his way into the affections of the people who approached him and, after they learned his story, they tried to help him so that he could achieve his goals: having his own Mickey Mouse costume and a place to sleep.
Fabiola Arrieta was one of the group of people who pooled some money to buy Armando the costume, which brought a big smile to his face, since it was the only thing of any consequence that he owned, and he stored it at the home of one of his friends to keep it from being stolen.
Each day, he returns to his friend's house to pick up the costume and use it on the town square.
Many people gave him gifts of clothing or shoes to help him out, but sometimes he was the victim of robberies and so he realized he needed to find a safe place to live rather than sleeping on the street.
Arrieta told EFE that "He's a rather hard-working boy, he just needs a home, we're looking for a room or house for him where he can keep his things and live like anyone else."
Armando knows how to speak some English and is ready to work "livening up" children's parties if people will give him the chance, and another of his friends, Javier Navas, who is a musician, accompanies him on the square and helps him to get his meals.
No matter the weather or the social problems besetting Bolivia, Armando is on the square every day and he even interposed himself between members of the rival governing socialist MAS party and its opponents after the arrest of former interim President Jeanine Aņez over the so-called "coup d'etat" that ousted former President Evo Morales from office.
Armando tried to pacify the situation, but he was attacked, his costume was battered and people scared him by shouting that he was the "empire's mouse."
After that incident, he became better known around the country and people started to help him by giving him other costumes so he could continue to earn a living.
Now, Armando gives shows on Fridays on the square to collect money from onlookers saying he's very thankful to all the people who are contributing to his well-being, and he spends the nights in the home of one of his friends while he's saving up for an apartment.