SUCRE, Bolivia – The grand old buildings in Bolivia’s constitutional capital – Sucre – are being restored thanks to the work of groups of at-risk young people who have learned to preserve the city’s colonial architecture with Spanish help and financing.
The Zudańez high school, the House of Freedom, the Metropolitan Cathedral and other colonial buildings in Sucre, which in 1991 was declared a World Heritage Site, are some of the structures in which the students of the Sucre Workshop School have had a hand in restoring.
The initiative of creating a training center for restoration experts arose in 1992 within the framework of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas, the institution’s director, Domingo Izquierdo, told EFE.
Then, authorities decided to transfer to the Americas the model for the workshop schools that had been developed in Spain to foster social integration and work for young people at risk of being marginalized in helping to restore cultural heritage.
“That’s one of the school’s big achievements: young, qualified people who get into the labor market, who transform their lives and those of their families for the better. And ... as a collateral effect, (our cultural) heritage gets restored. In that sense, the workshop school is also restoring lives,” Izquierdo said.
After the closure several years ago of a similar school in Potosi, another Bolivian city with colonial architecture, the one in Sucre is now the oldest in Bolivia and since it opened in 1998 about 500 students have passed through it.
The training program lasts two years and is designed for young people between 16 and 24 from very low-income families, who have not finished school and are unemployed.
The school has five workshops, each one with 15 students who learn bricklaying, carpentry in both wood and metal, electrical and sanitation facilities installation.
Gabriel Galvez, a 22-year-old student in the program, says he is learning to make colonial homes “shine like they did before.”
“I’ve always liked working on this type of construction ... We’re learning why we’re doing this work and why we should value old houses,” he said.
Both men and women may attend the school and 23-year-old Martha Maquera, another student, told EFE, “I’m learning to make false ceilings, flat ceilings and plaster walls, to do budgets. Before, I didn’t know how to hold a trowel.”
The school’s motto is “Learn while working,” and students spend 30 percent of their time on theory and 70 percent on practice, first working on scale models and then, when they have acquired enough skill, they can participate in jobs contracted by the city hall, the Chuquisaca provincial government or the Catholic Church.
In 2012, the Bolivian Education Ministry recognized the training provided by the Sucre Workshop School and authorized the granting of certificates of achievement to the students.
The school began operations with 80 percent of its financing provided by Spain and 20 percent by local authorities, and – with the idea of gradually handing the project over to local management – now it gets just 30 percent from Spain, with 60 percent coming from the Sucre city government and 10 percent from the Chuquisaca government.