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Bolivia: Washing away troubles

14-06-2013 Feature

At almost 4,000 metres above sea level, in the city of La Paz, stands Obrajes women’s prison. It houses more than 380 female inmates and some 140 children, who live there with their mothers on a permanent basis. On 29 May, eight ICRC-funded communal laundries, built to improve hygiene standards in the prison, became officially operational.

“In addition to building the laundries themselves, we paved the floors of the drying area, refurbished the waste-water system, pipework and sinks, and carried out maintenance work in all of the bathrooms,” explained Guiseppe Renda, the deputy head of the ICRC regional delegation for Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. All the work was carried out in close cooperation with Bolivia’s Directorate-General for Prisons, and at the request of the inmates themselves.

The ICRC refurbished the laundries in order to alleviate – to some extent – the difficulties faced by inmates, who had no suitable laundry facilities, as the area remained swamped with waste water. The unsanitary conditions also had an impact on social relations between inmates, who had to jostle to wash their clothes in a confined, muddy space – a job made all the more arduous by the cold mountain climate in the region of La Paz.

“Being able to do our laundry and wear clean clothes makes us feel better; and our children are also kept neat and clean, and fall sick less often,” said Josefa*, an inmate at the centre, adding that “organizing laundry shifts has also become easier.”

These days, the taps produce a powerful and steady flow of water, which then drains via a refurbished waste-water system. The whole process is also far more efficient: the women can prepare and wash their laundry quickly, then hang the clothes out to dry and let the next person take their turn. Colourful sweaters, sweatshirts, skirts and outerwear hang on the washing lines, dripping water onto the floor, which has been paved to prevent it becoming waterlogged. The cleaner and better organized environment has also resulted in better social relations between inmates.

During its visits to places of detention, the ICRC promotes the humane and dignified treatment of detainees. In Bolivia, the organization runs ad-hoc assistance and occupational therapy activities. It has also undertaken infrastructural work, such as waste-water system maintenance, provided building materials, such as corrugated iron, and set up bakeries in the prisons of Miraflores, Chonchocoro and San Pedro.


Photos

Women hurriedly washing their clothes in the prison compound during their allocated laundry shifts. 

Obrajes women’s prison, La Paz, Bolivia.
Women hurriedly washing their clothes in the prison compound during their allocated laundry shifts.
© ICRC / P. del Carpio

The authorities talking to the ICRC about problems in the prison. 

Obrajes women’s prison, La Paz, Bolivia.
The authorities talking to the ICRC about problems in the prison.
© ICRC / P. del Carpio

Hundreds of items of clothing hang out to dry in the prison yard, on makeshift clothes lines made of metal wire. 

Obrajes women’s prison, La Paz, Bolivia.
Hundreds of items of clothing hang out to dry in the prison yard, on makeshift clothes lines made of metal wire.
© ICRC / P. del Carpio