Former JMSB student films child labour and lack of aid for those with disabilities
John Molson School of Business alumnus Fernando Barbosa spent two years in Bolivia filming a documentary about the lack of aid for both children and those with disabilities in the country. As Barbosa grew close to the communities he documented, he received threats from the Bolivian government and police, as his work shed a greater light on the country’s neglect of human rights, he said.
Barbosa—who is originally from the town of Cochabamba, Bolivia—first began filming in 2012 on the topic of working Bolivian children in Cochabamba. He said the children faced police brutality, discrimination, hunger and yet, “at the same time, they have a lot of strength and courage.”
Barbosa said he was eager to begin documenting the social and financial issues that he had been unaware of for so long. “Living and growing up in Bolivia, I was not aware of [the child labour] that happened,” he said.
According to 2008 statistics from The International Labour Organization and Bolivian government—850,000 children from ages 5 to 17 were working in Bolivia. It was found approximately nine in 10 were working tough labour jobs—recognized as underground mining and sugar cane harvesting.
Barbosa’s interest in the subject of child labour first sparked during a visit to his family in Bolivia in the summer of 2010. One night, he passed out in the street while intoxicated, but somehow woke up in his own home the next morning. His sister later told him that a young boy named Willie, who worked in the parking lot of a club downtown, helped put Barbosa in a cab that took him home.
“They make almost nothing,” he said. “[The] money he made that night, he put me in a taxi and brought me home,” he said.
Barbosa later returned to the club to find the child who had helped him home. “After I met him, I started to meet other working kids on the streets,” he said. Many of them were orphans and needed money to pay for school and food, he said.
Barbosa returned to Bolivia in 2012, and he began documenting the issue of child labour in the country.
Before he could begin documenting their lives, Barbosa said he needed to gain the children’s trust in order for them to open up to him. Barbosa said this was due to the presence of exploitation of the children by non-government organizations (NGOs) and government-related organizations—who would first provide aid to these children. However, some would disappear once there was enough footage to share on their website and social media.
Barbosa said initially the children were skeptical of him. “Many kids working on the streets are aware that government officials receive a salary for the job they have to ‘help’ these kids,” he said.
The police and the Bolivian government took a special interest in Barbosa’s presence with the children—cautioning him to instead help the children through a government program, he said.
Barbosa noticed that some police posed a threat to the children. Some would follow their orders, but others took advantage of their power. He said while there are some good police, “the bad cops are the ones threatening, and also beating up street kids.”
After returning to Concordia in 2012 once summer ended, Barbosa returned to Bolivia after his graduation in December 2014. “I initially was going to stay for 3 months,” he said. “But while I was there, there were new things happening, so I ended up staying for two years.”
In February 2016, a protest for people with disabilities started in Bolivia. Barbosa said those with disabilities in the country were asking the government for a monthly benefit of $70 to aid with basic needs, such as healthcare.
Barbosa came to realize not only children faced a lack of essential human rights in Bolivia—which is why he began working on a second documentary project.
Documentary filmmaker Fernando Barbosa discuss the subject of his second documentary.Barbosa said he believes people with disabilities are the poorest group in Bolivia. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found in 2010 the employment rate of people with disabilities was reported as 44 per cent. “They don’t have access to jobs—they don’t have access to medical care,” he said.
At the time, Barbosa reconnected with a group of documentary makers from Australia. The group was inspired by those who struggled with disabilities in Bolivia and wanted to document their stories. This included filming a six-month period of protests between those with disabilities and the government, Babosa said.
“They decided to go all the way to [La Paz], walking on mountains,” he said. “It took 35 days to cross all the mountains.” Once they reached La Paz, Barbosa said the government was waiting for the protesters with police barriers and water tanks. “It was just 85 days just in La Paz of police repression, police brutality—to the point that six people died in this process,” he said. “And still they didn’t get the pension.”
However, there was a small victory for human rights in Bolivia, Barbosa said. One of the leaders for the disabled people in Bolivia was able to travel to Switzerland to attend an event held by the United Nations on people with disabilities.
“The [Bolivian] government was at the event saying how good Bolivia is doing for people with disabilities,” Barbosa said, but then the protestors’ representative presented the footage that Barbosa and his teammates had filmed. “The UN now gave Bolivia a 12-month period to give an explanation and look for those responsible for all of the police brutality and all that happened,” said Barbosa.
Barbosa said compared to his encounters with the authorities during his first documentary, during the filming for the second, the police followed him more intensely during the filming of the protests—even threatening to detain Barbosa and his teammates.
“I think [the government was] trying to scare us so we stopped filming and we stopped showing what was happening.”
Barbosa believed the authorities and the government were scared the footage would be viewed by people outside of the country—showcasing the alarming lack of human rights and the degree of poverty that some groups faced.
“Bolivia has signed international agreements to fight for human rights,” he said. “And [what I had documented] was violating these human rights.”
Barbosa said he wants to share both of his documentaries with high schools and universities. He wants to share his experience and shed light on the human rights issues in Bolivia, while also showing how strong and courageous these children are. Barbosa said it’s vital to share his documentary so people can be more aware and thankful of the privileges they have. “We sometimes are not aware of that,” he said.
To find out more about Barbosa’s documentaries visit the “Pinches Gringos” Facebook page at www.facebook.com/superpinchesgringos.