September 23, 2019
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Women at the Wheel: Bolivian moms unite to provide safe transport

By Gina Baldivieso

La Paz, Jun 10 (efe-epa).- New help for families in need of safe transport for children and the elderly, and the chance to have an income from work that fits in with a mother's daily routine, are some of the benefits of Bolivia's Mujeres al Volante (Women at the Wheel).

Just the opposite of the offensive saying "woman at the wheel, danger constant and real," since the group's main purpose is to provide safety for passengers, who are mostly children, its Bolivian founder Gabriela Strauss told EFE.

This project run by Bolivian women, which has won the interest of other countries, arose from the need Gabriela Strauss saw in families with no one to take their youngsters to school or to their extracurricular activities.

Strauss spoke of the concern in Bolivia and other countries about the repeated reports of kidnappings and sexual violation on public transport.

"I believe it's up to us mothers to join forces, work together, and those who have the chance to take their own kids to school and to other activities, why don't they do the same for other families at the same time?" she said.

The group started up two years ago with just four mothers involved, while now there are more than 50, all "moms with their own cars who provide this transport service in their spare time, without neglecting their own homes," according to the promoter.

At the start of the project the Bolivian woman went to La Paz City Hall's "business incubator" and won recognition for the "most innovative business venture underway."

The prize meant having "a financial cushion" for starting Women at the Wheel.

Those interested in being drivers must present documents certifying name, address and no criminal record along with a driver's license.

They are then interviewed to determine their ability "to attend to such vulnerable members of the public as our passengers," she said.

Many mothers can't hold "traditional jobs" with regular office hours, so the advantage of Women at the Wheel is that they can combine responsibilities at home with work that makes money.

Those who use these services can be certain their grandparents or children are "in the care of a mom" who will look after them as if they were members of her own family.

It's no secret that traffic in La Paz can be a chaos of thousands of vehicles during the rush hours, with public transport particularly to blame.

Another difficulty is the mountainous topography of this Andean city with all its steep streets, which is why many say "if you can drive in La Paz, you can drive anywhere," Pilar Olmos, a driver for Women at the Wheel, told EFE.

Sometimes Women at the Wheel come up against aggressive bus drivers who "see you're a woman and try to overtake you," but Olmos said that was no big problem for her, thanks to her experience on the road.

For this driver, one of the nicest things is when her little passengers tell her how things went at school and even confide in her about their problems and ask for advice.

During the year-end festivities the women offer a "designated driver" service to pick up and take home people who have been out partying.

In 2018, "Women at the Wheel" was one of the two businesses that won the "Uniting the Americas" competition for entrepreneurs and took third place in the Innovatic Awards, which has the support of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Clients currently contact Women at the Wheel on WhatsApp, though the group hopes to have its own app soon, through which it aims to serve other Bolivian cities like Tarija, Sucre, Oruro and Santa Cruz.

It also hopes to expand its service to other countries, since offers have been coming in from Peru, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, "but we want to move step by step to achieve this growth in the soundest, most secure way," the founder said.

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