Day 17
10 minutes memory training for shoeshiners in Bolivia

Getting senior shoeshine enthusiasts going Getting senior shoeshine enthusiasts going

Brain jogging and exercise for more quality of life in old age

Shoe shiners are alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals - this is a common prejudice in La Paz. People like you and me, fathers, mothers, grandparents, young people who do simple and at the same time honest and dignified work and depend on its daily income. That's what the others say. People like everyone else? No, the shoeshining seniors are much more than that! Some of them are very knowledgeable in natural medicine, others cook the best Bolivian dishes. Rigoberto (85) was a resistance fighter during the dictatorship in Bolivia in the 1970s and was supposed to be vice-president of the indigenous party; Juan (72) learned to read and write at the age of 65 so that he could help his granddaughters with their homework; Policarpio (81) completed a university degree in tourism at the age of 75; ValentĂ­n (77) played a shoe shiner in the film "Die Hetzjagd" (2008) with Franka Potente and Hanns Zischler. Despite a difficult childhood and adverse living conditions, they have not lost their will to live, they are fighters, advocates of traditions and role models!



Training and support for shoe shiners for ageing with dignity in the face of declining mental and physical abilities



Local NGO offers a variety of services including memory training and basic medical and nutritional care for shoeshining senior citizens in La Paz

Countable effort


Number of hours of workshops and joint activities as well as number of participants, medical treatments and food packages



The seniors' life satisfaction has increased and the meetings have become an important part of their everyday life

Systemic effect


The mental and physical health of the senior citizens is sustainably improved and promotes their self-confidence and active social participation


2022 Bolivia had a total of 1,267,190 people over the age of 60 (INE, 2022), according to the National Institute of Statistics. For more than 99% of senior citizens in the lowest income quintile, which also includes shoe shiners, the state pension is not enough to live on, which means that they have to work into old age (CEPAL, 2022). The majority of them used to work in other informal occupations, but can no longer do so and now shine shoes, even though this work is nowhere in the world as undervalued as in La Paz and the neighbouring city of El Alto. Due to strong discrimination, many hide their faces behind balaclavas to avoid being recognised. Their working days are long, often more than eight hours. On good days, the senior citizens shine an average of 15 pairs of shoes (equivalent to about 4 Euros), on bad days just two to three. More than 17% of senior citizens have a physical impairment, and more than 43% suffer from chronic diseases (NGO’s own data, 2022). Although health insurance has been available since 2019, it does not cover many treatment costs and medicines, which means that medical examinations are only carried out in absolute emergencies. Physical and mental health is also affected by the growing loneliness in old age and the subjective feeling of less affection, which, in combination with increasing poverty, has a negative impact on the quality of life of senior citizens (Armitage, R. & Nellums, L. B., 2020). Regular interaction with people in similar life situations is especially important for them. In this way, they are re-integrated into a social network whilst their mental and phyisical abilities are strengthend  at the same time. Through memory training, preventive measures and regular medical examinations, disease patterns can be recognised and treated accordingly early, instead of when it is actually already too late.

The good deed

With this good deed, you support weekly events with shoe shiners and their partners between the ages of 60 and 85. These events serve for the shoe shiners to meet and share whilst promoting the mental and physical health of the participants through movement exercises and memory training, which above all improves the ability to concentrate and remember. Seminars on various topics, joint leisure activities as well as theatre, music and dance workshops complement the varied programme. In a picture memory, the stories and life experiences of the senior citizens are incorporated, thus passed on and appreciated. Additionally your donation will pay for health checks and the seniors will receive adequate treatment. Healthy nutrition will further strengthen the seniors, which is helped by food parcels they receive. The good deed is thus an important step towards improving the quality of life of senior citizens and enabling them to live and age with dignity.

La Paz

About Bolivia






Number of inhabitants



Gross domestic product per capita per year



Human Development Index

95% of shoe shiners do not speak Spanish as their mother tongue, but Aymara or Quechua. Since 2009, these two languages and 34 others have been recognised as official national languages alongside Spanish.