Traf­fic ze­bras tame the manic streets of La Paz

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

Caro­line Joyner

dis­cov­ers the un­usual way that young peo­ple in Bo­livia are earn­ing their stripes

Squint­ing in the high al­ti­tude sun­shine of down­town La Paz, all my senses are as­saulted at once. Busi­ness­men whizz past home­less peo­ple beg­ging, Choli­tas sell their wares from stands, and the om­nipresent beep­ing is al­most deaf­en­ing. Just for a mo­ment, I think I spot a ze­bra amid the chaos. Sure enough, there is a group of peo­ple dressed in full ze­bra suits in the mid­dle of the manic El Prado thor­ough­fare. Some are danc­ing to mu­sic blar­ing from a speaker, oth­ers are talk­ing to pedes­tri­ans. One seem­ingly sui­ci­dal ze­bra is in the mid­dle of a road with a lol­lipop guid­ing peo­ple across the street.

Th­ese are no or­di­nary ze­bras and this is no or­di­nary ini­tia­tive. In a city that had over 9,000 traf­fic ac­ci­dents in 2015, cross­ing the road here re­ally is a case of tak­ing your life in your hands. The roads are choked with ve­hi­cles vy­ing for ev­ery inch of space, and traf­fic signs are con­sid­ered a guide only.

It is the city’s faded ze­bra cross­ings that in­spired one of Latin Amer­ica’s most for­ward-think­ing ur­ban groups, Las Ce­bras de La Paz. Formed in 2001, they ed­u­cate both pedes­tri­ans and driv­ers, en­cour­ag­ing them both to obey traf­fic

signs. Start­ing with just 24 ze­bras giv­ing out leaflets, the “Ed­u­cadores Ur­banos Ce­bras” (Ze­bra Ur­ban Ed­u­ca­tors), have now grown to a group of 400 in La Paz and three other Bo­li­vian cities.

As a non-ag­gres­sive form of traf­fic in­ter­ven­tion, the ze­bras can of­ten be seen tick­ing off dis­obe­di­ent driv­ers, but it is their pos­i­tiv­ity which makes them such a loved part of the city’s com­mut­ing force. Waving, hug­ging chil­dren, high-fiv­ing pedes­tri­ans: their jol­lity is end­less.

“The role we have is to change and im­prove how ev­ery­one is think­ing,” says Chris­tian, a ze­bra who bounces around La Paz’s busiest in­ter­sec­tions from 7am to 11am ev­ery day. “You need to see the pos­i­tive side of ev­ery­thing and it’s up to us to put our best foot for­ward.”

Each ze­bra is se­lected from or­gan­i­sa­tions that work with at-risk youths. Many of them were pre­vi­ously on less pos­i­tive paths such as drug ad­dic­tion or youth of­fend­ing. Af­ter two months of train­ing in road safety, cit­i­zen­ship and “the spirit of be­ing a ze­bra”, they are let loose on the streets spread­ing their un­mit­i­gated pos­i­tiv­ity. Each ze­bra is paid a small stipend, but per­haps worth more is the ac­cess to train­ing cour­ses aimed at im­prov­ing their op­por­tu­ni­ties. Ze­bras can now be found lead­ing ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes in schools on top­ics such as bul­ly­ing and con­ser­va­tion.

Las Ce­bras de La Paz trans­lates as “the ze­bras of peace”, and now vis­i­tors to one of Latin Amer­ica’s least peace­ful cities can join them in spread­ing the word via the Ce­bra Por Un Día scheme.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.