Bringing Gifts to Copacabana

September 4, 2013 • Bolivia
Ruth Bell River Boat Bolivia

The Ruth Bell River Boat brings the gift of health to a young mother and her unborn baby in the Bolivian Amazon River Basin.

By Tom Ovington, who works as the community health and logistics assistant in the Samaritan’s Purse Bolivia office

Ruth Bell River Boat Bolivia

Ariela doesn’t have regular medical care for her unborn baby, but the Ruth Bell River Boat provides basic care as often as possible.

“We saw you in February, right?”


“It’s now July. Have you seen anyone since we were here in February?”

“No. No one has come since you were here last.”

“Nobody has visited from the county health department? The Navy hospital boat hasn’t come by?”

“No. Samaritan is the only boat that ever comes.”

So went my conversation with Ariela Molodoy Suarez. Ariela is 22 years old, a mother of two, and on the day we spoke, she was beginning her 28th week of pregnancy. She had just suspected she was pregnant when we arrived in February on the Ruth Bell River Boat, the Samaritan’s Purse hospital boat in Bolivia. Our doctor had confirmed her pregnancy and begun the standard treatment to ensure a normal and healthy mother and child. The doctor gave Ariela vitamins, advice, and encouragement and completed official paperwork so that Ariela might one day be able access possible benefits from the Bolivian health system.

Ruth Bell River Boat Bolivia

Ariela heard her baby’s heartbeat for the first time when the doctors from the boat visited her community.

On this day, we had the privilege of following up what had started in February. After a thorough check up, our doctor brought out a fetal Doppler, and we all shared in Ariela’s surprise and joy as she heard the strong heartbeat of her unborn child.

Ariela lives in Copacabana, a small community on the banks of the Isiboro River in Bolivia’s Amazon River basin. It is typical of the myriad of small villages in eastern Bolivia, a hot and humid lowland region.  The residents of Copacabana eke out their living by fishing, cutting lumber, and working on a nearby cattle ranch. They raise basic foodstuffs on little plots of land. Yuca, plantain, rice, and corn are their staples, along with the seasonal fruits that are common to the tropics.

The people do not eat a well-balanced diet and suffer from many illnesses unknown in more prosperous nations. They have no regular access to medical care.  The nearest doctors and hospitals are a day’s journey by small boat, inaccessible by road except for a few weeks a year. A team of nurses occasionally visits some nearby larger villages, but they come without medicine. Samaritan’s Purse seeks to meet the need for medical care through our hospital boat, the Ruth Bell.

The Ruth Bell, commissioned in 2011, is a well-equipped wooden craft that is able to provide both medical and dental care. With berths for sixteen people, each month it transports teams of Bolivian medical professionals as well as physicians and nurses sent by World Medical Mission, the medical arm of Samaritan’s Purse. But good care and free medicine are not the only gifts the Ruth Bell brings to the river communities.

Ruth Bell River Boat Bolivia

The Ruth Bell River Boat travels along the Amazon River Basin to provide medical care to people who might not ever see a doctor otherwise.

In each village we visit we share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We use different methods, such as projecting a film, one-on-one conversation, and fun outreach to the children. We always strive to communicate the immense love of Jesus and His desire to be known by those we visit.

As soon as we can, we will return to Copacabana to see Ariela Molodoy Suarez and to hold her little baby and give whatever care she or he might need.  We will celebrate the gift of life that God has entrusted to her and her husband.  And we will continue to speak of the Greatest Gift, Jesus Christ.