EL ALTO, Bolivia —
Dozens of traditional Aymara grandmothers ease many of the aches and pains of aging by practicing a sport that is decidedly untraditional in Bolivia — team handball.
The women, some of them great-grandmothers, arrive with their tennis shoes every Wednesday at a covered court in El Alto, an impoverished city near the capital of La Paz.
Known in the Aymara language as “awichas,” or grandmothers, the women pull sports jerseys over their long-sleeved blouses and ruffled skirts, then perform warm-up exercises while singing a childhood song.
“There are days my knees hurt from rheumatism, but when I play it goes away,” said 77-year-old Rosa Lima, who first began doing simple exercises eight years ago, then later took up team handball. She lives alone and looks forward to playing with her friends every week.
Team handball is an Olympic sport in which two teams of pass a ball using their hands with the aim of throwing it into the other’s goal. The games the grandmothers participate in are part of a program that El Alto sponsors to encourage older people to stay healthy by remaining active.
About 1,000 older people practice sports, play Andean music and recall their younger years through the program that also provides free medical care to around 10,000 participants. The program so far has spread to six of El Alto’s 14 districts.
“This helps us a lot, says Juana Poma, an 84-year-old great-grandmother of five. “Look, I’m full of life, but I’m also thinner.”