24 Sep, 2013 | Alexander Conesa-Pietscheck
Alexander Conesa-Pietscheck walks into one of Bolivia’s most established toy shops to discover that education and fun come hand in hand for all children, young and old.
What makes a toy great? Is it the quality, or is it the kids’ reactions have when they open one from the freshly-sealed box?
Walking around downtown La Paz can be somewhat of an adventure. The never-ending streets merge with unexpected alleyways, disconcerting those who, like me, don’t know the area well.
Wandering the streets with a puzzled look on my face, I cannot help but notice all the different toy stores lining the streets, most of them offering the same generic toys that can be found in any toy shop in the world; from Spiderman to Superman figurines, the only things that vary are size and colour. Barbies and their dream houses are also in abundance, though their choice is largely restricted to the prices that distinguish them.
As a 21-year-old, people could be mistaken for thinking that my interest in toys has vanished over the years. Yet this is far from being the case. Toys have always played a big part of my life, even up to this day. Last Christmas I received three Lego sets from my grandmother. The gifts could not have been more appropriate given my tastes, I would much rather put Legos together than receive a new watch or clothes.
During one of my walks through downtown La Paz I stumbled upon a toy store which seemed to do things quite differently, not because they did not sell the usual toys, but because they have a different approach to toy making, and the ‘toy experience’. Welcome to Boliviamar.
The history of this shop dates back 1992, when they first opened their doors to the general public. Owned by a Peruvian family, Boliviamar’s mission has always been to make good quality toys that are affordable, with most prices ranging from 5-30 bolivianos. As well as providing entertainment, it is their aim to also encourage kids to learn while doing so.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. René Laguna, the commercial manager of Boliviamar. He pointed out how many psychologists, doctors and pediatricians buy their toys ‘because they help in the education of the kids, and they strengthen the learning experience by making it educational and fun at the same time’.
Most of the toys in Boliviamar are made out of wood or ‘goma eva’. There are several sections dedicated to education, where parents can find different games that teach the children the alphabet while ordering them in shapes and colours. It is even possible to buy a wooden toy, that when put together teaches the child the order of the numbers, creating a very oddly shaped fish in the process.
Although Boliviamar’s main goal is to provide educational toys, we must not forget that it is a toy store, after all. You can find toys that are familiar to many people around the world, such as pick-up sticks, Monopoly, battleship, ‘pata pata’, and the ‘diabolo’.
It is refreshing to walk into a toy store that doesn’t offer toys available everywhere else. As a place to find toys that are at once educational and affordable, it’s important to support these initiatives in a country where fun and education for young children can be in short provision from other sources. And as a way of doing my part, I made sure I bought some souvenirs before I left. Some will be given as gifts, whereas others will find a proud place among my current collection.