Bread Of Heaven

Ronald Yarari Palomeque is, in no particular order, 31, Bolivian, gay and a baker.

A genius entrepreneur baker. Every day he makes and sells 3,500 loaves of bread in San Buenaventura in the north of La Paz. He supplies almost the entire local market from his bakery, the Hornito Casero, which (if my Google Translate game is on point) means "Home of the Little Oven".

The quick version of this story is that Ronald strengthened and built his business through the Young Entrepreneurs Association, a non-profit entity supported by Christian Aid that finances young people to build their own companies. That's our bit of the story. We helped when he needed support.

But the real gold is in the details. For a start, Ronald is now vice-president of the Young Entrepreneurs Association - making sure that the next generation of young business owners have the same opportunities he did. And let's not gloss over the 'being gay' part. The effort needed to establish himself as La Paz's numero uno bread-man is echoed in his outspoken passion as an advocate for LGBTQIA rights.

It's not easy to be gay anywhere in the world, but there are elements of Bolivian culture that are particularly resistant.

"Doing public activism to make my rights visible, in a society in which machismo is so evident on the surface, has been extremely difficult," says Ronald.

"In Bolivia, to be a businessman and to be a homosexual is to be a visionary. Although in another context it would be normal, in ours we still have to fight to overcome prejudices to simply be who we are. You have to show that you can, no matter what they say."

So on top of building a bread-based business empire, Ronald has had to fight to simply be himself every day of his life. Born in Rurrenabaque, he knew he was gay from a young age. He never pretended to be anything other than who he was, and that bravery earned him a string of beatings and verbal abuse growing up.

It got so bad that at times he feared for his life, but instead of hiding he went the other way. He got loud and he got organised. In 2016 he was one of the founders of the Collective of Sexual and Gender Diversities of Rurrenabaque which acts for the rights of the LGBTQIA community across Bolivia.

But back to the baking. After studying gastronomy, Ronald started working in a restaurant in Rurrenabaque. After 17 years he had become the head chef. Little by little he raised the money to buy his own place and in 2014 Hornito Casero opened it's doors, selling bread enriched with milk and butter based on his mother's family recipe.

Now, from midday to evening, Hornito Casero still has its doors open, selling muffins, tortillas, sweet and salted empanadas, as well as sweet and savoury rice breads and freshly-prepared scones on Sundays.

To blow off steam, Ronald is also the town's star basketball player, and helps organise local tournaments.

How does he find the energy? Ronald thinks that believing in yourself, in the person you are and the person you want to be, is key.

"Although laws have been launched in our favour, the reality is different - such as having a partner and being able to be with him in public, for example ... people point at us in the street regardless of whether we are good citizens and that is something that has to change."

"It just makes me stronger. They know that I will continue fighting. I will not lower my head."