Saturday, November 4, 2017

Drama in the Amazon: Narco-traficantes, alcohol abuse, hard work, scholarships, and a new partnership!

A lot has happened this year; we are going through much change, and change is good… 

First the big news

For the near future we are no longer sending volunteers to La Libertad.  Narcotics traffickers were living in La Libertad.  We also had problems with alcohol abuse incidents by some villagers that negatively affected our work.  In addition, the villagers wanted free services that we were not willing to provide. 

Narcotics Trafficking

This year I learned that narcotics traffickers (narcotraficantes) from Peru were growing coca (the plant from which cocaine is produced) very far in back of the village.  While I or other volunteers have never had any problems with these people, the possible danger they presented to our future guest could not be dismissed.  However, this problem may be solved.

When my sister and a friend visited was the first time we noticed something was up.  New Peruvians were hanging around the village.  They didn't seem to have a reason for being in La Libertad.  They were friendly, but they also seemed out of place.

Recent good news!  Our contact person in the village said that one month ago the Colombian National Police raided and burned the coca fields.  The narcos that had been living in La Libertad have fled the village.  I have confirmed this with other sources in the Amazonian capitol city of Leticia.  They did not capture any of the narcos (I believe they were tipped off by someone in the police/government).

Unfortunately, the only people they captured were 7 La Libertad villagers who were tending the fields (unfortunate for the villagers AND unfortunate that the people mainly responsible evaded capture).  One of the people they arrested was the father of one of the 8 children that we sponsor in the village.
At this time all villagers have returned to La Libertad.  I do not know what, if any, charges have been filed against them.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse problems negatively affected the running of the programs.
There was one time during the year when I saw all the village come together, organize into committees, and get work done.  They also self-critiqued their work during follow-up meetings.  All the work was voluntary.  The event was for the annual anniversary party.  It was a great time and over 400 people from neighboring villages attended parts of the three-day party!
When one of our project volunteers was with the boat, things went well.  But when we did not have a representative with the boat, irresponsible alcohol use led to unsafe travel conditions.  We did not want our boat to be involved in a river tragedy.  Additionally, the cultural use of alcohol in the village did not contribute to many of the goals of hard work, meeting goals, and sustainable practices which we hoped to achieve.

Because of these problems, we are now focusing on teaching sustainable business and person values to the youth.

Student Scholarships and Sustainable Business Training

In spite of no longer having volunteers live in the village, we are continuing to support the students of La Libertad with school scholarships. During the past year this was one of the most successful parts of our program. The kids were always great with us, always willing to help, and never complained (as some of the adults frequently did!).

We give support so the kids are able to stay in school, to learn values, and to learn about the principles of business and sustainability.  Our work is to help the upcoming generation make a positive, lasting change in La Libertad.

The school kids are building a garden around the school.  They are planting both vegetables and flowers.  They were hard at work for about three hours!

This is the downstairs classroom of our new guest house.  Here the kids are doing an activity led by Orchidy, a volunteer with the project from Leticia.

Hard Work in the Village

We did much work this year in the village. We built the new two-floor guest house and classroom, built a 39 foot wooden passenger and cargo boat, built and planted a community garden, gave scholarships to 8 students, hosted a 200 person Christmas dinner, planted 25 grafted cacao clone seedlings, and brought El Sena (the national technical training institute) into the village to teach the adults classes.

It was sad when we left. The kids did not understand why we had to go. Many of the adults, if they didn’t directly benefit from us, didn't care if we stayed. The adults that did care were powerless against the vocal minority of the people who seemed to be spiteful.

Christmas dinner.  We fed over 200 people.  While it is mainly for the young people of the village, we turn nobody away.

The first trip with our new 39 foot wooden boat.  It has a small 15 hp outboard motor.  The trip takes about 1.5 hours to go downstream to Leticia, and about 3 hours to return.  The boat can carry a maximum of 25 people.

The finished guest house.  The living area is on the second floor.  The classroom is on the first floor.  We collect the rainwater from the roof and store it in a 1000 liter tank.

In the guest house there are four beds with a lockable storage area above each bed.

Camilo is planting one of our first cacao trees.  He is an instructor from the Colombian National Training Institute called El SENA.

Camilo also taught the adults how to compost, create soil, and how to plant and care for different vegetables.

Some of the cacao clones are in the foreground.  The tomato plants are in the background.

The yuca-farina processing plant was one of our best accomplishments this year.  In this picture Richard's family it grating the yuca.  The next step to to press the mash to remove water before toasting.  Richard's son, John Carlos, is one of the 8 students sponsored by the project.

A New Partnership in the Jungle

One of the best things that happened after the problems in La Libertad is our new partnership with a nonprofit organization in Leticia.  They are called Funmi-roca (Fundacion Misionera De Refugio Y Orientacion Cristiana De La Amazonia.)

Funmi-roca is a Christian organization. They are very nice people. Their mission is very similar to ours. Funmi-roca supports education, character values development, leadership through sports, and sustainable business.  They are willing to go to La Libertad to provide services, but we have not yet made the introduction to the community.  They will allow us to have a year-round presence in the Amazon. They also have very good accounting (a dedicated Colombian accountant) practices and oversight.

To learn more about our new partner please visit their Facebook page, Funmi-roca.

Freddy and Lina are two of the directors of Funmi-roca.  The are in the picture with our friend Angelica from La Libertad and their children.
Our Future in La Libertad

We are going to talk to the people of La Libertad when I return to the Amazon in January. The problems in the community were mainly due to me firing our boat pilot and banning people who were drunk (and illegally transporting alcohol) with the project's boat. This caused the guilty people to say bad things about the project (mainly that we were taking advantage of them). Then other villagers wanted us to give them free medication and free boat rides. We were not willing to do this. These problems, and the presence of the narcotics people in La Libertad, are the reasons why we no longer send volunteers to the village.

Before leaving the Amazon I spoke with a friend in Leticia who works in the indigenous community of San Francisco next to Puerto Nariño (2 hours upriver from La Libertad). He has had disagreements with the community 7 times in the last 9 years, each time resulting in his temporarily leaving. He said it is like being in a dysfunctional relationship!

While we did have problems with individuals in the community, we are not giving up.  We seek to do the best with the resources we have.  We seek a long-term solution to the problems of La Libertad.  We believe the solution which will allow us to reach our goals is through the education of the youth.

This is the yuca press.  Each hardwood board is two inches think and weights over 80 pounds.  The mash (placed in a synthetic burlap bag)  is pressed between the two boards to remove as much water as possible before toasting.  We have installed a system of pulleys so it may be easily raised by one adult.

Giving Tuesday Fundraiser on Tuesday, November 28

We will be having our yearly Giving Tuesday fundraiser on Facebook.  This will start at 8 am Tuesday morning on November 28.  Please visit us on our Facebook page to help support the indigenous youth of the Amazon,
 Support a Student

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