I’m back from my trip to Candelaria Arriba, Colombia, and I wanted to share some pictures with you, as well as fill you in on what I did while I was down there. I get a little long winded sometimes, so I apologize if this is a bit lengthy. Also, if you click on the picture you can see a larger version.
Santa Cruz de Lorica is the city I stayed in while in Colombia. Situated along the Rio Sinu, there are about 100,000 people in the city, most living in small houses along dirt roads. In its hay day, Lorica was a major port city (a typical scene is depicted in the mural above). Now, it’s still the economic hub of the area, but it no longer holds the prestige it once did. Even so, the two main roads through the city are bustling with activity from dawn till well past dusk. At night, when the day’s heat has died down, people come out to chat with friends and enjoy some freshly prepared street food. Every night I wandered out and found something great to eat; empanadas, pupusas, or one of the many other items that I didn’t catch the name of, but were delicious! It’s a great city, full of really nice people, and I can’t wait to go back!
The pictures above are from the first day I went to Candelaria with some of the people from ASPROCIG, our partner organization in Colombia. When we arrived at the village there was a group of people awaiting our arrival, anxious to learn about HydrateLife, and what we had planned for their community. We all sat down together, and had a great conversation. It was really nice to see people engaged and enthusiastic about their community’s future. Once our conversation was over we all made the walk out to the reservoir, a walk that they make every day, to the sole source of water for most of the community during the dry season.
The walk took about a half an hour, but under the midday sun it seemed a lot longer. Although I expected it, I was troubled to see cows in the water as we walked up, and cow pies scattered along the shore (and surely in the water). But this is the only source of water for the community during the dry season, and so it is what they drink, for now. In some other communities ASPROCIG has facilitated the construction of large storage tanks to hold water during the dry season, and that will be an option we look at going forward. The blue tank seen above is one of them. As with almost every other building I saw in the villages we visited, the tank is connected to a rainwater harvesting system. During the rainy season everyone harvests rainwater from their roofs, collecting the water in open-top concrete containers. Another option for storing water we’ll look at is to dig another reservoir like they have now. This is a great option if you can keep the animals (and their poop) away from the water.
After we left the reservoir, we took refuge from the sun in the shade of someone’s home (it was really hot), and I was able to see my first toilet in the village. It was a pretty nice set up; a concrete block enclosure with a simple toilet bowl connected to a vented pit, the typical configuration for those who have toilets. Walking around the village, I found that more houses had bathrooms than I expected, although there are still a number without a bathroom, something we’ll be working to remedy. Once everyone had cooled down a bit we headed back to the car and loaded up for the bumpy 1.5 hour ride home.
It was a great day, and I was thrilled to finally see the village with my own eyes and talk to some of the members of the community. Everyone I talked to seemed to understand that their water situation was a problem, and were excited to work with HydrateLife and to come up with solutions to their water and sanitation issues.
These pictures are from our second day in Candelaria. My main objective for this day was to sit down with some of the community members and ask them about how the lack of clean water has impacted them and their families. We were able to sit down with five different people, and talk about the situation in Candelaria Arriba. The main concern that everyone had was the children. Most of the adults said they no longer get sick from drinking the water, that their bodies had gotten used to it over the years, but that the kids get sick a lot. However, I have to wonder if the adults’ health is actually still being impacted, but just not in a way that shows itself physically through diarrhea or vomiting, leading them to believe that they’re now immune.
After we finished talking with people we went over to the school to take a look around and say hi to the kids. The kids were very cute in their matching uniforms, and everyone was very curious about us. The school is small and very basic; 4 classrooms (one more is being built right now), two bathrooms, and a handwashing station. However, they have no water at the school. At some point, the government came in and installed a water storage tank that is connected to a pump that pumps water up into a smaller tank on top of the bathrooms, from which the water then flows down for the toilets and handwashing. Follow that? Well, this sounds great, but it’s never been used. Why? The government was also supposed to install a rainwater harvesting system at the school and connect it to the tank, but they never did, so the tank has never had water in it. It was frustrating and sad to see this. They’re so close to having water at the school, but at the same time miles away. This is a huge problem, and something we’re going to fix ASAP.
We had one more stop to make that day to see one of the many projects that ASPROCIG has completed in the area. We crossed over the Sinu River to a village named Isla Fuerte (although it’s not actually an isla, or island), and met with the community group that coordinated the project. This group was made up mainly of women who were tired of their situation, and decided to do something about it. Awesome! The project consisted of pumping water from the river via a solar powered pump up into two storage tanks situated 50 feet in the air on a platform. From there gravity distributes the water. They also installed pit bathrooms at every house. After we walked around and saw the project we sat down for a minute and talked with the group. It was great to hear about the project and see how proud they were of what had been accomplished. It was a very inspiring visit, and I left feeling very excited about our project in Candelaria. From here we headed back over the river, and called it a day.
The days that we weren’t in Candelaria we were either at ASPROCIG’s office talking about the project, or driving around to see other projects they had completed. One of the projects shown in the pictures above included buying a large parcel of land from the government, and then digging out storage ponds to hold water during the dry season. There are 8 ponds in total, and they provide sufficient water for the community of Purisima during the dry season.
Besides water and sanitation, ASPROCIG has several other areas of focus that they promote, and I was able to see some of them at work in a couple of communities. One of these areas is forest restoration, or planting trees. Over the years huge swaths of land in the region have had all of their trees cut down. Deforestation at this scale has impacted the climate in the area, as well as allowing flood waters to intrude further than in the past. This is why they are working to bring native trees back to areas that have historically been forested.
They also promote food independence in the communities they work in, encouraging people to create an organic garden and raise animals at their homes, and encouraging farmers to diversify their crops. I was able to see a couple of examples of this at different homes we went to, and the people were very happy to have their garden and to be growing their own food. For ASPROCIG, that is another benefit of encouraging people to create this type of ecosystem in their homes; it creates happiness and a relaxing space for them to enjoy.
Finally, the front half of ASPROCIG’s office is a market, part of their strategy to promote a direct link between producers and consumers. Each week, different crops from the communities they work with are delivered to the market, and sold to the local community in Lorica at fair market prices. The money made then goes back to the producer, and thus, back into the community where they live.
I also wanted to mention a project they showed me that was in disrepair, and is shown in the lower right corner above. It was not a project that ASPROCIG worked on, but instead a collaboration between the Colombian government and a couple of well known large international organizations. There were good intentions behind this project, however, there was no long term vision for it. This system was built to pull water from the Sinu River, treat it, pump it up into a tower, and then distribute it to the community. However, no one from the community was trained to maintain the system, and once it was built, and the government had had its photo-op, they never came back. So within a short amount of time the system broke down, and the community was back to where they started. Since then the community has slowly gathered money and made some improvements, and at this point they are able to pump water up into the tower twice a week. They can only do this twice a week due to unreliable and low-quality electricity, so when the pump is working people fill up as many containers as they can. I only mention all this to show that without the proper planning and support, even a big, well funded project like this will fail. That’s why we will always take time to educate the community about their project, and train people from the community to maintain and repair all aspects of every project. And of course, we’ll always be there to provide extra support if it’s needed.
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I had been calling this trip my “fact-finding mission” before I left, and that’s exactly what it ended up being. I learned so much about the community, the people who live there, and the situation they’re facing, as well as about Colombia as a whole. I also learned that over the past several months, while talking to ASPROCIG via email, a number of things had been lost in translation. For example, I thought that the village we are working in is named Candelaria. However, Candelaria is the name of a group of five villages (more like a county), and we’re working in one of those villages which is named Candelaria Arriba. So it was good to get some things straightened out so we’re all on the same page.
It was also great to meet everyone at ASPROCIG, and sit down and talk to them about their organization, and our plans for Candelaria Arriba. We all got a good laugh when they told me that for the past nine months that I’ve been communicating with them everyone was very skeptical as to if I was really going to come through with anything. In the past they’ve talked with other nonprofits that have said they wanted to work with them, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. When I told them I had booked a flight most of them realized I was serious, although there were a few that were skeptical until the minute I showed up. But why wouldn’t I want to work with them? ASPROCIG has been working in the area for about 25 years, and they have done a lot of great work. I really appreciated them showing me several of their completed projects, and it was inspiring to talk to some of the people they have helped.
I came back from the trip with two clear priorities: getting each household and each classroom in Candelaria Arriba a means of filtering their water, and connecting the water tank at the school to a rainwater harvesting system so that there is water readily available at the school. Now it’s time to get to work!
Thanks for reading!
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