Training workshops for filter selection

The last 3 weeks in April have seemed a life-time especially for the facilitators carrying the training responsibilities. Each of our 3 organizations contributed to making 4 successive training sessions in 3 cities a success – Eva Manzano of CAWST, Bob from CAPD, and Ivan and Rocio from FRPG. We are extremely grateful to Eva for her energy, creativity, experience and leadership that kept us all going through this grueling time.

Small group discussion on water quality issues.

We started in Cartago on a Thursday and Friday with a varied group of people interested in Household Water Treatment Systems (HWTS). They ranged from students, to engineering managers, to people involved in community water supplies where no treatment plants exist. The goal was to educate the group on a multi-barrier approach in order to have safe water – which may not meet potability standards but is safe enough to not cause disease. They were a good group and actively participated. Friday night we packed up, and Ivan and Rocio drove 8-10 hours back to Bogota with all the equipment, because Monday morning we started again.

They reviewed advantages and disadvantages of each filter type.
They poured dirty water through filters.

Starting Monday, the first Bogota 3-day training covered much of the same material as in Cartago but with a bigger group of civil servants from the ministries of housing and health. Ivan and Rocio hardly got any rest and had the filters and other educational toys set up by the time Eva and I arrived. The additional day allowed representatives of the Ministry of Housing to talk about the alternative regulations that will govern appliances (filters) used in HWTS. Colombia is a leader in this concept of ensuring that appliances installed in rural homes meet some kind of standard. This is an exciting prospect to help rural families get safe water. These new regulations have generated controversy since there are factions within the various levels of government who want more formal and rigid control of water quality.

Small groups are given thought-provoking exercise to encourage problem solving with real-life challenges.
They presented their solutions to a practical problem.

The workshop helped many see the challenge of helping people have a better quality of life in a very practical fashion, without giving up some of their oversight responsibilities. We also had a representative of the Ministry of Health to present a hygiene education program that they are implementing. This program theme will dovetail nicely with HWTS to reduce incidence of diarrhea and parasites particularly in children. Attendees were mostly civil servants from the ministries along with a few Red Cross volunteers. They all had some reason to learn about the practicalities of multi-barrier water treatment in homes.

An attendee from Red Cross presents results of small group exercise.

The following Monday, we did it all again for Ministry people coming from outside of Bogota.  A slightly larger group but again, prodded by Eva’s experiential-based learning activities, everyone soon got into the act.  There is no nodding off in these sessions.

Active demonstration of multi-barrier approach to treat water.

Wednesday night we packed up rather quickly but Ivan and Rocio had “pico y placa” – a system where cars are kept off the road one day a week during peak hours if they have a license number ending in x.  So, they had to wait till 7:30 pm to start heading home.  But they are younger than I am, so they have more stamina!

Participants in one of the Bogota workshops.

One more to go.  Friday morning Eva, Rocio and I got together to plan the agenda for a training of Community promoters and Rotarians.  We then headed to the airport and flew to Riohacha.  Eva needed to buy 65 mochilas for an event she is organizing and the seaside promenade in Riohacha is the place to shop for these bags, so with a large fistful of cash, she spent 90 minutes negotiating with various street merchants.  Mission accomplished, our host Rotarian, Harold Bonilla, drove us in the dark for 90 minutes to Fonseca.  The training in Fonseca was different from the previous three since the Rotarians had limited knowledge of BioSand filters and project implementation despite recently having received financing to do a large project.

Rotarian. Harold, guides small group discussion.

We also had approximately 14 community volunteers from the communities who will help with logistics, education and follow up for  the 750 filters about to be built and installed.  First thing to go was the power, so we had no light and no air-conditioning.  Thankfully a Rotarian is the head of the local university where they have a generator, so all was not lost.  A varied crowd with a wide range of education but again, no sitting on your hands in Eva’s classes.  After 2 days we were confident that they had a solid understanding of the multi-barrier approach to HWTS and had a better understanding  of how to implement a sustainable Project.  Thanks to Harold and his wife Areidis for their hospitality.

A group presents their results with confidence.

We had a rather interesting wrap-up where people make kind comments but one older gentleman from a rural community got up and started singing a song he had made up just then.  A few minutes later he delivered another one.  I think they call these people “cuenteros” (story tellers).  A nice ending.

Workshop participants in Fonseca finish on a happy note.

We are happy to have accomplished an incredible amount of training which will foster demand for more filters in Colombia. Leaving Fonseca was not without its challenges but that is another story.

Bob

A Chocolate Experience

I met Isidoro during our recent workshop (see blog on employment preparation workshop). Isidoro is from San Vicente, about a 2 – 3 hours bus ride from Bucaramanga, if all goes well. The town of San Vicente has about 4000 inhabitants but there are 38,000 living in the municipality. The zone is a major producer of cacao, the chocolate bean.

Isidoro makes his living fixing electronic equipment.

Isidoro didn’t go to school, but nevertheless is an educated man. As a child, he lived with his father in an isolated part of the municipality that was a 12-hour walk from the road. Although he didn’t attend school, a priest taught him to read the Bible. Then, at 12 years of age he was kidnapped by the guerrillas and at age 14 was injured by an explosive device and lost the use of his legs. After his “rehabilitation” he taught himself electronics from which he makes his living.

Isidoro poses in his store in front of his chocolate label.

Twelve years ago, he got the itch to do something new, and embarked on his chocolate journey. His dream is to make San Vicente a chocolate tourist destination. Olga, President of FANDIC, and I were his willing subjects on “The Chocolate Route”.

Isidoro’s store where he sells his chocolate products.

Isidoro makes 20 chocolate products and sells them in his store that he opened 2 years ago. Unfortunately he has to close the store because it isn’t self-sustainable. He uses personal funds to keep it in operation.

One of the 20 products, a box of chocolates.

He says that the population of San Vicente is not large enough to support the store. He wants to sell  his products in other cities such as Bucaramanga, but to do this he has to register his three lines of production with INVINA, the regulatory agency. And this is very expensive.

Olga and I pose with Isidoro in front of his factory. The emblem is of the coffee “mazorca”.

Isidoro makes 20 products including chocolate powder, with and without sweetener, and many types of caramels and chocolates, with the equipment in his factory. His factory is sustainable but to meet INVINA regulations he will have to upgrade the equipment.

After a tour of the factory, we visited the cacao finca from which Isidoro buys his raw material. Don Ernesto, the owner of the finca, has 10,000 cacao trees in production and another 10,000 trees coming on line. The cacao is 100% organic. He has 200 goats that produce a nutritious fertilizer and milk from which he produces a line of milk products.

Don Ernesto shows us a ripe “mazorca”.
He split it open to show us the beans.
The beans, with their mucous-like covering, are easily removed.

The beans are placed in a fermentation tank and turned every 7-8 hours to remove the mucous-like covering. Isidoro buys the entire “marzorca” and uses the shell as a container for chocolates and the mucous covering the bean in his recipe for caramels.

Cacao that has been dried in the sun for 3 days.

After fermentation, the beans are spread out to dry in the sun as shown in the picture above.

The bean on the left was put in the sun that day. The bean on the right has had 3 days in the sun. You can see the difference.

The picture above shows us the difference between a bean that is fully dried and one that just started its process of drying. The beans in the background have just put put out to dry. You can see the difference in colour. After drying, the shell is removed and the bean is ready to be processed.

A fake interview in the local community radio station.

Isidoro is a founding member of this community radio station that is completing its 20th year. It is one of the few community stations that is self-sustaining.

Isidoro is an entrepreneur who has founded social and business enterprises. He is a respected member of the community. His dream is that his chocolate business provide employment for people with disability in production and sales. And I have promised to help by starting a campaign.

Those of you who have experience with crowd funding please contact me. If you know of a Colombian or Canadian business person looking for an investment opportunity, please contact me. Let’s raise the roof for Isidoro Caballero!

Marlene

 

 

Employment Preparation Workshop

The workshop graduation class.

These are the happy graduates of a 36-hour workshop on employment preparation for people with disability, just completed in Bucaramanga.  Craig Baskett, Program Administrator of the Transitional Vocational Program, Faculty of Continuing Education and Extension, Mount Royal University (MRU), led us step by step through their program of academic preparation, practical experience and support in the workplace.

Craig explains the MRU model with the help of a translator, Leidy, a University student..

The goal was to learn about the model used in Calgary and adapt it to the local context. Employment inclusion is an important issue for people with disability.  CAJASAN a national employment agency, has implemented a strategy but with limited success. Motivation to hear Craig’s presentation was high.

The workshop was organized by FANDIC, CAJASAN, and the Disability Network. It was sponsored by CAPD, MRU and the Rotary Club of Calgary South. Attendees included academics from universities as well as leaders from each of the three entities listed above.

A work group composed of CAJASAN employees and one academic.

The attendees worked in groups to grapple with the adaptation of the MRU model to the local context. The knowledge and experience of each person melded together to create a new vision for inclusive employment.

There were times of reflection:

Monica, academic researcher, reflects on what had been said.

Presentations on their work was made:

Alberto spoke through a sign language interpreter.
Alexander presents on material he is not able to see but is firmly lodged in memory.

They answered questions from the group:

Carol from CAJASAN speaks from her experience in employment inclusion.

Craig provided lots of constructive feedback.

There was lots of discussion:

Danilo, psychologist, is keen to work in the field of inclusive employment.

 

Olga, expresses her vision based on experience with fANDIC and the Disability Network.

And we enjoyed our social time at lunch.

Typical Colombian food and conversation made an excellent pairing.

Then it was back to work until we reached the goal – The first draft of an inclusive employment strategy for Bucaramanga.

Martha (left), Maria (middle) and Adele (right) with their certificates.

Craig was very pleased with the gift presented to him as was I. We were all in a jovial mood by the end.

Besides the workshop, Craig had an evening lecture for the public at large and another presentation to people attending the disability network meeting. Both meetings were very well attended.

We also visited two businesses that were already employing people with auditory limitations. One of these was a beauty salon, where we were given a free manicure!

Our very competent manicurists were both women with no hearing. How did we communicate? Not a problem.

Craig left somewhat exhausted but pleased with the outcome. He knew the workshop had met its goal after seeing the final presentations. The work groups were right on target!

Thank you to Craig, workshop organizers, and sponsors for providing this opportunity to advance inclusive employment in Bucaramanga.

Marlene

 

 

 

Exploring new territories

Bob and I are in Ipiales, Nariño. It is a border city with Ecuador and sits at 2860 meters above the sea, which is higher than Bogota. Bob is here to provide orientation to the Rotary Club of Ipiales, which is at the beginning of the process of starting a filter project. The process started about 6 months ago and they are nearly ready to submit their application to the International Rotary Foundation for a Global Grant. Once the financing is in place, the project can begin. Bob’s Rotary club is partnered with Ipiales in this project and CAPD plays a supportive role.

This is drinking water???

The contact between Bob and Monica, a Rotarian from Ipiales, occurred two years ago in a Rotary Project Fair in Cartagena. Since then, Monica and her team has completed a community needs assessment, which entailed several meetings with the community members to hear about their water problems. Believe me, they are grave – just take a look at the source of their water.

These pools of water are fed by small springs emerging from the hillside, just below the road. Water lab tests reveal fecal bacteria too numerous to count, parasites and viruses. The people in this community of Guacuan boil their water to excess (15 minutes) just to be safe. They say water used to be pure, but since communities up the hill starting dumping black water directly into the river, it has become contaminated. Another factor is the close proximity of the family latrine to the water source. 152 people from the community attended the meeting with Bob, the Canadian expert, as featured guest.

Those interested in a water filter are assembled at the local school.
Monica, project leader, speaks about the stage at which the water project stands.
Various players pose – community members, Rotarians, and the Secretary of Health.

The woman to the left of the man with a white poncho told me that they were so very grateful that a person from Canada would take notice of them and come all that way to talk to them. They feel so very neglected by their own government.

Our next visit was to a community called 12 of October. Both these communities are largely indigenous, engaged in agriculture. They grow potatoes (a huge crop in this region, corn, peas and green onions.

52 people from the 12 of October community attended the meeting.
This man spoke up with many questions and comments about the water.
Another contributor to the conversation.

The Secretary of Health (in black jacket below) was present at both meetings and also talked to the community about how to improve the health of the community. They will work in parallel with the water filter project.

Bob draws a filter on a white board and explains it.
A very nice poncho is presented to Bob with thanks for coming to share his knowledge with them.

The Rotary Club of Ipiales also took us to visit some of their daycare schools for children up to age 5. They started this project with 60 children about 15 years ago and now have over 1000 children in daycares in various locations. These are darling, happy children.

Rotarians made sure we did some sight seeing as well. One afternoon, we crossed the Educadorian border, without stopping at immigration, to visit a cemetery in Tulcan. What would be the reason for such a visit? Have a look!

The cemetery was full of pine trees carved into images. It was impressive!

We also went to the Santuario de las Lajas, a most impressive cathedral built on a stone bridge spanning a deep gorge. It is a popular destination for pilgrims seeking a miracle such as the first miracle in which a deaf and mute child saw the Virgin Mary in the rock face and, being no longer mute, promptly told her mother. The rock lining the walk down to the cathedral was lined by plaques commemorating these miracles.

Santuario de las Lajas

Bob was really on the hot seat – speaking here and speaking there. Inevitably there was a Rotary meeting with dinner at which Bob spoke of the project and the two clubs exchanged their Rotary banner.

I am writing this blog from Pasto, the capital of Nariño, where we have been meeting with the Rotary Club here. They are also interested in starting a water filter project and have grilled Bob for information. We are getting in some sightseeing on the side, thank goodness, because this is a new region for both of us. It is well worth the visit. Come and visit. You will be made very welcome.

Marlene on Bob’s behalf.

 

 

The 2017 Colombia Learning Exchange

Eva Manzano from CAWST leads information session.

In late November 2017, CAPD in conjunction with CAWST and FRPG, held a Learning Exchange – a forum where implementers past, present and future, came together to share experiences in all phases of a filter project. These 3 organizations have become a well-oiled machine in the area of Household Water Treatment and Storage in Colombia.

Three experienced ladies from Rotary Club of Monteria Dos.
Rotarians from Monteria and Ibague exchanging information.
Maria Clara, expert on filter media, shares a technical point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were blessed to have people from all aspects of project implementation, including leaders, Rotarians, quality assurance types, community organizers, installers and community promoters. We learned from each other – what worked and what should be avoided. Eva Manzano of CAWST always had some interesting interactive learning activities in her virtual tool kit. Ivan and Rocio took on a significant workload leading various sessions. Bob lead some sessions, but his favourite job was timekeeper – how else to cram 3 days of material into 2 days.

This was an ideal time to introduce some new ideas, such as the plastic filter that now seems ready to trial in field conditions. Many were very enthusiastic about a lighter weight version, but Bob helped them understand it was not a solution to embrace without some skepticism.

Ivan Castro of FRPG explains details on the new plastic filter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another interesting technology was the large Slow Sand Filter for schools that uses BioSand Filter design characteristics on a much larger scale and is appropriate for schools and institutions. Samaritan’s Purse has proven this design in more than 600 school installations.

Large-scale slow sand filter for large schools.

Bob and Ivan rolled out the “made in Colombia” plastic diffuser. This will help clubs do projects without the administration and logistics of importing something from USA.

Bob demonstrated KOBO ToolBox, an “app” which, in conjunction with a laptop and using cloud based technology, can be used to collect data in the field and view it shortly afterward on a laptop in an excel format. This will eliminate carrying massive amounts of paper forms and sometimes transcribing the data to a spreadsheet. Rotary Club of Nuevo Ibague expressed willingness to test it in the field.

Screen shot of the cell phone data entry panel.

Everyone was glad to have attended. Just another way to strengthen the knowledge and the power of the network.

Bob

 

A smile is worth a thousand words

To see a child smile like this, especially a child who doesn’t speak, delights and motivates us. It also provides proof of acceptance of the custom-made stroller we provided for him. These strollers are for children living in rural areas; children who can not sit in a conventional chair. BUT they know what makes them feel good – about that there is no doubt.

His name is Luis Fabian. He has just received this custom-fitted stroller in which he feels comfortable and safe. We have been providing one form or other of custom seating for children with disability since 2009. Our partners in this project are ASODISPIE, who do the design and construction, and the Rotary Clubs Ronda del Sinú from Montería and Cerrejon in Albania, La Guajira.

Tatiana

We encountered Tatiana while visiting Luis Fabian. There she sat, on the sandy ground, eating her breakfast. A closer look revealed bilateral club foot, a condition that requires a surgery that should have been done ages ago. Tatiana presents a new challenge to us – to construct a wheelchair fit for a rural setting but along conventional lines; a chair low enough for her to get in and out of independently, and narrow enough for her to push herself.

Our travels to isolated “rancherias” in La Guajira are arduous, especially during rainy season. Our visit to Nely required a truck with double traction (more traction than a 4 by 4). ASODISPIE constructed a new product in form of a walker with a seat to encourage Nely to strengthen her ability to walk.

Nely walking in her new walker. Note her sister lying in the hammock.
Nely takes a break.

Her younger sister (3 years old) has multiple disabilities in the form of visual and hearing limitation, cognitive and physical disability. Nely and Meleidas have not received therapy and are left to their own devices.

Meleidas struggles to prop herself up on her knees.

We put Meleidas on a cloth spread on the ground to see what she would do and the picture shows the result. The pity of it is, that she spends most of the day in the hammock, which is safe, but doesn’t offer her opportunity for development. Her family is very poor, so the Rotary Club will purchase a straw mat for her. We hope that the family will follow through and put her on this mat for periods during the day.

Jostyn looks like he is ready to fall asleep.

We keep working on the design of the stroller to improve the fit as well as the stability. Back in 2005, CAPD made the decision to no longer send used wheelchairs to Colombia, but rather to support local industry, especially that of people with disability.  As mentioned, the constructor is ASODISPIE, an association of people with disabilities. These projects not only provide them with an income source, but also build capacity toward a self-sustaining business.

Estefania poses with her mother.

We are also following-up on strollers provided in previous years, which gives us feedback on the durability of our product. As a result we are replacing cushions as well as stroller parts.

These strollers bring improved self-image to children, and freedom to families who can now take their child to visit relatives and friends. Thanks to the Rotary Clubs of Ronda del Sinú and of Cerrejon (through their Foundation, Manos Solidarias), for their collaborative effort in helping these children.

Marlene

It Starts with Water

There is a village near Fonseca, La Guajira, Colombia called “El Confuso”. You will be mostly right about its meaning, even if you do not speak Spanish. When I visited this village more than 2 years ago, it was depressing – the village had a well, a wind-powered pump that actually worked, a rapidly disintegrating elevated water tank, and piped water to the 60 plus homes in the village.

Typical housing in the rural areas.

BUT, as in many, many places in Colombia, the water was brackish. People did not have many options for drinking water and ended up with parasites, stomach problems, and skin infections. Not even the vegetation would grow when watered with this brackish water. Nor did concrete last long when mixed with brackish water. Somehow the leaders in the community connected with the Rotary Club of Fonseca (friends of mine) and this started the ball rolling.

New well – sweet water.

What a difference 2 years have made! Together, Rotary Club of Calgary South and Rotary Club of Fonseca got some funding. It was matched by The Rotary Foundation. And then the local Rotarians and the community started working the approved plan – a hydrogeologic study, a new deeper drilled well producing sweet water, an electric pump, a new concrete overhead tank and BioSand filters in the homes.

New overhead tank.
Biosand filters in homes.

The community received some training in hygiene and filter maintenance and set up a monthly payment system to pay for repairs to the pump and controls. Each family pays C$1.00 per month and sometimes this is difficult – but they have seen the results. A recent electrical problem would have stopped everything if they did not have some funds for repairs. This experience provided much needed positive reinforcement, because it is not unusual for maintenance funding to disappear, effectively killing any progress to date. The Rotarians are involved in the management of this maintenance fund.

Rotarians pose with village leaders.

No more parasites, no more stomach aches, no more skin infections, and with sweet water gardens will actually grow. In the photo you will see the best ever raised garden. Not everyone has such a large and productive plot, but many now are eating better and have some surplus produce to sell. All because they now have reliable sweet water.

A super garden made possible with sweet water.

But the success of the water project has had a domino effect. One lady now is raising chickens as well as doing the market garden. A small private donation towards school desks triggered a community school painting day. A few soccer balls now have several teams of kids and adults playing soccer.

A chicken-raising endeavor is now possible because of sweet water.

The village name may sound depressing, but the inhabitants are not confused about one thing- it all started with water!!!

Bob

 

Safe Water Collaboration in Santa Marta

CAPD has a goal of providing 20,000 families with safe water. Obviously CAPD cannot do it themselves so it is a question of collaboration and building capacity to be used by other groups.

The week leading up to November 4th was a busy one in Santa Marta, as the 4 facilitators prepared for the first “formal” Biosand Filter Construction Workshop. Bob has taught similar workshops but never so elaborate or large. This workshop was collaboration among CAPD, CAWST (a Calgary non-profit that provides training world-wide), FRPG (Fundacion Red Proyecto Gente, who are CAPD partners), the Rotary Club of Santa Marta (provided the facility) and the Mejia family (provided a great place to stay).

Eva (CAWST), Ivan and Rocio (FRPG) coordinate workshop sessions.

The workshop attracted 19 participants. Some have been working with filters for a while, others were completely new to the technology. They ranged from members of a foundation working among coffee growers to stimulate production of organic coffee, to a Peace Corp volunteer, to University students working on water related topics in their theses. A couple had extensive experience with concrete and its uses in water tanks, others had some experience working with communities. It was a great time of sharing and learning.

We spent 3 intense days sifting sand, mixing concrete, filling molds, sifting and washing filter media and then stripping the form and installing the media.

Preparing concrete mix for filter box.
Sifting sand for filter media.
Washing filter media.
Jar test to see if the filter media has been washed sufficiently.

Groups are understandably proud when their concrete box comes out of the mold with no leaks and no damage. We suffered through the dust and the heat and a power failure for half a day which meant no air-conditioning. I am looking forward to -15 degrees in Calgary.

As always, the dynamic leadership of Eva Manzano of CAWST kept everyone focused and energized. No mean feat in such heat and humidity! Our thanks to Eva and the CAWST management who are increasingly focused on Colombia. Thanks also to Ivan and Rocio (FRPG) who are rapidly coming up to speed on effective training methods and are offloading Bob somewhat. Now we hope all who attended will continue pushing the idea of Household Water Treatment and that each one will eventually do their own project.

We could not have done this without the Rotary facilities and their logistic support. Thank you Rotary Club of Santa Marta!!!

Bob

Music Builds Community

Last week we entertained long-term friends, Rick and Karin, in Bucaramanga. They came to learn more about our programs in Colombia and to meet the people involved. So, we took them to Fandic and to Asodispie where they were entertained by dancers. We took a trip to a rural school where the students sang a song about caring for the environment. And we took them to see a water filter where Karin had an impromptu jam session.

Rick and Karin pose with teacher of five grades in a one-classroom school.

Our visitors had a particular knack of interacting with people through music. Karin, who borrowed a violin from here, used it to full advantage. Not only were they entertained, but they returned the favor!

Karen encouraged children to play notes on the violin while she played the rest of the piece. The kids were thrilled.

 

Real Cool! Fandic youth express themselves through dance.
Dance builds community. They felt so good about their performance that they gave themselves a group hug.

Those wanting to see a short video of Fandic’s dance performance in a mall, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PEUj-jq6T0

Asodispie also treated us to a dance performance. Here again, Karin used the violin to interact with the youth in their program.

These youth attend an afternoon program in Asodispie.

Our visit to a rural school called Las Llanadas, entailed a drive up to a plateau that was anything but flat.

 

The Chicamoacha River.. We passed this outstanding scenery on the way to the rural school.

Here we met with students and parents in the Green Light Education Assistance Program. Music was a connector here as well: Karin led the students in music-based activities and they reciprocated by singing a song about caring for the environment.

The song was sung by memory and the verses were sung as solos.

The parents related how the Green Light program had brought about change in their school through its emphasis on parent participation. One father, who was a student at that school, now had his own children attending. He told us that initially, the school was in the same condition as when he left in grade five. But now, since the Green Light program, parents have painted the walls and planted flowering bushes. They were very proud of these improvements. This school is located in a semi-desert environment and is one of the poorer schools in the program.

Green Light also builds community. The wall says, “without music, life for me would be a mistake….”

Finally, we went to the house of the music teacher, Oscar. It is an anomaly to find a music teacher in a country school but there he was! He is actually hired by a private organization to build environmental values in children through music.  His house had a filter supplied by a local Rotary Club, which we saw before getting back to the subject of music.

Karin jams with music teacher, Oscar.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit to our programs in Santander.

Marlene

 

Visit to the Wayuu communities in Albania, La Guajira

In 2017, CAPD decided to name a National Coordinator for the Green Light Education Assistance Program in Colombia to provide orientation and monitoring of the programs in the states in which it is offered.

In March of this year, the National Coordinator, Rocio Núñez Espinel, visited Wayuu communities in La Guajira where the program is active, to provide orientation and training to the coordinator for that state and her facilitators. The overall objective of the program is to encourage the children and youth of these communities to stay in school. The follow-up and monitoring is done with the help of Rotary Club Fundación Manos Solidarias.

It was of great concern that all schools in the state were closed for the first semester of the year because the position of State Governor was left vacant. The Education department would not open schools until they could guarantee funding for the lunch program and for transport, both necessary elements for indigenous and rural communities.

Despite the obstacles faced by the closure of schools, the Green Light program was active because it is essentially a community program that continued to do its work with students and parents.

The photo below shows me (white shirt) in the school of the community called New Hope. A child came up to me to take the photo in my arms. This was a special, caring gesture that caused the other children to trust me and to come closer.

The following paragraphs will tell you about my visit to the communities where the facilitators, with the collaboration of the coordinator, organize community activities that embellish the schools. I asked people in the community about their activities. The response from the teacher in San Jose was, “The coordinator calls meetings through the facilitator and delivers materials for us to work with in the school. One activity was to put a fence around the school to keep out the goats, which was important because the goats didn’t want to leave the school and damaged the floor. But now it is the children who study in the school, not the animals”.

The comments from the facilitator of New Hope were, “we have been working in the ‘rosa’”. What do you mean? “Rosa is a community garden in which everyone plants different crops and when they are ready, we all harvest them and share the food. This activity gives us pleasure because we have food to eat. After the last harvest, we cooked for everyone in the community”.

Comments from the teacher in Coveñas: “Up to a short time ago, some students who were sent to school by their parents didn’t attend, but herded goats instead and although we raised this problem with the parents many times, there was no change in the situation. Now the parents come to school with their children, especially those who didn’t attend. The number of parents in the school meetings has increased. For the first time, the students have new, complete uniforms. The teachers have also been motivated because of the assistance received”.

The photo below shows the community of Coveñas working as one for their school. The yard is well cared for by the parents, mothers and children benefiting from the program, because they realize that it benefits everyone.

The Rotary Club collaborates by training a group of high school students benefiting from the program, to tutor primary students with educational needs or poor marks. What is interesting is that the students simultaneously started to orientate primary children in their respective communities even before classes began.

The photos below show the second meeting organized by the Rotary Club, and the high school students tutoring in school classrooms and community meeting places.

Training of high school students
Classroom is open for tutoring
High school youth providing tutoring

In addition, the Rotary Club gathered used books in good condition and of good quality to take to the schools with the objective of constructing a library for students to research topics. Parents and teachers fixed up the book shelves and painted them.

The photos below show Martha, the coordinator, delivering the uniform kits to the community and the children with their uniforms and books.

Delivery of uniform kits and books to the Community
Children happy with their books and uniforms

The 254 students had to wait many months to receive their uniform kits because of the school closure. The wait finally at an end, the students happily received their uniforms.

The leaders representing their communities expressed their thanks and their desire to continue motivating their communities to participate in the program. The same was expressed by the parents who said, “It is the first time that my children are wearing a uniform to school. Now they are happy and we are too”.

The photo below reflects the pride of the children upon receiving their education assistance.

Finally, I’d like to thank those who spoke to me expressing their appreciation for the program and especially to the children for their warm reception. I am happy to see the commitment of those who manage the program and who strengthen participation within the Wayuu communities.

Rocio