Monday, July 12, 2004
We are back from the jungle! (Well we still live in the jungle, but we're back from being right in the jungle rather than in a city in the middle of a jungle...if that makes sense)
The trip overall was great. I am really glad I was able to go. We went with a team from a small community in Oregon west of Salem called Dallas. They were all men and were a lot of fun to hang out with. The majority were in the late twenties to early 40's. We built a classroom (pictures of the trip will be posted to the website soon) as well as did a Vacation Bible School for the kids. I enjoyed doing both of those even though the work out in the heat and sun was quite tiring.
The community we stayed in was called Bethania and was very interesting and a clear example of poverty. Everyone in the community farmed bananas which does not bring in much income. If I had to guess I would estimate that the average family there made between 1 and 2 dollars per day. They also had some animals such as ducks, chickens and a few pigs. The FHI promoters (people that work in communities) have spent countless hours trying to get people to chlorinate their water because the river water is full of bacteria and parasites. But we still saw children drinking out of puddles and Juan Roman, the promoter in the village, told me that the majority don't treat their water because they say it makes it taste bad. When you ask them, they know that they should treat it but they just don't do it. Chlorine is provided free at the health post operated by the government. Practically everybody has at least one parasite and the majority of the children under 5 had the bloated belly indicating that they had fairly severe parasites. They don't take parasite medicine because they say that they just get re-infected again. Getting potable water to these communities is tough because the water table is so close to the ground that when you dig you hit water in a few feet and none of the water is potable. Nevertheless, chlorine is available which would greatly reduce the problem but people just don't use it even though it is free.
It was really the first time in my life where I have spent enough time amidst poverty to really begin to see and understand what has been drilled into us in training. These people don't lack resources. They have fertile land, plenty of time to work the land, and access to agriculture markets in Pucallpa. What they lack is a vision for what is possible. FH calls this a biblical worldview where people recognize that they are sons and daughters of God and are called to be co-creators with Him and make the best of what He has given them. For example, FH has worked in trying to get people in the community to coral their animals as free roaming animals spreads disease but the majority remain free. Young girls are often forced by their parents to marry at 13 or 14 because their parents don't value their education and feel they are a burden to feed. It is really tough to work in this environment and development takes many many years. There is just a strong current of the "give me" mentality and a laziness especially in the men. It is tough because I really could see this community thriving if they really wanted to. Juan Roman said he's seen changes in the community over the past few years and is optimistic about their future.
I guess the thing that this trip drilled into my head is the extreme difficulty of development. It is not easy and the battle is exactly where FH has said it is: in people's beliefs and values. Change the beliefs, priorities, values, and (growth inhibiting parts of) culture and you will see development. Otherwise no matter how much money you throw at it, it will be thrown down a rat-hole.
As far as what life was like living there I will briefly touch on the highlights. Imagine the most mosquitoes you've ever experienced and then multiply that by 2. Add in flies that bite and draw blood, chiggers everywhere, poisonous snakes, piranhas with teeth the size of 5 year olds, and plenty of bees and wasps and you begin to get the picture. The people were not unwelcoming, but were not welcoming either. The men leave during the day many days and go work the banana farm and the women stay and cook and care for the children. All cooking is done over open fires. There is no electricity. There are no latrines, people just do their business in the jungle. But there are also beautiful trees, incredible sunsets, a very peaceful environment, and the cutest kids you can imagine.
I'll probably blog more later on the trip but for now that's it!