A team of eight of us from Habitat for Humanity was going to be working in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Since three of us were FRB partners – we volunteer for community growing projects in Indiana – we secured permission from FRB, program lead member Lutheran World Relief, and local partner Nor Sud to "drop in" on one of the villages in FRB’s Bolivia-Tacobamba program.
Tacobamba. Until this visit, it was just a name on a piece of paper. Every year our church Missions committee has a meeting after our harvest celebration to choose where our portion of our growing project’s money will go. This year they had been given a list of three programs from around the world and had chosen one in southern Bolivia called Tacobamba.
After a short flight to Sucre we met with Nor Sud staff. They explained the program: what they’d found when it began and where the project stood now, seven years later. Their objective was to improve agricultural practices specific to the local climate and landscape so the indigenous people could grow more vegetables for a healthier diet for their malnourished children, and sell excess produce in the markets. This income would be used for household needs and to improve housing, education and agricultural practices in their villages.
Nor Sud informed us that the next day we would be traveling to one of the six villages to see the work they were doing.
"Dropping in" on Tacobamba meant going up the mountains by bus on narrow, muddy, dirt pathways. At the first river our progress was blocked by rubble from a landslide that had occurred the night before. People who had gone before us alerted Nor Sud, which sent out equipment to begin clearing. We helped moved boulders so we could get to the bridge and cross it on foot because our bus couldn’t get through. On the other side, three trucks picked us up and took us to the next river. From there it was all on foot, over boulders, under cliffs, up a hill … to be greeted by the happiest people in the world.
The people had erected an arch for us to enter into the middle of the village. Upon passing through the arch, they hung leis of vegetables around our necks. The villagers had prepared the leis for us by stringing together all the different vegetables and fruit they had learned to grow since the program had started. These included apples, limes, onions, beets, lettuce, kale and a few things unfamiliar to us. We wore them around our necks for the entire 1.5-hour visit to the village. The villagers also did an ancient dance for us to celebrate the bounty of their harvest.
They delightedly showed us their new baño (community bathroom), their new school complete with basketball court, their silos, and all the fruits and vegetables they were now producing.
Seven years ago they were raising only a poor crop of corn and potatoes, but they had a dream. With the help of FRB, LWR and Nor Sud, they put in an irrigation system. This canal was 1/4 of a mile long and they carried all the concrete and rebar to build it, on their backs, over the 1.5-mile route across the river that we had walked. Quite a feat of human determination. They have also diversified their crops, adding bananas, figs, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, onions and many other crops. All the fields and orchards were neat and clean and appealing to the eye.
Around us were acres of terraces that they had built from rocks they’d cleared from the land, and a quarter mile of concrete irrigation canal they used for flood irrigation for the fields and terraces, on a plateau 150 feet above a river. NONE of this existed when Nor Sud got there. Not the terraces, not the cisterns, not the vegetables, not the irrigation canals, not the school, not the silos for the grain, not even most of the people. All of this they had learned from the Nor Sud staff who came to teach them the new techniques.
A compilation of trip notes by Marilyn Emmert, Albion/Ft. Wayne IN Growing Project and Larry Winger, Oxford IN Growing Project.
(Note: As you see, a lot of heart felt effort goes into preparing for program visitors, so, out of consideration for the staff and villagers, always consult with FRB before you attempt any visits like this.)