Two of FRB's partners, Week of Compassion and Church World Service (CWS), support local Paraguayan partner Mingarã in the Chaco Region of Paraguay. Mingarã works with indigenous communities of the Chaco through assistance in accessing and securing ancestral land rights, promoting sustainable agriculture to provide food security and nutrition and facilitating access to safe water.
In March of this year I had the opportunity to spend time with the community of San Lazaro during a visit with Week of Compassion, CWS and Foods Resource Bank. Just days before Holy Week the visit brought to mind the Raising of Lazarus - miracles of Jesus which fill us with hope and life – as the inhabitants of the San Lazaro community, after decades of struggle, finally managed to move to a piece of land which is rightfully theirs.
Situated just metres from an estate belonging to the daughter of the current President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes, an intervention of the Catholic Church prevented this estate annexing San Lazaro’s land. And now they have begun to relocate and build the life they have dreamed of, far from the semi-urban village Mision Santa Teresita with its dry un-arable land and increasingly over-crowded conditions, a place they had never really felt at home.
Founded in 1965 by Holy Family of Bordeaux Missionaries, Mision Santa Teresita is a multi-ethnic neighbourhood with three indigenous ethnic groups- Guaraní, Ñnandéva and Nivacle – living side by side. Each group has their own distinct identity and different language. San Lázaro are of the Guarani Ñandeva ethnic group also known as Tapieté. While culturally their origins are in the Chaco, the language they speak - Ñandéva - is similar to that of Guarani people located in Eastern Paraguay – and their plan has always been to return to a rural way of life on land that is theirs and with the freedom to develop their own community. Finally that dream has come true.
And yet this new piece of land is virgin forest. There are no services at all whatsoever - no housing, electricity, phone signals, not to mention insufficient access to water. The families have re-located with their few small belongings – clothes, kitchen utensils, pet dogs – and are living in a provisional camp site on constant alert to the presence of jaguars in the surrounding forest.
It is women who are at the forefront of the re-location – not because there is gender equality in San Lazaro but simply because the men are away working as migrant labourers on agricultural estates thousands of miles away.
The community’s new land is located just 22 kilometres from their semi-urban village but the road is unpaved and there is no public transport there. They have relocated hiring private transport – bringing with them a 5,000 litre tank of water, some smaller 50 litre water containers and basic foods stuffs (pasta, oil, salt, tea and beans).
This experience teaches us that, for those with few material resources, it is not easy to plan ways of improving quality of life and achieving freedom. San Lazaro dreams of a better life and today is improvising, hoping this dream will come true. They have been obliged to improvise as they have not received any government support. In fact it is the government’s indifference and the threat to the small piece of land they acquired which has forced them to take this decision to re-locate by their own means.
That day in March we witnessed a group of people rising up, taking life into their own hands, deciding to live by their own rules. We do not yet know the strength of their resilience, their ability to convert this campsite into a dignified home. While they now have arable land, the children do not have a place to go to school and the water brought by the community will last only a few weeks.
Viva San Lazaro!
Because of your support to FRB, CWS and Week of Compassion, we can ensure the work and ministry of the Chaco Region in South America will continue to live and thrive.
By Mabel Barreto, Director of Mingarã.
Click to read the original post on Week of Compassion's blog