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Along the rivers
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

JRS provides food security and educational activities while advocating with government agencies on behalf of the residents of three river communities. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

In three communities along the jungle-shrouded rivers outside of Buenaventura, JRS provides food security and educational activities and advocates with government agencies on behalf of the residents.

The rivers flow through areas controlled by several armed groups, and both those groups and the government impose a curfew: no one is to be on the river after 6 p.m. or before 6 a.m. This restriction hampers the lives of the villages, as their main source of food and income is from fishing the abundant rivers.

JRS assists the residents of Palestina by providing three food kits each month, and helping them to grow crops on higher ground away from the river. The corn and bean crops are grown for local consumption, and they aim to grow enough to trade or sell surplus to other communities, and thus bring in much-needed cash to their own.

Education for the children of the community is a priority for JRS. Supplies and equipment have been donated to the school, and tanks for potable water were supplied to collect and filter rainwater. Additionally, JRS has painted the school and begun classes there, and is working to build the capacity of adults in the village to run the school.

Up the river from Palestina is Santa Rosa de Guayacan, home to indigenous people. The villagers here complain that aerial fumigation — which the government claims is necessary to fight the drug trade — is the source of illness.

The aerial spraying affects both legal and illegal crops, destroying tracts of land where the villagers are trying to grow only corn or beans. Additionally, the deadly chemicals often fall into the river, contaminating fish and the drinking supply, coating the skin of children who play along the riverbank and causing rashes and illness.

Unfortunately many people in the region are resigned to fumigation and wonder “Why plant crops? They’ll be fumigated next week and die." It’s been postulated that fumigation is targeted toward mining areas so the affected people will leave, and mining concerns can then move in more easily.

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